Spanish helps area woman forge new path
While downloading music online like most 15-year-olds at the time, Amanda Hatch of Hollidaysburg accidentally found a song that would change her life.
The song was completely in Spanish, and she didn’t understand a word of it.
But after spending hours with a Spanish-English dictionary to translate the lyrics, one line in the song — “It left its thread woven in me” — was indeed true for Hatch, now 36.
“I accidentally downloaded a song by Shakira; I never heard anything more beautiful in my life. English is so choppy, but Spanish is so pretty. I was 15. The next day I got a Spanish-English dictionary and spent seven hours translating that song,” she said.
From that point on, Hatch took her dictionary and notebook everywhere she went to translate. On the school bus, she would quietly practice rolling her Rs as Spanish speakers do.
In six months, she said, she
didn’t need her dictionary anymore and could sing lyrics to Spanish songs.
Through her own study, she quickly progressed through classes at Hollidaysburg Area School District.
As part of an advanced program, she gave Spanish lessons to elementary school students.
Hatch continued studying Spanish at Penn State Altoona, flying to other countries for service trips and study abroad.
Penn State Altoona Spanish professor Roselyn Costantino said Hatch is a sweet, generous, self-disciplined woman who made her own path.
Hatch breaks the stereotype that kids in rural areas are less likely to be plugged into cultural diversity, Costantino said.
“There are a lot of stereotypes against people from Spanish-speaking cultures; she doesn’t have those stereotypes,” Costantino said. “It was a treat for me to see her grow in her understanding of other human beings and other cultures through language.”
Hatch graduated in 2005 with a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree with a focus in Latin American Culture, but Costantino said Hatch shows that college isn’t the only path to finding a satisfying future.
“Through her love of music and curiosity — and the skill, Amanda found a way without anyone’s help — to tap into all that language offers us,” Costantino said.
On a plane to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, to participate in a Penn State Altoona service trip working with children in an orphanage over the spring break week, Penn State Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry and Hatch crossed paths.
“Amanda took classes and also studied and practiced on her own so that she would be able to better communicate with the children. She was an inspiration to all of us who participated in the study abroad trip,” Bechtel-Wherry said. “Amanda is a determined, dedicated and resilient person. She seeks new challenges and loves to serve and help others. She has an excellent work ethic and embraces all that life has to offer.”
At Penn State Altoona, Hatch’s Spanish skills were so advanced that she ran out of classes after two years and was supposed to transfer to the main campus for further study.
“I was fluent in Spanish by the time I got to Penn State, but saying you’re fluent and saying you have a degree are different things. I wanted to learn the different dialects and improve my reading of the language. At the end, I was reading novels for classes.”
She liked Penn State Altoona’s small class sizes, so Bechtel-Wherry and Costantino created a path for her to stay.
“I had a great Spanish teacher; she said she would take me on for independent studies,” Hatch said. “They also put me in classes with international Spanish students learning English; that helped, too. Penn State Altoona helped me so much.”
After graduation from Penn State Altoona, Hatch parlayed her experience and ability to speak fluent Spanish into her career, including spending several years with North American Communications, a direct mail manufacturing business headquartered in Duncansville. She traveled often to the company’s site in Mexico.
“I never thought about the opportunities that Spanish would bring me. I only know that I wanted to learn as much as I could,” she said.
She got her job with NAC by waiting on the company’s owners when she was a waitress at El Campesino in Altoona. During her college years while working at El Campesino, she was one of the first non-Mexican people to work there.
“That’s when I really started getting a Mexican accent. Now no matter where I go, people ask me, ‘What part of Mexico are you from?'” she said.
At El Campesino, Hatch regularly waited on the owners of NAC, Rob and Tera Herman.
Herman thought Spanish was his waitress’ first language and was impressed with her grasp of English.
“‘Wow, you speak great English,'” he said.
“I said, ‘No, I speak great Spanish,'” she laughed. “He said, ‘Come work for me.’ And I was so excited because I knew my dad would be so excited for me to have a job with my Spanish degree that they paid for.”
Hatch at first traveled with Herman as a translator during trips to the company’s Mexico plant where workers packed envelopes. Then, she made her own path as NAC’s Director of International Relations for several years until the closure of the company in 2019.
Tera Herman, NAC’s vice president, said Hatch was a “phenomenal” asset to the company.
“We were looking for a translator because neither of us speak Spanish, and none of our senior managers speak Spanish,” she said. “We interviewed her, and she came on board. She started off by working in the factory in Mexico and learning the job of the people she’d be communicating with. The people adored her; she understood the culture. She connected us with the people on the floor. She was a phenomenal asset for us.”
Herman said Hatch’s excellent organizational skills as well as fluency in Spanish allowed her take on more responsibility. Herman said Hatch was her right arm, improving the company’s human resources, payroll and accounting systems differences between the United States and Mexico.
“I am sad about not working with her anymore on a daily basis. She is someone I consider family,” Herman said.
Hatch is currently studying for a Master of Business Administration degree at California University, with tuition paid through the state’s program for displaced workers after NAC’s closure.
When she completes her MBA program, she plans to stay local.
“I definitely want to stay local and find a job here. Hopefully, I can find something with a Spanish language or cultural element,” she said. “But whatever my career is in the future, I will keep doing Spanish every day, whether it’s music or talking to friends. It will always be a passion of mine.”
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.