Home > Education, Latino/Hispanic, OLLAS (Office of Latino and Latin American Studies), Omaha, UNO (University of Nebraska at Omaha), Writing > Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni immerses herself in community affairs

Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni immerses herself in community affairs


 

The real difference makers in a society and culture are those who actively engage themselves in the swirl of things that shape lives, such as education, and Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni is a good example of someone plugged into a variety of educational channels to help promote learning among students and teachers, detainees, immigrants, and other groups, all with the goal in mind of personal development and community betterment.   Here’s a shory profile I did on her a year ago or so.

 

 

 

Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni immerses herself in community affairs

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

 

 

Growing up in the Bronx, New York as the eldest of seven children, Omaha educator Evangelina “Gigi” Brignoni wanted “to speak the secret code” of her Puerto Rican parents’ native tongue. Only her folks decided they would only converse in English at home to give Gigi and her siblings “all the advantages in the United States.”

Being denied this expressive part of her familia made her “a wannabe Spanish speaker.” When the school she attended offered Latin, not Spanish, she was frustrated. It was only after moving with her family to Calif. she formally studied Spanish.

“It was something I felt in my inner being that was right, and now here was something my dad could help me with. I showed him some of my work and he helped me, so it was a connection back with family, the way it’s supposed to be,” she says. “It was a very powerful experience.”

So powerful that she became a bilingual teacher in the Los Angeles United School District. She says “bilingual education really works.” She became an advocate of Hispanic families keeping Spanish alive at home.

“I told parents they need to maintain their home language, plus learn English, because it just helps so much. And then you’re bicultural, you’re bilingual, and you can step out of two worlds and go back into that world. It’s OK to co-switch.”

She taught multicultural education, English as Second Language methodology and Spanish language courses in the California State University system.

In 2006 she joined the University of Nebraska at Omaha‘s Teacher Education Department, where she teaches methodology courses for the new Bilingual Education Supplemental Endorsement. She’s active in the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS), whose 2010 Cumbre conference she helped organize. She facilitated a CUMBRE education workshop. She works with OLLAS on Project Improve, which provides Spanish-speaking Latino detainees creative avenues for self-expression.

Her active community engagement led the Barrientos Scholarship Foundation to name her 2010 Latina of the Year. Among other things: she collaborates with Paco Fuentes on youth empowerment programs at the South Omaha Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands; she’s a mentor at the College’s Saint Mary’s annual Latina Summer Academy; she serves on the Latino Achievement Council (Omaha Public Schools); she leads South Omaha Culture Walks; she’s a Nebraska Humanities Council Prime Team reading program bilingual scholar.

“I enjoy working with the Latino community,” she says, “because I am working with ‘mi gente’ (my people) and sometimes we converse using my parents’ secret code of Spanish.”

She also co-heads the Oxbow Writing Project, a National Writing Project for teachers who teach writing.

 

 

 

 

Her main educational focus is preparing the next generation of teachers.

“I love the notion that exponentially I’m helping so many more people and that my love of literature, my love of language and writing, gets translated into other beings because I am teaching teachers-to-be. We rehearse how it would be like in the classroom, then they go into the classrooms and I see them do what I’m teaching or some application of what I helped them learn, and then they see it transposed into the students.

“I’m still learning, I’m still researching, I’m still finding new activities I can share with my students so they can also teach their students, and that’s paying it forward. I like that. Last year I worked in one of my former student’s classrooms doing writing lessons. We collaborated so well. I got to see how she treated her 3rd graders as thinkers, and it was a joy to work with her. It’s wonderful to see my students teach. I still give them ideas. This is why we’re in the profession.”

She never envisioned living in the Midwest, but she says “what sealed the deal” in coming to UNO “was they took me to schools, and I saw that good teaching was happening.” She says she doesn’t see the disillusionment among educators here she witnessed on the west coast.

Easing her transition here has been OLLAS and its “support system” for new Latino students, faculty and staff: “I needed the grounding. I feel like I’m at home. It’s a great place to be received.” She says she also likes the “unity, patience and acceptance” she finds in Omaha’s Hispanic community, adding, “Even though they celebrate their origins, it’s really about their commonality.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Lillian Brignoni
    September 7, 2014 at 8:25 am

    My name is Lillian Brignoni, and Gigi was my older sister. Your article was very well written, and a pleasure to read. My first Spanish class was in High School also, in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and those very basic Spanish speaking skills I learned in class helped me understand what my parents and grandmother were saying. The code was cracked and they could no longer talk about me or my siblings without wondering if I understood what they were saying. Gigi became fluent in Spanish helping so many because of her diligence. My mother said she was the smart one. We all have our talents, but Gigi was very studious and determined. She was also my salsa dancing buddy. God bless you, Mr. Biga. I am wondering if you. attended her funeral in Nebraska, when she passed away January of 2012.

    Like

  1. May 3, 2012 at 12:06 am
  2. May 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

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