For the eighth year, the University of Nebraska at Omaha is hosting the Creative Writing Contest in Spanish. The statewide contest is open to all students in grades 5-12.
The contest was created nine years ago by Dr. Claudia Garcia, a UNO associate professor of foreign languages. She continues to organize the annual fall event that receives hundreds of submissions each year.
The inspiration for the contest came from Garcia’s own children.
“I was born in Argentina, I grew up there,” said Garcia. “My children were born in different places. They actually spoke English at home more than Spanish when they were little kids. So I thought, they understand it, they speak it but they rarely write because their education was in English.”
Garcia felt that this was likely also happening in other multi-cultural homes. She sought to provide an opportunity for heritage speakers to embrace their native language. After exploring the topic more, she came to realize that creative writing in Spanish was something that could benefit all students.
“I realized that this was much broader than just heritage speakers,” Garcia said. “This was a great opportunity for anybody because it allows any person learning the language to use the language in a creative way, not just in a structured academic function.”
UNO student Dafnis Delgado moved here from Mexico as a teenager. Just as Garcia’s children, she finds herself only speaking Spanish when at home, though the language is an important part of her culture and identity.
“It’s an important thing to maintain,” Delgado said. “I think young people that don’t share that culture can also find beauty in the language, they can also identify – can find a little bit of who they are.”
Delgado can see the benefits for students learning Spanish to also learn to write creatively in the language.
Delgado, who is currently minoring in creative writing, struggled with writing in English in high school, though she could speak the language well. One teacher even told her that she forgot Del-gado was not from the U.S. until she read her writings.
“The words were there, I could spell the words and everything, but the sentence structure was different and you could tell,” Delgado said.
For Garcia, the contest is not only about highlighting the use of Spanish when writing. It is about students finding their own voices through a creative outlet.
Each year the genre of the submissions changes. This year grades 5-8 will be writing a fictional narrative based on a collection of artworks displayed at the Joslyn Art Museum, while those in grades 9-12 have been asked to write a personal narrative about social justice and social responsibility.
“The main reason why this year we are stressing narrative is be-cause narrative provides the mold, the shelf that allows us to build knowledge,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t matter if that knowledge will be math, English, history or science. You give to things a narrative shape. We want to encourage and sustain to build strength, and all that has to do with narrative structure.”It is an opportunity to explore culture and gain knowledge about oneself.
Above all, Garcia hopes that participating students will learn to explore and understand themselves. She hopes that the writers that participate this year look within themselves and do not deliver prepackaged pieces, but instead examine how social justice is something they can relate to based on personal experiences.
Delgado agrees that this contest is much more than a contest. It is an opportunity to explore cul-ture and gain knowledge about oneself.
“Having contests like these can spark that creativity, that desire to learn more,” Delgado said. “Even if you’re 100 percent Irish American and you start taking Spanish classes, you discover a little bit of the beauty. You’re a little bit more and you’re a little bit wiser. Even if you’re younger, it just sparks something and it’s beautiful and I love it.”
This year’s winners will be announced on Nov. 1. Their accomplishment will be celebrated during an awards ceremony at UNO on Nov. 1