Fort Hays State President Martin speaks to Spanish Club at local Catholic high school

Martin at TMP

03/03/15
Students at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School were looking forward to hearing Fort Hays State University President Mirta M. Martin speak to them in Spanish.

Martin's visit to the Hays Catholic high school Monday gave them so much more than a real-life lesson in her native tongue.

Martin, who took over as FHSU's ninth president last July, is a native of Cuba who spent her childhood in Spain and attended college in America.

Melissa Pinkney, who teaches Spanish at TMP, came up with the idea to have Martin speak to her students in Spanish Club after attending an inservice.

"They encouraged us to think outside the box," said Pinkney, who actually already had done that.

Pinkney, in her eighth year at TMP who teaches Spanish to nearly 100 students every day, started the Spanish Club just this year and had about 30 students join. The club comes up with an activity each month, and Pinkney said March's choice was a dandy.

"This was great," she said after Martin's visit. "She's so personable that it didn't feel like a speech to the kids."

"They really enjoyed it when she started sharing her life story," Pinkney added.
Martin's story, of course, involves a little something about the Spanish language; she also is fluent in French and Portugese and knows seven languages in all.

But, she told the 30-some students in attendance, it isn't so much cracking a language barrier but learning about other cultures and earning people's trust that are at the top of her list of goals for success.

"Language just opens a portal into the culture, and that's what's important," said Martin, who also encouraged the group - which also included some students from Pinkney's Spanish classes - to study abroad, even if they didn't have a handle on that country's native tongue.

"They don't care if you can't speak their language," Martin said. "But if you know how to behave in their culture, that's what's important."

"What allows you opportunities is earning people's trust," she added. "If they don't trust you, you won't be successful."

Martin definitely earned the students' attention Monday.

They asked lots of questions, including if she spoke to her children in Spanish while they were growing up and if she dreamed in Spanish.

Martin confirmed that, indeed, her two children were taught Spanish early in life.

"They asked for a drink of agua before they asked for water," she said.

Martin made the students feel so at ease that two of them dared ask the president of the local university questions in Spanish.

Rodrigo Saldana-Galindo, a junior resident student from Mexico and a member of TMP's Spanish Club, asked Martin how she deals with cultural differences.

Martin answered in Spanish, then translated it in English.

She told a personal story of cultural differences, telling about the first time she met her future mother-in-law, who didn't hug. Hugging is a common characteristic among Hispanics.

"I hug everyone," Martin said with a big smile, "and I ran up and hugged her."

Martin stopped with her hands held tightly at her side, describing the reception she got. She rolled her eyes, much to the delight of the students.

Alondrea Ontiveros, a Hays freshman in Pinkey's Spanish II class, asked Martin if she preferred to speak English or Spanish, to which Martin quickly replied she speaks whatever language is pertinent to the conversation at the time.

"You reinforced a lot of the things I tell them as a teacher," Pinkney said afterward as she thanked Martin for coming.

Martin said it was her pleasure.

"If I'm with students, I'm happy," she said. "Their ability to see a future much brighter than today's gives me hope."

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