In the South Philadelphia restaurant El Compadre, students in the Drexel University Spanish-language course “Sanctuary Spaces and Practices in the U.S., 1982-Present” shared a meal with chef-owner and activist Cristina Martínez.
Martínez made a splash in the Philly food scene when she and her husband opened South Philly Barbacoa, named one of America’s best new restaurants in 2016 by Bon Appétit magazine. She was also recently featured on the Netflix show “Chef ’s Table.”
Despite having built a community through food, she says a true “sanctuary” doesn’t exist for her in the United States because of her status as an undocumented immigrant.
Martínez is one of a few speakers who shared their perspectives with the students throughout the term. Created by Steve Vásquez Dolph, PhD, an assistant teaching professor of Spanish, the course capitalized on Drexel’s strong focus on community-based learning to explore Spanish language and culture in the context of current issues, such as immigration and the role of both official and unofficial “sanctuary cities” like Philadelphia.
Anaïs D’Ottavio, a senior global studies student in the class, describes the trip as a “mini study abroad.” She says she enjoyed the chance to delve into interesting readings and modern situations while honing her Spanish-speaking skills.
“Going to the restaurant and hearing [Martínez’s] story — taking in her mannerisms and expressions — was so much more powerful than reading a text or watching a video,” she says.