No international borders were crossed, but a recent journey across cultures was an eye-opening experience for extension agents from five Southern states who gathered in Raleigh last month for a week-long immersion in Latino culture.
Chatham County agent Phyllis Smith learned that the elaborate prom dresses she found at a Latino flea market were for Quinceanera, Mexico’s traditional coming of age celebration for 15-year-old girls.
Others visited a taqueria for a lunch of lengua (tongue) tostados and orchata water, and tasted candies at the dulce shop where piñatas decorated the ceiling.
Davidson County agent Amy Lynn Albertson noticed the prickly pear cactus leaves being trimmed of thorns in preparation for sale at an open-air produce market.
“Extension needs to be better prepared to serve the Latino audience and to build bridges in our communities for better cross-cultural understanding,” said Dr. Ed Jones, director of extension at Virginia Tech, who participated in the program.
The Latino community welcomed the interest, agreeing to host participants in their homes over the weekend and involving them in all of their family activities, including meals, church services and outings.
The immersion experience was the second phase of a 16-month pilot program developed by members of the Southern Extension Research Activity-37. The program, called the New Hispanic South, began last fall with a distance learning component about Latino culture.
Leaders of the professional development program were agromedicine extension specialist Julia Storm and Latino affairs facilitator Cintia Aguilar along with Melissa Edwards Smith of the Center for International Understanding.