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For the past semester, students in Rossy Toledo’s honors class in intermediate Spanish have interviewed members of Knoxville’s Spanish-speaking community as part of a class project to create StoryCorps podcasts documenting the stories of East Tennessee immigrants.

On November 30, the students will share their experiences from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Mary Greer Room of Hodges Library. The event, “Recording the Lives of East Tennessee Immigrants,” is open to students, faculty, staff, and members of the public. Refreshments will be provided.

Toledo, a senior lecturer in the Department of Modern and Foreign Languages and Literatures, developed the project to serve as an experiential learning opportunity for her students, who are mostly freshmen and sophomores with at least three years of high school Spanish. This is the third semester she’s assigned the podcast project to her Spanish honors class.

“This project provided a way for students to bridge the classroom and the real world,” Toledo said. “Students use the language and interview skills they develop in class and put them to use to learn about the issues impacting the Hispanic community locally, nationally, and globally.”

For the assignment, Toledo partnered each of her 13 students with a member of Knoxville’s Hispanic community. The students designed and recorded their interviews in Spanish and uploaded them to StoryCorps’ free online archive, where they live on for future classes and members of the public to access.

For his podcast, Jesse Buckley of Jackson, Tennessee, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, spoke with Roberto Martinez, who was born in Mexico and now works in Knoxville as an accountant. Martinez told about the Christmastime tradition of Las Posadas, in which neighbors go from house to house playing the roles of Mary and Joseph looking for an inn. The tradition, which includes singing and gifts, is one Martinez celebrated as a child in Mexico and still celebrates in Knoxville with Mexican friends.

“It was really interesting for me learning about how Roberto took these traditions he’d grown up with in Mexico, and how he’s tried to preserve them here in the US,” Buckley said.

Buckley was also intrigued to learn about how Martinez learned English by watching American movies and listening to the radio. “That’s what I do to learn Spanish,” said Buckley, who listens to the BarcadeVG and La Parroquia podcasts to improve his language skills.

The parallels were also apparent to Olivia Scheffler of Bellmore, New York. A freshman majoring in biology, Scheffler spoke with José Ceballos, a cook at a local Cheddar’s restaurant. In their conversations, Ceballos shared a favorite memory from childhood: swimming with donkeys in a river near his grandfather’s house. (On one occasion, he was actually bitten by a donkey.) Scheffler had done the same as a girl at her uncle’s farm in upstate New York.

“Me and my cousins and the rest of the family would go swimming in the Hudson River with donkeys,” Scheffler said. “Because the current was so strong, we’d hold on to them and play.”

Luckily for her, Scheffler was never bitten.

Like Buckley and the other students in the class, Scheffler believes projects like these are important for increasing cultural awareness, especially as communities grow more and more diverse.

“These are voices of people who want to be heard,” Scheffler said. “This project gave us the chance to voice and bring life to stories that may not have had the chance to be told before.”

Among the community members interviewed for the project were Ramón León, a Cuban former associate professor of statistics at UT; Hector Saldivar, a Mexican artist and sculptor; and Loida Velasquez, a Puerto Rican former adjunct professor at UT and owner of Hispanics in Education and Training.

The event on November 30 will include posters in English explaining each student’s work as well as iPads for attendees to listen to the podcasts. Several of the podcasts are available on the StoryCorps free online archive:


Brian Canever (865-974-0937,