Office of Education and Schools
Latinos are among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, and at 16.3 percent of the population, they comprise one of the largest.
Over the past few years, outreaches by many Baha’i teaching teams in predominantly Latino neighborhoods have found people who are highly receptive to participating in Baha’i activities that build community.
That success, though, has raised an issue: Many such teaching efforts are facing a shortage of Spanish-speakers. Awareness is growing that many American Baha’i communities need to build capacity for sharing the teachings of Baha’u’llah in Spanish.
To respond to this need, a team of bilingual educators collaborated to develop “Reaching Out to the Latino Community,” a full-week session held June 20–27 at Louhelen Baha’i School and conducted entirely in Spanish.
Their aim was to offer participants a means of developing skills and confidence to carry on meaningful conversations in Spanish and participate in expansion and consolidation activities amidst Latino populations. The session was offered at reduced cost, and some Spiritual Assemblies were specially alerted to the opportunity.
These efforts brought in 17 participants of diverse cultural backgrounds and varied levels of Spanish proficiency, hailing from seven states —from New York to California. Several have informed the Office of Education and Schools about how they plan to utilize their increased capacity.
Planners and presenters included Baha’is whose heritage extends to Mexico, Colombia or Bolivia, and others who had served the Faith in those countries as pioneers.
Jaque Bookwalter, a former pioneer in Colombia who was one of the facilitators, noted that planning was inspired by the Dec. 28, 2010, guidance from the Universal House of Justice, which emphasized the role of “every human group … to arise and contribute to the advancement of civilization.”
Based on the concept of being and doing, the session included study on the spiritual nature of teaching, as well as exercises to put the learning into practice.
Said Bookwalter, “We wanted participants to be fully engaged in Spanish-speaking activities related to the goals of the Plan.” To meet that objective, sessions were built around several books of the Ruhi Institute sequence.
Participants were divided into pairs or small groups. In addition to study and prayer, the groups would practice presenting deepening themes from Ruhi Book 2 (Arising to Serve); inviting prospective seekers and new believers to core activities including devotions, children’s classes and junior youth groups; and directly teaching the verities of the Faith.
Music, games, art and drama — even conversation outside the classroom — were all conducted in Spanish.
Participants also had time to consult and talk about their experiences communicating with Spanish-speaking communities. More than one commented on the challenges of enlisting support from parents of children and junior youth attending local activities — often the young people are bilingual, while parents speak only Spanish.
When Bernadette Rahmani of Roundhill, Virginia, heard of the session, she felt compelled to attend so that she could later “engage in meaningful conversations” with the parents of children attending classes within her cluster of communities. Session activities proved to boost her confidence and she left with two goals: to talk with the mother of a Latino family she visits weekly as well as attend a neighborhood camp over the summer, where she hopes to answer parents’ questions in Spanish.
Tenéa Miller of Cary, North Carolina, also attended because she wants to support her community’s expansion efforts, explaining that family members of Latino junior youth “understand better and are more comfortable when we speak to them in Spanish.” After completing the course, Miller stated, “I am really excited to teach and visit our Latino community of interest!” She went on to say, “I found the session so helpful and inspiring that I wholeheartedly and without hesitation encourage others to attend! It was an excellent use of vacation time!”
Presenters were pleased with the progress that was evident after a week’s practice, as well as the relationships that developed between communities across the country.
They have already received numerous requests for future sessions at other schools and institutes as well as inquiries about the materials used. Based on their experience, they are already working to improve their presentations in hopes of offering additional courses in the future.