Una Carta a Dios, a short story by Gregorio López y Fuentes, appears on many intermediate and advanced Spanish reading lists. Below are a few ideas for integrating sustainability themes into the analysis of the story. (Scroll to the end of this post for a music video from Vamos al Grano, a program from Central America dedicated to supporting small farmers.)
A sense of place. The first few paragraphs of the story are a description of Lencho’s farm and family. Students can get into pairs and draw the scene. They should infer from the text the minimum number of children in Lencho’s family, where the house and fields are located as well as prominent geographical features. For vocabulary reinforcement they can label the pictures and compare them.
To deepen the discussion: What is it like to live in a valley? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being “la única casa en todo el valle”? What is it like for Lencho to walk to the pueblo and back? Students can compare the setting in the story to their local environment. For more vocab reinforcement and to make further connections you can show photos of agricultural strategies used by indigenous cultures, such as the Incas, whose environments are dominated by valleys. In this power point I also include two examples of cities built in valleys that struggle with smog problems.
Climate. In the story a hailstorm destroys the family’s crops. Is the portrayal of the impact of weather on farmers in the story realistic? Does it happen “in real life”? It shouldn’t be too hard to find current examples in the news. See the post for El Tiempo es Hoy for the perspectives of family farmers in Peru as they struggle to adjust to the impact of climate change.
Quality of life. Although it may seem apparent, when Lencho describes the rain as moneda students can list the sorts of things the family needs to purchase in contrast to what the family can produce from their land. Some issues students have raised include health care, education and whether or not they need to purchase seeds. On the other hand, they can list positive aspects of their quality of life, such as fresh air, a united family, lots of open space, beauty of natural environment, etc.
Rights & solidarity. El jefe de correos, as well as his friends and employees, demonstrate solidarity. The irony of the story, Lencho’s accusation against the post office employees, creates mixed reactions in many readers. Whether the ending is deemed sad, funny, tragic, infuriating, touching or ridiculous, Lencho’s deep and sincere faith comes off as naive and smacking of magical thinking. This, I suppose, is part of the joke. Yet when students are asked to imagine what happens next, many ignore the evidence in the story (Lencho calculated the exact amount of money he needed; the jefe collected as much money as he could; the storm destroyed the possibility of recovering seed from the crop) in order to get to a happy ending. I like happy endings, too. To authentically get to one, we might consider what farmers in these situations actually do and current movements to support small farmers.
Some farmers migrate to cities, contributing to their growth (see the photo of Mexico City in the above ppt), or immigrate to another country to become workers. What are the pros and cons of these strategies? Are there any “rights” issues involved in this story (human rights, children’s rights)? Are there other ways (besides donating money) the people in the pueblo or other farmers could demonstrate solidarity? What would be the impact on the pueblo if area farms failed? Would there be any value in supporting farmers so they could stay on their land? If so, who would be responsible and why?
Vamos al Grano and Crece are Oxfam programs headquartered in Central America dedicated to supporting small farmers, women in agriculture and indigenous communities. On the web sites you’ll find videos, slide shows and an explanation of their campaigns. There’s even a song by the Salvadoran conjunto Shaka y Dres associated with this movement.