Mariana Chavez Portrait

How This Former “Shy Girl” Became An Advocate For Spanish Speakers

What do MN Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom, and Augsburg University sophomore Mariana Chavez have in common?

They all joined debate to overcome their shyness.

“I was a very shy child,” Mariana says, “Even though I loved reading and writing, it was very difficult for me to talk in front of people who weren’t my direct family members.” Paradoxically, that made her a strong candidate for the debate team. Most people think of debaters as great speakers, but reading and writing is actually key to winning rounds. Great debaters have a reputation for being skilled orators, but reading and writing are also an important foundation for success in the activity. Speaking skills can come through exposure if a student is bold enough to show up to their first practice. In 6th grade, Mariana braved her fear and joined the national topic debate team at Seward Montessori School.

Mariana soon found that practice was the best cure for fear. “I was able to gain confidence through consistent practices that allowed me to grow,” she says. But, she didn’t do it alone. “Learning the art of debate helped me foster relationships with coaches and peers that guided me. The skills carried with me throughout school and I use them everyday.” 

A High-Flying Auggie

She’s bringing those skills to her academic career as a first-generation college student at Augsburg University, where she is a sophomore Latin American Studies major. Now, she’s also giving back to the MNUDL as a LEAD Fellow:

“I jumped at the opportunity of working for the organization that had a big impact on my development. I really appreciate being able to work with folks who carry similar values and want to do work that is meaningful, and impacts people in positive ways.”

Mariana has been an essential advocate for the Minnesota Urban Debate League’s Spanish Debate League program, which provides Spanish immersion debate programming for Minneapolis and St. Paul schools. She translates curriculum, coordinates volunteers, and completes administrative tasks.

Going National

In Summer 2020, Mariana used her skills to assist urban debate leagues across the nation. She was chosen to be part of the 10-member NAUDL Fellowship cohort. Mariana spent the majority of her time in the fellowship making national materials accessible to Spanish-speaking students. “I translated documents from English to Spanish. Another bilingual fellow and I worked on student manuals, curriculum, glossaries together,” Mariana explains. “We got to work as a team checking each other’s work and building our own Spanish debate vocabulary.”

Mariana advocates for Spanish Debate because she believes in its impact. “Spanish debate is incredibly valuable in many aspects,” says Mariana.

“For students whose native language is Spanish – but they have struggled with reading or being comfortable speaking it – Spanish debate gives them the opportunity to practice the language in a safe environment where they are encouraged and challenged.

For students who have recently immigrated to the U.S and mainly speak Spanish, debate gives them the opportunity to participate in an activity where they can foster relationships and grow in their confidence.”

COVID-19 forced us to postpone our Spanish Debate season in 2020. Now, in 2021, we are able to fully provide Spanish Debate, 100% virtually. Mariana’s work has set us up for success this season. That’s critical, because as Mariana explains, 

“For all students, Spanish debate is a place where students can build community while at the same time growing in public speaking, fluency, and more.”

Do you have fluent Spanish skills? Become a debate judge for our Spanish Debate League. No debate experience? No problem. We’ll train you. Sign up for a shift today!