At Seaside High School, the Spanglish Club helps bridge the gap between American and Hispanic cultures by emphasizing positive aspects of both and, especially, the value of being bilingual and multicultural.
Dorota Haber-Lehigh, whose focus is English Language Learners, started the Spanglish Club about eight years ago with instructional assistant and co-adviser Leticia Campos as a way for students to experience and learn to appreciate cultural diversity.
“My main idea is creating opportunities for students to see different worldviews or different perspectives on life,” Haber-Lehigh said. “There’s no one way to see the world.”
The club is heavily centered on field trips and activities, with meetings taking place sporadically. While the group is open to all students, most of the participants are Hispanic and speak English as a second language.
An important tradition for the Spanglish Club is a trip to the annual César E. Chávez Leadership Conference at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. This year, six students attended the conference in early March. During the conference, the students attended workshops, listened to speakers, viewed exhibits and learned about current civil rights issues. After attending the conference, the students gave a presentation about what they learned during an assembly at Seaside High.
Additionally, Haber-Lehigh said she finds it important for current high school students to interact with their peers who have advanced to college. Once per year, the Spanglish Club members meet with the Latino Club at Clatsop Community College. The high school and college students spend a day together, sharing their personal stories and experiences, touring the college campus, eating lunch and doing other activities. The most recent trip was scheduled for April 12.
Some of the high school students may be the first person in their families to go to college – or even graduate high school, Haber-Lehigh said.
“For them to see one of their peers at Clatsop, it’s a huge inspiration or push,” she said.
In addition to celebrating the Hispanic culture, Haber-Lehigh also wants her students to become comfortable with aspects of the American culture that may not be normal in their native countries. For instance, volunteerism is an honored pastime in America and a part of the curriculum for Seaside students, whereas in other countries it might be frowned upon because it is perceived as taking away work from other people, Haber-Lehigh said. In the fall, she took her Spanglish Club members to Green Angel Gardens and Sustainable Living Center in Long Beach, Washington, to volunteer for a few hours.
“It’s good to show them in a structured environment what volunteering is all about,” she said.
Aside from external activities, the group also works within the school to share Hispanic heritage with the whole student body. During holidays, the Spanglish Club celebrates by making Hispanic crafts or serving a special dish, like tres leches cake, to all the students so they can experience something new.
“We try to reach out to other groups,” Haber-Lehigh said.
On April 6, the students sold quesadillas — made with homemade tortillas — as a fundraiser to offset the cost of attending the upcoming Cinco de Mayo Fiesta in Portland. The group also plans to sell hot cocoa and cookies during parent-teacher conferences as a fundraiser.
The Portland Cinco de Mayo Fiesta is about more than eating tacos and going on rides, Haber-Lehigh said. As one of Oregon’s largest multicultural festivals, the event features authentic Hispanic food and entertainment and a naturalization ceremony. Usually about 50 students from Seaside attend the festival.
When Haber-Lehigh started taking students to the Cinco de Mayo Festival — which was before establishing Spanglish Club — the local area offered few multicultural activities and events.
“I wanted them to see their culture and who they are reflected in the community so they feel accepted,” she said. “It makes them feel proud, versus being dismissed.”
Instilling a sense of pride is a key objective of the Spanglish Club. It is valuable to be bilingual and have connections to several cultures, said Haber-Lehigh, who was born and raised in Poland and whose ability to speak several languages has been important.
“It’s not a deficit being bilingual — it’s a benefit,” she said.
In particular, it allows students to thrive in their current environment but maintain ties to parents, grandparents and other family members. Haber-Lehigh wants to encourage her students to feel comfortable with who they are and help them feel accepted, as “you are not going to be happy and contributing if you’re feeling marginalized,” she said.
Every couple years, Haber-Lehigh tries to obtain grant money to bring larger multicultural events to the high school. Some past events have included appearances by Miracle Theatre Group of Portland, St. Johns Ballet Folklorico and Grupo Condor, which taught about native Latin American instruments and traditional musical styles.