October 29, 2009 Leave a comment
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009
“Mother Superior was a large woman, over six feet tall, and very smart. She always had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other.”
Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, Professor of Language and Literature
Crossing the border is nothing new to Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, 54, professor of language and literature at Southwestern College. Since second grade forging la linea has been a constant part of her life.
“My parents decided that my sister and I should go to school across the border,” said Guadiana-Costa. “Many families at that time believed that it was important for their children to be bilingual. Crossing the border back then, as far as the wait, was really bad.”
A community-made carpooling system gave many individuals the opportunity to gain extra income for their families, and allowed parents to get their children across the border for a bi-lingual education.
“There was no bus service for us children,” she said. “Private individuals would pick us up from various homes and transport us back and forth to the border to attend school in those old station wagons, the kind that had the wooden panels on the side, All of these station wagons would be waiting for us every time we crossed the border. They would take us to the border for school and as soon as school was over, they would take us back.”
Guadiana-Costa spent many years in Catholic schools in America, but Tijuana was her home. Her family and friends were there. Her life was there and complete. Outside of school she experienced very little of America’s culture in this region.
Guadiana-Costa started attending SWC after graduating high school and had no idea what she wanted to study.
“In my first year, every time I did something new, I liked that,” she said. “That would be something not afforded to me had I lived in Mexico. There, you have to decide from the beginning and follow a course of study in that direction only. Here I was able to re-visit history or philosophy as an adult.”
Her stay at SWC was short-lived. She fell in love, married and started a family. She dropped out of college after her first year to be a wife and mother.
“Once I had my first child, in my mind that was it,” said Guadiana-Costa. “I had made a choice. It was more important for me to raise my child, and after my second, well, motherhood is a full-time job.”
But the time came when her own children started attending school. By then, she was a single mother and on her own.
“Something inside me must have been lurking, because as soon as my children started school, I started volunteering,” she said. “I started helping at a Catholic school teaching second graders. Eventually I was asked to start teaching an art class. I remember how nerve-wrecking it was to be up there and having the demands of teaching and controlling a room full of second graders. But it was also so fulfilling for me.”
At the age of 25 she had been teaching at the school for a few years when the Mother Superior of the school forever changed her view of her future in two short sentences.
“Mother Superior was a large woman, over six feet tall, and very smart,” she said. “She always had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She could be pretty scary. But one day she walked up to me, pointed her finger at me and said, ‘Dinorah, you are a smart girl. You should be in college.’ I really began thinking about what she said and knew inside I could do it. The timing was perfect for me to start thinking about myself. She gave me the push I needed to go back to school.”
Guadiana-Costa came back to SWC, still without a major, but knew she could succeed. By the time she finished her second year she knew she wanted to major in Spanish. By 1991 she graduated from SDSU with a B.A. and M.A. in Spanish Linguistics and Literature. She then started teaching at community schools, including SWC.
It was the presidential race of 1992 that brought a change to Guadiana-Costa’s life that she had not expected. Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore Jr. were working hard to bring a new generation into the White House to end 12 years of Republican Party rule. She was inspired by Clinton’s visions of a better way to run America’s government. For the first time, she thought about citizenship.
“I had never thought about becoming an American citizen before Clinton,” she said. “I was perfectly happy being a ‘legal alien’ working here and keeping my nationality. It would have been unpatriotic. But I really wanted to be a part of the change that Clinton spoke about. By then I had learned more in life though. One thing was that patriotism, especially misguided, could be an evil thing. I came to realize that I could be an American and still keep the love, culture and history of my native Mexico without betraying my own heritage. So I started the process so that I could be a citizen in time to vote.”
Guadiana-Costa pursued her desire for citizenship and finally the day came for her to take the oath. She said that she is not normally one to let her mood dictate her day, but that morning when she woke up, she felt different.
“I was so excited about the day, but I was also very angry,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how to change the way I was feeling. But the day went on, and I went to the ceremony. Once I took the oath, I was happy, very happy. I was waving my little American flag all day. I am still happy that I made that decision in my life. I also cast my vote for President Clinton.”
