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An Asturian in New York

February 16, 2011

On September 2010, a crew from the Asturian Television (TPA) flew to the Big Apple to record the day-to-day life of Paquita Suárez-Coalla, a Modern Languages Department Spanish professor, for a show titled Asturianos en el Mundo  (Asturians Around the World).

They began the journey at Ground Zero. “I came to New York 16 years ago,” said Suárez-Coalla. “The main reason was that I got married here and now I have my daughters, my family, and my job here.”

From Ground Zero, they walked to BMCC, where she began work as a Spanish adjunct professor in the Modern Languages Department in 1996, then received a full-time position in the 2000 Fall semester. The TV crew accompanied Suárez-Coalla to one of her basic Spanish classes, to the Tutoring Center at the library, the Early Childhood Center and her office.

Along the way, she pointed out the diversity of the student body, and valuable services such as tutoring and childcare.

“This is a multicultural school, and it's 'for real',” she explained to the camera. “They have a tutoring service in which the most advanced students in a specific subject help their own peers.” She also pointed out the support BMCC offers to student parents, enabling them to attend class while their own children stay at the school day care.        

A journey that began long before the cameras rolled

In the summer of 1992, Suárez-Coalla first arrived in New York from her native Asturias, Spain. Researching Spanish Philology on a scholarship from the University of Oviedo, she was finalizing her doctoral dissertation on the Argentinean writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, and after just two months, returned to Spain.

She spent the following year in Toluca, México, as a visiting professor at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, and in 1994, explaining that, “I married a Chicano,” returned to New York for good.

Eventually, she settled with her family in Washington Heights, and on the day of filming, accompanied the crew there, after first wandering through BMCC’s Tribeca neighborhood—two parts of the City that represent its many contrasts.

As they wrapped up the shoot in Washington Heights, the film crew experienced the rich Hispanic flavor characterized by the Caribbean Spanish accents all around them.

“This is the most Hispanic neighborhood in the city, more specifically Dominican,” Suárez-Coalla said. “When my parents come from Spain to visit, they move with ease, and go shopping because they can perfectly communicate in Spanish.”

The filming session ended in scenic Bennet Park, which occupies the highest point in Manhattan, and where Suárez-Coalla and her daughters, Jacinta and Rosalba, enjoyed an unseasonably warm autumn day—after she first picked them up from the school bus, and took them home to leave their backpacks and grab a time-honored American classic, the after-school merienda, or snack.

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  • Modern Languages Professor Paquita Suárez-Coalla recently took Spanish TV reporters on a tour of BMCC and beyond
  • Reflecting BMCC’s multicultural student body, Suárez-Coalla has studied and taught in Spain, Mexico and New York
  • The film tour ended in Washington Heights, one of NYC’s many Hispanic neighborhoods

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