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Ramon Ramirez visits Western campus

On June 4, 2012

Professor Eduardo Gonzales-Viaña, who teaches Spanish at Western, originally from Peru, has written many published books on immigration. He teaches a Hispanic and Latin America culture class where the students learn about Spanish speaking countries' culture, economy, society, religion, politics and more. These students work three hours a week with families in the surrounding Monmouth areas to help educate them and to be educated on each other's cultures. Students will present their findings and talk about their time spent with the families at this year's Academic Excellence Showcase. Also attending their Academic Excellence Showcase was the president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), Ramón Ramírez.

Professor Gonzales Viaña worked for three years for UC Berkley in California before coming to work at Western in 1993, where he teaches Spanish. He has written about 40 books, mostly fiction novels, on the struggles of immigration. One of his more famous novels that won a Latino International Prize of Novel of the USA, El Corrido de Dante (Dante's Ballad), is a story about an illegal immigrant who must travel to Las Vegas to find his daughter who has run away with a Latino boy.

The novel speaks on the important issues of  cultural diversity, connection, and acculturation, as many of his novels do. At the end of his novel, La Mujer de la Frontera (Frontier Woman), there is a testimony section where fourteen of his students were able to write a short description of their time working with Hispanic families in their communities.

The reason behind Gonzales-Viaña's culture class is not just to help the students with their understanding of Latin America and Hispanic culture and ways but to help the families in their understanding of American culture as well.

"My students perform an Outreach program where they visit the Hispanic homes of the Willamette Valley while they teach English, Citizenship, DMV rules and other skills for the immigrants' survival in the USA", he explained. Because of this Outreach program called "Building a Bridge" that Dr. Gonzales-Viaña started in 1994, at least 25,000 families have been helped.

 He hopes to raise awareness of the cultural connection that needs to be bridged between the Hispanic or Latin Americans and the Americans in our communities, "you need to understand the soul of people, when you understand the soul you can build a community." His students each will speak at the 2012 Academic Excellence Showcase on their experiences tutoring Hispanic children at the Independence Elementary School, working with the community, and what they have accomplished.

Also attending the 2012 Academic Excellence Showcase in Modern Language is Ramón Ramírez. Professor Gonzales Viaña says Ramírez is internationally renowned. He is a lifelong activist who has provided extraordinary service to the Social Justice Fund region of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon.

Ramon co-founded PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) in 1985 and has been PCUN President since 1995. He has received numerous recognitions, including a Leadership for a Changing World award in 2003, and a Charles F. Bannerman Fellowship in 2000. Ramón co-founded CAUSA, Oregon's immigrants rights coalition, in 1996 and has served, as one of its principal leaders.

Ramirez is a former Board President of the Western States Center and currently serves on the boards of Farmworker Justice, the Alston-Bannerman Fellowship Program of the Center for Social Inclusion, and the UFW Foundation. PCUN's fundamental goal is to empower farmworkers to understand and take action against systematic exploitation and all of its effects. To achieve this end, PCUN is involved in community and workplace organizing on many different levels.

Professor Gonzales-Viaña's work with Western students and the community has helped raise awareness of the bridge with communities he wishes to build, with the dream he hopes to build, "the U.S. is not a nation; it is a dream." His students have helped him each year to bring a better understanding of our cultures together. And with Ramón Ramírez's work with PCUN, the Hispanic and Latin American cultures in America can thrive peacefully.

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