#ACTFL22, a testimony.

November is a strange month for me. It’s conference season for many. It’s the time of the year when I’m starting to feel burnout.

Before this incredibly affirming and inspiring weekend, I was already thinking about how much I would say or do with those I’ve secretly fanboyed all these years via social media. I don’t take for granted that these sometimes crazy online interactions were also the gateways that opened so many doors, opportunities, and networking possibilities.

It all started with a message to my dear friend, Bertha Delgadillo, with whom I’ve been in contact for the past years. No nos conocíamos en persona, but I felt this would be the easiest of connections due to our Mexican background. Picking her up at the airport before heading back to our hotel and eating some quesabirrias and jarritos together was the perfect way to start the weekend!

That lobby of the Omni hotel also became the hub of some of the most fantastic “reconnecting moments” with folks I had no person-to-person interactions ever. Some of these encounters were full of excitement, and of course, many others were just moments of seeing your dear old friends as if time and the current pandemic hadn’t ended yet.

I noticed how scared I was of not showing too much enthusiasm, even if I was deep inside, like “I’m such a big fan of your work” and “I appreciate your voice and your insights.” One thing that is true for me is my difficulty socially engaging and interacting with folks.

Some of my biggest takeaways were how much I missed connecting, reconnecting, and networking in person; this conference was a good mix of excitement, awareness, and, perhaps, calls for action in various sessions.

Also, I’m checking my privilege here for my colleagues with long covid and immunocompromised family members. I trust the virtual option of this conference was a good way of including those who couldn’t make it in person.

Now, the thing I’m reflecting on the most these days is the new friendships and the decisive moments of affirmation and validation that many of my Black folks, racialized folks, immigrant colleagues, LGBQT+ colleagues, and lesser-known individuals presenting/attending for the first time experienced. I’m having flashbacks on how this felt when I first copresented with my dear William Yepes and Marialuisa DiStefano on the first-ever SIG of Critical and Social Justice themes at ACTFL18.

I’m mentioning this because at that conference, I got to see many of the seasoned presenters as a participant, and how I’d never forget their kindness, compassion, words of advice, and, most importantly, the desire for future collaborations and extended networking. William, Marialuisa, and I are in our 6th year working together on an upcoming publication overseen by the folks who trusted and believed in us back in 2018.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, one thing I do not take for granted at these conferences (in any format) isn’t necessarily attending an individual session to see a specific individual or workshop. Yet, the unique opportunity you all have of getting to know like-minded colleagues, sitting next to you in said sessions, who might be your future copresenter at any conference! Do you see my point?

Proof of this is my experience this year at Boston, getting to know, share, collaborate, and present with two of my most admired and respected colleagues from online interactions: Manuela Wagner and Ben Rifkin. I never imagined that the things I’m most passionate about would capture the interest of folks who navigate similar ideas to mine in WL instruction.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the conference.

Speaking of pictures, and just like I’ve said earlier in my social media, There is something I truly regret from my weekend at actfl in Boston; I was afraid of asking so many of you to take a selfie with me. I don’t know what happened in those moments, but I promise I was genuinely, secretly, and sincerely fanboying so many of you.

Lastly, I have a couple of reflections on a more serious note. If you attended my Sunday morning session, and then if you, like me, found out about the tragic news in Colorado Springs, I hope the testimonio I’ve offered became louder than ever.

I was trying to share a testimony about the importance of creating safe, affirming, and validating spaces for our trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming, and many of our LGBQT+ identities in our classes. It was scary to think that folks attending my session would not take me seriously because this does not follow traditional grammar/CI/WL instruction trends and patterns. I was afraid of how much pushback and mockery I would get.

Luckily, I was blessed with this gift:

Bellísimas notas de mi testimonio de ACTFL 22. Foto, cortesía de Señorita Raciot en Twitter.

These beautiful notes were a gift from the universe, and I thank one and each one of the participants who came and gave me your precious time and space.

That being said, it’s important to remember that many states are pushing to outlaw gender-affirming treatment for trans youth these days. Only if you think you have a chance to disrupt these awful tendencies in your classrooms and if your institutions/districts/communities support you, don’t hesitate to ask questions about how much we can do beyond the “thoughts and prayers.”

Speaking as a cishet man, I need to remind myself that non of my women, trans/nonbinary folks, colleagues, or students need to keep educating folks like me on their struggles and inequities. I need to intellectualize less and speak up more. If ACTFL, or any WL organization, gives me a platform in a large conference. Then we should, by all means, use it wisely and objectively. I am keeping myself in check and being aware of my positionality constantly. It’s time we, the cis folks, the cis male educators, the privileged ones, do more than be allies.

I speak from my privilege and the bubble where I live in Vermont. I acknowledge my position as a cishet male educator who could do much more. If the testimony I shared this Sunday made you rethink your current teaching and practices and sparked a flame of curiosity, empathy, and compassion. Then we’re off to a great start.

Gracias por el tiempo y el espacio que tuviste para leer este testimonio.

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Spanish Teacher, Soccer coach, and Latin Dance Instructor at The Putney School.

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Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez

Spanish Teacher, Soccer coach, and Latin Dance Instructor at The Putney School.