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 Take Five

Rose Marie Beebe is a much-loved Spanish professor at SCU as well as an alumna (’76). Beebe is married to history professor Robert M. Senkewicz and this month they will discuss “Women in 19th-Century Mexican California” at the January 22 Literary Cuisine event, hosted by the University Library and Bon Appétite.

Why did you pursue Spanish as a field of study?
I learned to speak Spanish as a child thanks to the close relationship I had with my grandparents, Manuel and Inés Sunyer, who lived across the street from my family. When my grandparents came to the United States from Cuba, my grandfather eventually learned English but my grandmother did not. I spent so much time at their house that learning Spanish was something that “just happened!”

My grandmother and I used to play school together, in Spanish. She taught me how to read Spanish by using copies of Selecciones (Reader’s Digest magazine in Spanish) as our textbook. My grandmother instilled in me the love of learning as well as an appreciation of our family’s Hispanic heritage. She is always with me in spirit when I am in the classroom!
What keeps you coming back to teach year after year, especially after attending SCU as an undergraduate?
As a child there was something about SCU that grabbed me. My grandparents had friends who worked here as gardeners so I was familiar with the campus. Whenever we visited them on the campus I would tell my grandfather, “I want to go to this school.” His reply was always the same: “You can’t because they only let boys study here.” I guess at the age of 6 I knew something he didn’t know!

Three professors at SCU had a profound influence on me during my undergraduate years. Norman Martin, S.J. (Latin American history), Andrew I. Rematore (Latin American literature), and JoAnn Vásquez (dean of CP&E) were the best professors and mentors I could have hoped for. Their passion for their subject area and the way they transmitted their love of teaching and learning to their students have inspired me throughout my 35-year career at SCU. I hope to be able to do the same for my own students.
What is it like working with your husband, Robert Senkewicz, as you are in the Beyond the Traditional Kitchen event this month?
Working with my husband and best friend is an amazing gift. It is also a lot of fun! We have been working together for 23 years and are still learning so much from one another.

Our latest effort is a two-volume set on the life and writings of Fr. Junípero Serra that will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in a year or so. As if that weren’t exciting enough, I received a full-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to translate and annotate Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s five-volume memoir on the history of California. There are no signs of our slowing down on research and writing any time soon!

If you could correct one misconception about or in your field, what would it be?

My research and writing involves a great deal of translation work–Spanish to English. There are some people who believe that just because a person knows another language, it isn’t hard at all to do translation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The primary sources that I work with are 18th and 19th century documents. They include letters, reports, and ecclesiastical material written by Franciscan friars; judicial proceedings or interrogations prepared by high-ranking soldiers or other administrator types; documents written by presidio commanders; diaries; etc. Without a strong background and understanding of the history, culture, and society of the period in which the documents were written, the chances of producing a translation that preserves the voice and intent of the writer of the original document are slim. Translation is not a process, it is an art.

What is your favorite Mexican recipe to cook or to eat?

My favorite recipe to cook and eat is arroz con leche (rice pudding). I learned how to make this dessert by helping my grandmother prepare it. Her admonition to lower the flame so as not to burn the milk (Hay que bajar la candela para no quemar la leche) echoes in my head every time I make arroz con leche.


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