Northern Vance Spanish club takes lessons into real-time lunch experience

Dec. 17, 2013 @ 09:44 PM

Learning Spanish in the classroom is one challenge. Applying it in the real world is quite another.

More than 30 students from Northern Vance High School got such a taste on Tuesday, visiting La Mazorca Mexican Grill on Raleigh Road. But they weren’t there just to get a meal.

The students, most of them members of the Juntos Somos Uno Spanish Club, stepped up to several taste and talk challenges while also sharing in an authentic Mexican dining experience.

Several third-year Spanish students plied their conversation skills while ordering. There were also opportunities to interview La Mazorca employees in their native tongue.

“We came here, not just to eat, but to be exposed to other cultures, especially the Mexican culture,” said Kayla Hawkins, the Juntos club president.

Her sentiment echoed closely with teachers Robin Closs and Liv Alvarado, who as sponsors of Juntos hope the event becomes an encouragement for more club membership.

“We wanted to expose students to authentic Mexican food and culture,” Closs said, “as opposed to what they are used to, what they have been eating.”

The learning experience took the students far away from dry classroom exercises and written homework. It was also quite removed from the Americanized restaurant fare commonly found under the Mexican banner these days.

“To really learn a language, you have to break out of your comfort zone,” Alvarado said. “Speaking with native speakers of Spanish does help our students. It is difficult to learn a language without that opportunity.”

Taylor Hargrave stepped away from the comfort of her native English to interview Raul Mendoza, who she discovered is one of the managers at La Mazorca.

Matt Nevils also made the attempt at immersion into conversational Spanish with someone who was going to talk in the native real-time quickness that cuts away any classroom translation training wheels.

Both found comfort in the fact that La Mazorca employees are handy with conversational English as a backup plan for exchanging ideas.

Hargrave, who hopes to become fluent in Spanish, said Mendoza’s help in English eased their conversation through several stalling points. Mendoza said Hargrave did a good job speaking Spanish.

She reported that she learned Mendoza is from Ecuador, the restaurant has been open for two full months now, they make all of their tortillas, and to be authentic they use their recipes.

“She did good with asking questions,” Mendoza said. “She was understanding me really well.”

“I plan to take Spanish IV, and I plan to take Spanish in college as well,” Hargrave said.

The revelry grew loudest when the taste challenges put Menudo and Flan up for a try.

“Apparently, it is cow stomach, like the lining,” Evan Lowery said about the Menudo soup dish, “and it is very different. Very, very different. Good job, you guys!”

Others tasted, and it became something to share.

“I think it was OK,” Annabele Webb said. “The texture was different. That’s why we’re here, to try new things. It was interesting.”

And not on fast food menus.

Flan was a universal hit with the teen-age students — the custard and caramelized topping made instant sense to their Americana taste buds.

“Awesome, loved it. This is very good,” Lowery said. “Overall, the food really was very good.”

Salvador Chavez, one of the co-owners of La Mazorca, said the visit by students was another sign that the restaurant’s welcome in Henderson continues to grow. It is reaching both the local Mexican community and the population at large.

“We are happy to interact with people who want to learn Spanish,” Chavez said. “Since we are from Mexico, we know how these dishes are made there. We are trying to bring that here, and to put our own signature on all we do.”

Closs said that the Spanish club’s name translates to “together we are one.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com