Valdosta Daily Times

May 6, 2013

Learning the life language of travel

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Let's start in Peru, in the town of Pacasmayo. A coastal town in northern Peru, it's grown in recent years, but when Dr. Miryam Espinosa-Dulanto was growing up there, it was smaller, a fishing town with a population of around 2,000. It's where she learned about photography from her father, a commercial engineer who studied photography as a hobby.

Let's move to Lima, the capital city of Peru. It's where Espinosa-Dulanto attended the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Studying history, she became interested in archaeology, particularly in how people fed themselves, how they stored foods and seeds, how that connected into the larger social structure. It's an interest that would stay with her throughout her life.

She also found herself becoming interested in photography as she took pictures while on archeological expeditions.

“When you're doing a dig, it's never going to look the same way again,” said Espinosa-Dulanto. “Peru is so rich in history, and we were looking at that past.”

Espinosa-Dulanto worked in archeology for nine years while working as a fifth-grade social studies teacher when she wasn't on site on a dig, exploring Incan ruins, among others.

Let's go to Madison, Wis. This is where Espinosa-Dulanto found herself after moving to the United States with her daughter. A far cry from the warmth of Peru, she started learning English, aided by friends and family who were supportive.

“Madison was a good place to raise a child,” said Espinosa-Dulanto. “Cold, but very open-minded.”

While raising her daughter and mastering a new language, Espinosa-Dulanto started graduate work at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, ultimately earning a master's of art in educational policies for linguistic minorities and a Ph.D. in curriculum theory and teacher education.

“When I came (to the United States), I came with nothing,” said Espinosa-Dulanto. “I had education and experience, but I wouldn't have made it without support, without people trusting me and my experience.”

Looking for a way to further her English studies, Espinosa-Dulanto turned to poetry.

“Speaking English was like a box, a prison ... but it absolutely liberated me. With poetry, you can say what you want to say with a few words. I can go straight to the point, like how a knife cuts.”

She taught for years as an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University while traveling to Woosong University in Korea and önköping University in Sweden as a visiting professor.

Let's look at now, where we find Espinosa-Dulanto here, teaching Spanish at Valdosta State University after moving to Valdosta to be closer to her daughter's family.

“You have to honor your students,” said Espinosa-Dulanto.

Espinosa-Dulanto has left archeology behind, but she's still interested in what role food plays in a society. This has led to her working with the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project. Ran out of Emory University, the project started 18 years ago and aims to provide free health care to farmworkers and their dependents. Every June, students and faculty from the Emory PA program, along with a number of local volunteers and translators, visit farms in Lowndes, Echols and Decatur counties, performing on-site health exams and evaluations. For some farmworkers, this is about the only chance they'll get to receive any medical care for the year.

Along with teaching Spanish, she also teaches English as a Second Language — ESL — classes on Saturday mornings at Hildegard's and Christ the King Episcopal Church downtown, from 10-noon, offering free instruction to anyone who wants to learn English. Every Saturday, 17-20 people show up to learn, while volunteers from the church offer childcare for parents who want to learn.

“I understand what it means to not understand language. That's why ESL work is so important to me. There's no strings attached; if you're interested, you just need to show up.”