President Donald Guy Generals kicked off the National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration with a discussion of a larger than life classic as the Fireside Chats began anew.
During the program, Dr. Generals presided over a free-wheeling conversation of what is arguably one of the greatest and bestselling works of fiction ever published — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote.
For an hour in the Winnet Student Life Building Coffeehouse on Sept. 29, he led the audience in a discussion of the ways Don Quixote has influenced global culture, even five centuries after it was first published. It has inspired ballets, films, cookbooks and clothing lines. The word “quixotic,” meaning extravagantly chivalrous or romantic, has even made its way into the English lexicon.
Dr. Generals noted that American idealism reflects Quixote’s quest for liberty — “to be part of the whole but to be able to express our individualism...I call that jazz,” said the College’s president, who is also an accomplished drummer.
The story revolves around a nameless nobleman who reads so many classic romantic novels that he begins to believe the stories’ plotlines as reality. In other words, “he reads himself into insanity,” Dr. Generals said. The deranged nobleman takes the name Don Quixote, enlists a commoner sidekick named Sancho Panza, and together, the duo embark on a series of adventures to correct the wrongs of the world Quixote sees through his lens.
In a fascinating exchange with the audience, Dr. Generals pointed out the dichotomy between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and what each represented: rich vs. poor; power vs. struggle, idealism vs. common sense.
The Fireside Chats, launched by Dr. Generals last fall, engaged the College community in an effort to learn from and with each other. During the chat, Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, an English instructor at the College, introduced the audience to the works of Juan Felipe Herrera, the poet laureate of the United States and the first Latino to hold the honor. Johnson-Valenzuela guided audience members through a responsive reading of two of Herrera's poems that demonstrated how Hispanic culture is woven into the American identity.
Hispanic Heritage Month offered other opportunities to learn about various people and the many cultures. Student Life hosted a luncheon with meals prepared by the Culinary Arts students and remarks by Dr. Rosanna Reyes, Dean of First Generation Learning Initiatives at Williams College. The Student Programming Board also sponsored a Hispanic Music Celebration.