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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Club de Escucha+ in Gainesville connects Hispanic community through shared experiences

Members meet twice a month to discuss the podcast

In the heart of Gainesville, Estefanía Pinto Ruiz, a Colombian passionate about culture, has transformed her love for podcasts into a community movement.

In January 2023, she founded Club de Escucha+, a place where Spanish speakers can practice Spanish, share experiences and discuss episodes of NPR's Radio Ambulante podcast. These listening clubs are held in various cities around the world, offering a space for community members to gather, listen to episodes and engage in thoughtful conversations about the topics discussed.

Club members said participation impacted their lives and connected the Hispanic community in Gainesville.

María Gutiérrez, a Peruvian who has lived in Gainesville for three years, found the club a space to connect with people who speak her language and learn about the cultures of other Latin American countries.

Gutiérrez said the club fostered a sense of solidarity and understanding among its members. 

Her in-laws, after hearing stories about Colombia in the club, decided to explore the country during a layover on their trip to Peru. Thanks to the connection established in the club, they obtained recommendations and contacts, making their visit safer and more enriching, she said.

"Our friend Estefanía gave us a great contact for a driver who helped my in-laws while they were alone. He made them feel very safe and allowed them to get to know the country," Gutiérrez said.

The club helped her overcome personal issues and feel supported, she added.

"Being able to go out and talk with them and socialize helped me a lot with my postpartum depression," she said.

For Gutiérrez, one of the club’s most valuable aspects is the atmosphere of respect and tolerance fostered at each meeting. Members are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions on the podcast episodes discussed, promoting an exchange of ideas without conflicts.

Christian Rodríguez, also from Peru, said the club allowed him to find a Hispanic community in Gainesville, something he lacked since moving to the city. For him, the club is a safe place to practice and improve his Spanish as well as connect with people from various countries and ages.

"I'm from Miami, and my mom speaks Spanish, but I don't have the opportunity to speak Spanish every day. So, it's a safe space where I can be corrected and helped," Rodríguez said.

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One of the club’s initial challenges was its visibility, Rodríguez said. Through promotion efforts and the dedication of Pinto Ruiz, the club began to attract more members, allowing people of all countries and ages to learn together.

"[The club] has given me confidence to speak Spanish a bit more," he said. "I'm still a bit insecure, but it's a space to speak Spanish, and I do think it has given me confidence to speak it."

Members only need to listen to a podcast episode and can choose to actively participate in the discussions or simply listen, making the experience more accessible.

The impact of the club is reflected not only in the experiences of the members but also in Estefanía Pinto Ruiz's perseverance in overcoming initial challenges. At first, Pinto Ruiz faced the challenge of low attendance, but her efforts in promotion helped the club grow.

The meetings, held on the second and fourth Fridays of each month at Curia On The Drag and 4th Ave Food Park, are a melting pot of ideas and experiences where respect and openness to dialogue are valued, she said.

With plans to move soon, Pinto Ruiz is looking for a successor to continue this valuable initiative. Her hope is that even if the meetings become virtual, the spirit of the club remains alive and vibrant.

"I would like to at least continue doing it virtually. I feel that many of the people who attend in person might also connect virtually," she said.

Club de Escucha+ is open to all Spanish speakers, regardless of their level of Spanish. Interested parties can join the WhatsApp group to stay informed and participate in club activities.

"People who want to join are welcome... We've also had people who don't speak perfect Spanish, and... it's about being able to understand it," Pinto Ruiz said.

Pinto Ruiz's passion and dedication have transformed Club de Escucha+ into a space for Gainesville's Hispanic community, offering a home away from home and keeping the cultural roots of its members alive.

Contact Eneida Escobar at eescobar@alligator.org. Follow her on X @EneidaMariaEsc.

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Eneida Escobar

Eneida Escobar is a junior majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration and a writer and translator for El Caimán. She was born in Cuba and raised in Miami and since childhood, she's had a love for learning languages, and currently knows English, Spanish, Italian, and a bit of French. She also likes learning various programming languages.


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