In collaboration with United States government development agency USAID, Cornell’s Spanish Debate Team will host an Oct. 6 show debate to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Part of the Cornell Speech and Debate Society, the Sociedad de Debate en Español, or Cornell Spanish Debate Team, competes worldwide in Spanish-language debate tournaments. The team has a history of successes: it made it to the semifinals of the 2019 Spanish-language world debating championship, won the 2018 and 2019 world championships in the Spanish as a Second Language category, won the 2019 Portuguese world championship and won the 2020 Spanish-language US national championship.
For its members, however, the team is about more than competition. According to Jacobo Carreon ’23, the Spanish debate team has been a source of community, especially for Hispanic students.
“Obviously, the Spanish-speaking population is a minority — in Cornell at least. The language itself is something that helps a lot of minority groups unite and feel more comfortable,” Carreon said.
In addition to competing, the team hosts demonstration and community-building events. One such event is their upcoming show debate on the question “Should we prioritize vocational education over higher education?” Spanish debate team director Júlia García Güell grad said USAID wanted to collaborate on the event due to its extensive work in Central and South America and desire to give a platform to talented Spanish speakers in the United States.
Güell said her team is strengthened not just by their hours of practice and research but by their open-minded approach.
“A good debater can be anyone who is willing to open their mind,” Güell said. “It’s not about being the person who knows the most specific knowledge of geopolitics… or who has the best public speaking… It’s about being open to challenging yourself and the things that you believe.”
The team also draws from its members’ experiences for inspiration in arguments on everything from the environment to the economy.
“We use some of the examples from our lived experiences as Latino or Hispanic people, or people who know about Hispanic or Latino culture, and we use that in our arguments,” said team president Matilde Cardoso ’23. “It’s not something that we try to do, but something that happens because of our backgrounds.”
Despite the pressure of a public debate in collaboration with a major governmental organization, the team is not nervous.
“I’ve worked so hard over such a long period of time, that I’m confident enough that I’ll be able to step up and present what we do in a way that it should be presented,” said Ethan Lodge ’23, one of the debaters. “It’s so cool to have the opportunity to present in front of such a big institutional player in the US government.”
Senior lecturer Sam Nelson, industrial labor relations, is the program director for the Cornell Speech and Debate Society. He says the Spanish show debate is a great way for the team to have an impact beyond Cornell.
“We want to do other things that help society at large and also the students. One of the great benefits to any kind of social justice student engagement project is that the students often learn as much or more than the people they’re supposed to be [helping],” Nelson said.
Carrero expressed a similar outlook, and hopes that the team can be an example to other communities.
“The goal with this project is to show them what we are doing [in debate] and how it forms leaders.” Carrero said.
For Yinkei de Maqua ’23, one of the debaters on the team for the USAID event, the debate is also particularly meaningful given its timing during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It’s important to have that type of recognition in terms of…making everyone else aware that there is a place where you can speak Spanish and appreciate people’s willingness to learn.”
Roman LaHaye ’23 contributed reporting.