Since 1996, Monmouth’s World Languages and Cultures Department has hosted the annual World Languages Festival where students have the opportunity to display abilities in another language and celebrate other cultures through performances and ethnic cuisine.
This year, falling on Nov. 15, student performances at the festival highlighted cultures from countries like Chile, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and the Chicano community in the US. The festival was founded twenty-seven years ago by Priscilla Gac-Artigas, Ph.D., Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature. Since then, the festival has allowed students and faculty to immerse themselves in and develop a deeper appreciation for various cultures.
When asked what inspired her to begin the World Languages Festival, Gac-Artigas responded, “It was my second year at Monmouth, and I was teaching both French and Spanish and I had a background in performing arts. While a Ph.D. student in Paris, I was part of a Latin American theater with which I performed in around 17 international festivals and all regions in France. As a native from Puerto Rico who spoke Spanish and English and studied French as a third language, I knew first-hand the importance of practicing the new language not only in but outside the classroom.”
She continued, “I wanted to give my students a platform where they could showcase what they had learned in class, feel proud of their accomplishments, and find purpose in their study of a second or third language so that they could find a connection between the classroom and real life. In addition, I saw the festival as a privileged moment for students to experience the excitement of being on stage; it is not easy to express yourself in public in front of a large audience, daring to do it in a language that you probably do not master yet is a challenge. The whole experience prepares them to enter the world with confidence and embrace any challenge they may find in the real world.”
The World Languages Festival is an incredibly important event for all students and faculty at Monmouth, whether they speak another language or not. Julia Riordan-Goncalves, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures and Director of Spanish for Business Minor, emphasized, “The World Languages Festival is an important annual event at Monmouth. It honors our students and gives them the chance to show off their incredible talents in the world languages and cultures they have chosen to study. Additionally, it highlights the diversity of languages and cultures present within our campus community. Many of our students are multilingual and multicultural, and this is an opportunity for them to share part of what makes them proud.”
Riordan-Goncalves added, “The World Languages Festival brings students and faculty together from across campus, to celebrate our global community in a fun and engaging way.”
One participant in this year’s World Languages Festival was a junior English student, Jessica Propst. She is currently taking Spanish 1, and it is her first time studying the language. Propst wrote and performed a poem for this year’s World Languages Festival titled, “Gatito mío, ¿dónde estás?”
When asked about her poem and why she chose to read it for the Festival, Propst explained, “Professor Gac-Artigas inspired me to read my poem for the World Languages Festival! I am a transfer student at Monmouth and I now commute to school, but prior to this, I attended a different college where I lived on campus. My poem is about me missing my cat while I was away and wondering where he was and what he was doing while I was at class.”
“I would encourage other students to learn about another culture and their language because it is such a rewarding feeling to understand what others are saying when they are speaking another language. Since taking Spanish, I’ve heard many people speaking it outside of the classroom (whether it’s on TV or just hearing strangers talk to each got in public), and I am amazed at how much I am actually able to understand.”
Coordinating the World Languages Festival for the past twenty-seven years has been incredibly rewarding for Gac-Artigas as well. She said, “The most rewarding part has been the smiles and feeling of pride in students’ faces, seeing them thrive through the learning of a new language, seeing them become multiculturally competent individuals with love, respect, and understanding of different peoples and cultures. These are the kind of individuals who will make good leaders in the future should we want a world where respect, peace, and justice prevail.”
Gac-Artigas is retiring in June 2024, but the festival will continue her legacy at Monmouth. Riordan-Goncalves explained, “The World Languages Festival will continue after Dr. Gac-Artigas’ retirement. We took the opportunity this year to honor her as the founder of the festival, as well as an incredible professor and colleague. This is not the end of the festival, however, and we plan to keep it going for many more years to come.”