Growing up in Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Mónica Torregrosa knew that speaking your mind could lead to imprisonment, exile or even death.
"We had very little chance to speak our opinions. You had to keep a low profile," she says.
That's why the HCC professor of Spanish encourages a lively exchange of ideas.
"It's important to me that people are well informed about what's around them," she says. "We try to get students to think critically, to hear different sides. I tell students, 'When at all possible, don't be silent.' When you live in a democracy and you're not afraid for your life, you should speak your mind."
Torregrosa fosters such discussion in her Honors Colloquia, "The Immortality of the Revolution: Resistance in Latin America," co-taught with English professor James Dutcher. Students read novels, plays, short stories, memoirs and historical documents that have resistance as their theme.
She said the course title derives from the words of Latin American guerilla leader Che Guevara, who, when facing execution in Bolivia, said he was thinking of "the immortality of the revolution" instead of his own fate.
Torregrosa, 54, lived in Chile until 1984, coming to the United States for graduate school. She received her master's in English from Drew University, in Madison, N.J., and a master's in Spanish from the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
She received her bachelor's in English/Spanish Translation from Chile's Universidad de Concepción. She remembers the president of the school being taken away, a student being murdered in the parking lot, and police stopping a protest organized by students.
Friends of her family were imprisoned, and her own family was split apart when her sister and brother-in-law, both college professors, moved their family to Ecuador after being fired from their jobs for supporting the deposed president, Salvador Allende.
Torregrosa now lives in South Windsor, Conn., with her husband Donald Jones, a professor of rhetoric and university honors director at the University of Hartford, and their two children, Paulina, 20, and Peter, 17.
Last year, Torregrosa received the Elaine Marieb Faculty Chair for Teaching Excellence. The award recognizes a full-time faculty member with five or more years of service who exemplifies outstanding classroom teaching.
Torregrosa has taught at HCC since 1999. Among her other courses are elementary, intermediate and advanced Spanish; Spanish for Native Speakers, The Spanish Short Story and Spanish for Health Careers.
She explained that Spanish for Native Speakers is for those who want to go beyond the domestic use of Spanish and take it to a professional level. Students learn medical Spanish and learn about cultural differences among patients who don't speak English.
Similarly, a cultural component is part of her regular classes.
"When you teach a language, looking at things from another perspective is really important," she said. "You can't look at it with your English-speaking hat on."
-- RONNI GORDON