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In a small NH town, Spanish language enthusiasts work towards trust across cultural lines

Hipanic Latino
Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
When Gloria Krzynowuk, originally from Spain, moved from Utah to New Hampshire in the 90s, she found good friends in a book club started by other women from her native country. They now promote camaraderie among people from other Hispanic countries.

Cali Washington recently drove over an hour from the Seacoast to a Mexican restaurant in Gilford to meet up with her friend Rosa Blair. Blair, who lives in Gilford but is originally from Spain, invited Washington, who was born in Guatemala, to be part of a group that meets monthly to celebrate the Spanish language. It was her first time meeting the group, but people quickly welcomed her and asked about her cultural background.

“My mom is from Panama, and my father is from Cuba,” she said.

In her decade living in New Hampshire, Washington hasn’t met many Hispanics, so she was excited to see many gathered in one place. Seated at a large table with people from six countries, she joined the conversation about how, in Spanish, some words mean different things depending on what country you are in.

As they laughed and sipped their drinks, people from six countries looked over the menu offering enchiladas, churros, and other Mexican delicacies. Different accents echoed across the table: Costa Ricans talk slowly, while Cubans, like Ernesto Gonzales from Franklin, talk slightly faster.

“This is the first time I have spoken so much Spanish in the past 20 years,” he said. Since childhood, he has been determined not to lose his native language.

There are also some Americans who learned Spanish in high school or college. Paula Phelps was born in Gilford and works as a Spanish teacher at a local high school. The conversation group lets her learn more about the cultures of people from all over the Spanish-speaking world

“And it has made some good friendships; it really created some nice memories,” she said.

Rosa Blair started the group as a book club in the 90s. It evolved into a playgroup some women used to maintain their children’s Spanish language skills. Blair used to host parties, or ferias, where families dressed in traditional Spanish garments sang and danced.

But as people from other countries expressed interest, she opened a Facebook group. Since then, people from all over New Hampshire have joined. They decided not to meet anymore at her house but at local restaurants.

“I would love to fill up a map with friends from every country in Latin America,” Blair said. Her friend Milagros Tathan, also from Spain, shares that goal. She has lived 43 years in New Hampshire.

“We are truthfully like friends,” she said. “With them, I don't feel like I'm that far away.”

Hispanic Latino
Gaby Lozada
(From left to right) Julio Herrera from El Salvador, Milagros Tathan from Spain, Rosa Blair from Spain, and Cali Washington from Guatemala share a meal at El Tequila Mexican Restaurant in Gilford, N.H.

Among the attendees, there are also new Americans, like Rolando Ardon from Costa Rica, who lives in Manchester. He says it has been challenging for his family to find places to make new friends. He loves the group's vibe and how there is no resistance to learning from each other.

“Latinos have the tendency to socialize a lot, and we finally found a place to meet others but also people born in the U.S.,” he said. “I love that.”

People chat about their families, health concerns, and sports. The group's goals have changed over the years: They want to have a great time now, but its members are also interested in promoting trust among different communities of Hispanic immigrants.

Julio Herrera, from El Salvador, came with his wife Maritza and two kids; he says that sometimes trusting is difficult when you don’t know much about people from other cultures, even if you share the same language.

“We come in good faith, without envy,” he said.

Blair, the organizer, says it is not that people have the urgent need to speak in Spanish, but the gatherings allow them to interact and learn from people they might otherwise never meet.

“What many knew was maybe very stereotypical of what you see on TV, and they have grown a lot,” she said.

Blair is looking for a bigger meeting venue where they can dance or perform. She hopes to inspire others to create similar groups in their own towns.

Photos from the ferias Blair hosted at her home.
Courtesy Milagros Tathan.
Photos from the ferias Blair hosted at her home. 

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.
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