San Francisco State journalism professors Cristina Azocar and Lourdes Cárdenas—who worked side by side to create the first Bilingual Spanish Journalism degree offered at a public university—received the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter (SPJ NorCal) on Jan. 27.
“Well, they barely called me about it last week to tell me,” said Cárdenas, a veteran journalist who has been in the field for over 25 years. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
The new major was approved last October by the California State University system Chancellor, Joseph I. Castro and is set to commence in the fall 2022 semester. Azocar—a member of the Upper Mattaponi tribe—has worked in the journalism field for over 30 years. Creating the major required many steps, a process that began in 2018, Azocar recalls.
“I was the department chair when we finally got the hire to start some sort of Spanish journalism program. We didn’t know what it was going to look like then,” said Azocar. Cárdenas was hired in 2018, thus began the work to make the inaugural degree a possibility for future students.
Although the bilingual program received support, Azocar and Cárdenas had to face the often time-consuming bureaucratic process. Additionally, they dealt with uncomfortable questions about the usage of language in the program. According to Azocar, they were asked if those participating in the program would be able to speak English.
“We were like, well, this is the subtle racism that bilingual students can’t actually speak English. That bilingual or Spanish speaking students are going to not have the academic ability to do the program,” said Azocar.
Cárdenas, who is from the city of Saltillo in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, said that she wants all professors to participate in the classes offered in the new major, even if they don’t speak Spanish.
“All of the professors will be involved in one way or another because the program is bilingual,” Cárdenas said. “At first, I mentioned that we wanted to develop a Spanish program, but that it later turned into a bilingual program. That was one of the decisions that we took because at the end of the day, in this country English is spoken, the program needed to be bilingual because if you promote a Spanish program you won’t get any students.”
She stated the reason she believes students wouldn’t enroll in a Spanish-only journalism major is because most of the journalism students who speak Spanish are bilingual. For many students who speak both languages, English is still the language used most in their day to day conversations. Although most may speak an adequate level of Spanish, their writing skills are not at that same level. She hopes to help polish their Spanish-writing skills with the classes offered through the major.
Andy Damian-Correa is an SF State student who is planning on getting the Bilingual Spanish Journalism degree. He is from Mexico and his first language is Spanish. Correa received his citizenship this year after being a refugee for five years.
Correa admits, the grammar class he took last semester was really difficult for him, but he managed to pass with an A. He is very excited to take more courses under this new major.
“I’m excited because I am an immigrant. Being Mexican, a gay, open man that is looking to give back in some way to the community and the country,” said Correa. “Being a U.S. citizen this year, I think it’s important to allow me to give back to my community and to give a voice to people that are not represented.”
Azocar says that although this was a very hard and long process, they enjoyed working together. She handled most of the university bureaucracy, while Cárdenas handled the bilingual Spanish journalism part.
“We just played on each other’s strengths for those things. She always joked. She’s like, ‘OK, it’s now time for you to put that university mumbo jumbo in there.”
For those interested in the bilingual program or who have more questions, please reach out to Cristina Azocar at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Lourdes Cárdenas at email@example.com