Video by Isabella Vaughn
The BYU Spain Spring study abroad program offers opportunities to learn Spanish language, culture and history in a realistic and lifelike setting. However, for one BYU student, this study abroad lent him an additional opportunity: to reconnect with family members and a heritage he never fully experienced.
Cristian Torres grew up in Ruskin, Florida, with a Mexican-American mother and a Spanish father. His dad grew up in Spain and didn’t move to the United States — or even learn English — until after his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Torres said he was primarily exposed to Mexican culture, due to his mother’s heritage.
“My mom is Mexican-American, so that’s the culture I grew up in — Mexican music, Mexican traditions, Mexican food,” Torres said. “I knew I was Spaniard, but I didn’t feel the Spaniard in me until I started taking classes with Dr. Greg Stallings and being here (in Spain).”
Torres said he took a history and literature class from BYU Spanish and Portuguese professor Gregory Stallings — who was also the director for the Spain study abroad program. Torres said taking this class is where he “started feeling the beauty of the humanities,” prompting him to study abroad in Spain.
“My first motivation was seeing the things he taught us about,” Torres said.
After deciding to go to Spain, Torres recognized the opportunity to see some of his paternal family members he hadn’t met or seen since he was 4 years old.
One weekend in May, Torres took a train to Huelva, Spain, where his grandfather, aunts and uncles live. Torres said he didn’t even know what his aunt would look like when she picked him up from the train station. He just heard people yelling his name and then was smothered in warm embraces and cheek kisses.
“Because they knew we were related, it was like an instant connection with them,” Torres said.
Torres arrived at a family member’s apartment, and they immediately asked him if he wanted something to eat and started whipping out a plethora of food. Torres said this reminded him of his dad, who always offers food to visitors.
“I realized that’s where my dad gets that from, because anytime I’m with my dad he’s always like, ‘Eat more, eat more,’” Torres said.
Torres’ family is of gypsy heritage and still fully embraces some of the traditions, including the custom of flamenco dancing.
“One thing that ties them to their past is their dance,” Torres said.
On the first night of Torres’ stay, they cleared the furniture from the living room and danced. They played modern music but danced and sang with flamenco influence.
“You can tell that music is the center of their (culture),” Torres said. “It comes from their soul.”
After returning home from this visit with his family, Torres had an assignment to watch a Spanish film that included Spanish guitar music. While watching, he said he thought, “This is me. This is my heritage.”
Torres said this was the first time he felt he could genuinely claim a part of his Spanish heritage, and that this study abroad experience inspired him to continue learning more.