SWC recognized Guadiana-Costa in 1993 with the Governing Board Faculty Recognition Award for Teaching Excellence. Soon after SWC offered her a position as full-time faculty.
“At the time I was offered a full-time position at SWC, I also taught at two other schools,” she said. “One was okay and the other one I loved. It was, well let’s just say it was a school for very privileged young people. I remember after summer break I asked students what they had done over the summer. One had been to China and another to Peru with her father who was a journalist for National Geographic. These young people had their lives already mapped out at a very early age, and were already heading for a life of success.”
It was the diversity of SWC that helped her decide to join as a full-time member of the faculty in 1996.
“As much as I loved the one school and the students that I taught, I wanted more,” she said. “There is a diversity at SWC that you can’t find anywhere else. I wanted to teach to students like me. To be able to make a difference in those who don’t know which direction they want to head and don’t have their lives already planned.”
Guadiana-Costa has been a full-time faculty member for 13 years. She teaches Spanish to both non-natives and native speakers alike with courses in Hispanic culture, Hispanic literature and Spanish language. She co-authored “El español de hoy, cuaderno para nativos.” (Spanish of Today, Textbook for Natives.) This text is used in Spanish classes for Spanish-speakers and also co-authored and published a workbook to accompany “Entre Mundos,” a textbook for native Spanish speakers. This workbook has been adopted at SWC as well as 22 other colleges and universities throughout the country.
Her Spanish class for the beginning non-native is what is known as a “total immersion” course. Her teaching methods and text teaches how to speak the language, to read, write and understand the culture that drives it. Each class is an interactive experience in which all students are required to participate.
Aryn Lee Copeland, 24, psychology major, is in her second semester with the professor. She said she was really scared about taking Spanish due to bad experiences in high school. It was by chance that she registered for her class but the first day that the professor walked into the room, she felt at ease.
“She was welcoming, professional and I felt she cared about our success,” said Copeland. “She made a point to remember our names on the first day. She also had us students participate in an exercise to remember each others names. It made me feel like we were a team conquering Spanish 101 together. After that I knew I had to continue the next semester with her. I arranged my schedule to fit her class time.”
Joel M. Levine, Ed.D., dean of languages and humanities, described Guadiana-Costa as one of the strongest advocates of higher-language learning using a communicative approach and infusing the latest educational developments.
“She is the kind of person trying to build a diversified community that is positive and welcoming,” said Levine. “Spearheading the International Film Festival each year is just one of the many things that she brings to SWC along with her teaching. With this festival she works diligently with others to bring the campus and the students films that highlights a view of the worlds of different cultures. She knows how to get people excited, motivated and involved in creating this special event.”
This year’s Ninth Annual Culture & Language International Film Festival will be held October 12-29, featuring films from Spain, Italy, France, Japan, China, Portugal and the Philippines. This event demonstrates that entertaining and teaching is a strong link between culture and language.
Deana Alonso, professor of language and literature, said she has worked with Guadiana-Costa for 13 years and called her an excellent colleague.
“She loves to work cooperatively,” said Alonso. “She is fair, willing to listen and is so patient with students. She has worked very hard on our film festival and just as hard in bringing community service into her classes.”
Former SWC student Shannan Casteen, 24, a social work major at SDSU, said Guadiana-Costa would always be the one teacher who made a difference in her life.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I hear her name is best friend,” said Casteen. “She is a woman who goes above and beyond what is required of her as a teacher. She truly cares about her students and how they perform, even their everyday lives as people. When I was going through a rough patch in my personal life, Dinorah reminded me of all the positives, and actually really helped me through that time. I hope to always keep in contact with her, even if it’s just to say hello.”
Since her beginnings here as a student and career as a teacher, SWC has traveled with the professor all of her adult life. She said her love of teaching, the diversity of this campus and her closeness to her native nation creates an atmosphere that she loves being part of.
“You ask me why I am here,” said Guadiana-Costa. “Southwestern is where I belong, it is home.”
¿Ustedes hablan español? Puedes si tomas las clases con la profesora.