Language Advocate Spotlight: Martha L Vásquez, AATSP President
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The language community’s recent win with the House vote to include the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act (WLARA) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has lead many to ask us: “How can I become an advocate for language policy?”
This week, JNCL’s Trey Calvin spoke with language advocacy veteran, AATSP President, Martha L Vásquez about her team's recent advocacy victory on getting Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to cosponsor the Reaching English Learners Act, officially making the bill bipartisan:
Trey: Tell me about your background with languages. How did you get involved?
Martha: When I was in high school, I was involved with a service-learning project which assisted illiterate elderly members of the community. This was the spark that led me to pursue a career in education with a special appreciation of the importance of language and literacy.
We cannot afford to have our students to be at any kind of disadvantage in understanding world languages and cultures in a global community.
I was raised in a family that appreciated the beauty of multilingualism and multiculturalism. When I immigrated to the United States from Colombia, I lived the disconnect between language education in the US and in other areas of the world. We cannot afford to have our students to be at any kind of disadvantage in understanding world languages and cultures in a global community.
T: When would you say you became "an advocate" for languages? How do you stay involved with so much going on?
M: When I enrolled in college in the United States, I learned that "World Languages" are more the exception than the norm for students here. Most areas of the world are in closer proximity to multiple languages and cultures and I believe that this exposure to differences leads people to become more embracing in the differences and strengths that everyone has to offer the world.
In my classroom, my students did not focus on the mechanics of learning a language, but rather on proficiency in communication, and understanding those who are different than us.
I choose to stay involved through my work as a teacher and educational leader. In my classroom, my students did not focus on the mechanics of learning a language, but rather on proficiency in communication, and understanding those who are different than us. We intentionally approached the study of languages and cultures as the “fifth core” subject. As I accepted leadership roles such as a lead teacher, department chair, committee work for the College Board, TFLA, AATSP, and central office administration, I began to build up the leadership and advocacy spark in others so that they can share their passion for language education and build global competence with others.
T: Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) recently signed on to the Reaching English Learners Act (S.545), joining Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and making the bill officially bipartisan. I understand that came just after he met with you!
Tell us about what happened.
M: I first crossed paths with Senator Cornyn during the 2019 Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) Advocacy Day in Washington DC. There I was accompanied by a small but powerful group of peers from Texas who represented our state as well as our larger organization. Our purpose there was to increase support for language programs and activities across all areas of the federal government, including S.545. I made sure to let his staff know that if they had any questions about our specific advocacy points not to hesitate to reach out to us.
Within two days Mr. Cornyn's staff reached out via email...That's when we really went to work!
Within two days Mr. Cornyn's staff reached out via email with questions regarding English Language Learners and ESL educators’ demographic information. That's when we really went to work!
I immediately conducted research on Texas educators and students to provide pertinent and up to date information to his staff. I wanted to ensure that he and his staff had all the evidence to make informed decisions on these issues. I was certain that with this information, Sen. Cornyn would see how great these needs are for our students.
T: It seems that following-up paid off. Thank you for sharing your insight with the community. In closing, what words of wisdom can you share about what it takes to create change?
M: I believe change starts within each individual. Anytime one seeks to change the direction on any issue that affects our small and larger communities one must be vocal, respectful, and consistent. One definitely needs to always begin with the “why” one decides to act and live accordingly, leading by example. When an opportunity such as this arises, we must seize it to shine light on the issues that are important to us to advocate for change for the better.
Martha Vásquez is the District Coordinator for World Languages in San Antonio, TX.
Have a story that you'd like to share with the community? Do you remember that moment when languages just "clicked" for you? When you realized languages would always be a part of your vocation?
Head over to the Tell Your Story page and let us know!