Anaely León-Hernández: “I teach the pride of being Latino”
by carlos matías
Anaely León-Hernández is a Spanish teacher at Romig Middle School in Anchorage. In her 26 years as a teacher, she has taught more than a thousand young people of all ages not only to speak the language, but “to feel the pride of being Latino. That is, to be part of this community, which is diverse, and in which the Hispanic culture has an enormous importance.”
Anaely León-Hernández, born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, came to Alaska in 1992 as an exchange medical student. There were hardly any residents in this state who spoke Spanish, and even fewer who were Venezuelan, “except for those who came to work for the oil companies,” she explains to Sol de Medianoche.
She was not fluent in English. “But I learned it quickly, because without being able to talk to other people in your own mother tongue I had the survival instinct that forced me to communicate with everyone in another language, until then foreign to me,” she adds.
Today, Anaely Hernandez (or “Miss Leon,” as she is called at Romig Middle School in Anchorage) has been teaching for 26 years, during which time she estimates she has taught “a thousand students” of all ages to speak Spanish. She taught her first classes at the age of 22, and her students were 18.
“I came to Alaska for a month, and I’ve been here for more than 30 years now,” she says with amusement. But her integration “was difficult, precisely because of the language. There were no Latinos anywhere. It was not like now, where you see Latinos everywhere. Back then, everyone spoke to me in English, and I had to speak to them in English. It was one hundred percent an immersion course. An immersion in which I had only two choices: either I swam to stay afloat” (learned English), “or I drowned” (became marginalized.) Anaely entered the University of Alaska Anchorage to study chemical biology. But in her senior year she felt a calling to teach “and I turned my life around.” She started as a substitute teacher for first-year high school students but soon got her first official teaching position as a Spanish teacher.
During all these years, Anaely Hernández has had students “of all kinds and from all backgrounds,” she says, “but all of them are always united by a common interest, which is to know how to speak Spanish.” In her task, she does “patria.” To teach Spanish, she does it by teaching Hispanic culture: the historical and social aspects, and literature.
“Speaking two or more languages is a great advantage for a professional future, because people who master two languages are more employable,” she says. Her classes have produced doctors, engineers, mechanics, and many other professions. “I teach my students to look at the world with an open mind,” says Anaely Hernández. “I show them how beautiful it is to learn about another culture, and that they are part of a rich and diverse society, in which Hispanic culture is of great importance. We have to feel proud of our Latino origins, without complexities.”
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