Why I Teach HIS 273: The U.S. and the Vietnam War

Guest post by GCC instructor Bonnie Saunders

There’s a good chance that I taught the very first course on the Vietnam War, way back in 1984 (yes, I’ve been doing this for a while). I have no personal connection to the Vietnam War but I have had strong opinions about it, opinions that have mellowed over the years to a much more rational stance than in the past!

Throughout the teaching of this course I’ve invited Vietnam veterans to talk to my class about their experiences- everyone from the veteran who finally won the court case against the Pentagon for his injuries from Agent Orange, to a nurse who worked in a M.A.S.H. unit, to soldiers who couldn’t tell the difference between a regular peasant and a Viet Cong insurgent.

Despite the terrible consequences Vietnam veterans live with, many have returned to Vietnam to help the Vietnamese people. Some have relocated there permanently and spend all of their time doing humanitarian work. Despite the length of the Vietnam War and the bitterness that followed it, many American tourists now take spectacular vacations to that country.

In HIS273 I teach students to explore why and how the U.S. become involved in the Vietnam War, to examine the consequences, and to ask what we have learned from the experience. One of the most interesting exercises is a written dialogue assignment to write letters between two veterans, one from the Vietnam War and one from either the recent Iraq or Afghanistan wars (real people or invented veterans created from readings and research). Most importantly, I ask them to think about its relevance today, especially as we mark, in 2015, the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

I enjoy teaching and discussing this subject, and I welcome any comments or questions at bonnie.saunders@gccaz.edu.

Comida, comida and más comida

IMG_20140723_123417572The typical schedule for eating here has taken some getting used to for me. Before we leave the house in the morning we eat. So around 7 or 7:30 a.m. we have a very hearty breakfast. On the table we have been served fresh fruit, oatmeal, tortillas, or maybe even some pancakes. You can have a light snack around 11 but it’s nothing formal. Then our next big meal is around 3 or 5 in the afternoon. This is “la comida”, the largest meal of the day. But for my American stomach it’s a long wait from breakfast. My housemother and housemates are vegetarian so we have been having wonderful meatless dishes. Sometimes she will make me a separate entrée with meat. These are some of the meals Pilar, our señora, made us: Continue reading

Not All Fun and Games

IMG_20140722_090520852We have been following a very busy schedule here in GTO. We are working closely with the University of Guanajuato to achieve our goal of (brief) cultural immersion. Our language classes start at 8 a.m. So we have to leave the house to walk down to the University at 7:30. Azul, Elizabeth and I are taking Intermediate Grammar, Mexican Literature, Mexican HistoryIMG_20140724_125240630 and Intermediate Conversation. The Literature and History classes are fascinating. There is so much I don’t know about my neighboring country to the south. For example we studied a poem by Sor Juana, a famous nun who lived in the 1600’s, and it was powerful and very edgy for the time period.

After four hours of class we typically have a short break before having a specialty lecture/tour from a faculty at the university. We have learned about the history of the university, the libraries (they have three major ones on campus), and the fine arts program, just to name a few. My favorite was a visit to the historical archives where they have collections of really, really old books. The pride of the archives is a book published in the late 1400’s! You know, only 500 years old, give or take. We got to, very carefully and with gloves on, handle the book. Continue reading

Day Trip’n: Part 2

IMG_20140725_140516759Friday and Saturday we followed the “Freedom Route” which traces the path of the start of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. It all officially started with Miguel Hidalgo giving the “grito” in the town of Dolores Hidalgo. We visited his house that is now a museum. We stood in front of the famous church where Hidalgo called on the people to rise up in rebellion. And we ate a lot of ice cream. It turns out that Dolores Hidago is also famous for its ice cream. As a lover of ice cream I felt that it was my duty to sample many of the flavors. The thing that makes the ice cream here so well known is the variety of flavors. They have sweet and savory, think of a flavor and you can probably find it here. I sampled the following flavors:IMG_20140725_121120176

  • avocado ice cream (surprisingly yummy)
  • shrimp and octopus ice cream (not surprisingly rather gross)
  • and rose petal ice cream (reminded me a lot of a rose lassi, different but good)

Atotonilco, a very small pueblo, was our next stop. They have a very beautiful mission style church and a small mercado (market) with lots of religious merchandise. Apparently they had just had a big festival the previous week so the town was decorated with flowers and streamers. It looked like something out of a movie. Continue reading


IMG_20140724_193654834We are now in the historic town of Guanajuato, known affectionately by locals as GTO. Picture a Spanish colonial town nestled in the far end of a small valley. There are IMG_20140722_164417628brightly colored buildings lining narrow winding streets. There are many quiet parks, plazas with fountains, and interesting churches. Colorful flowers spill over balconies. Now add street vendors and street performers. This gives you a tiny sample of this amazing city. One of our group says she feels like she is in a Disneyland version of an old Mexican town, in all the best ways. And I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful artisan shops and restaurants.

Given its layout, this is a walking town. The locals say that the fastest way to get around is just to walk but no one seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere. This may be due to the fact that there are also inviting benches in the plazas, pleasant outdoor cafes, and strolling musicians. Continue reading