From New York City carpenter to international opera star, to multilingual world resident and traveler, and now Franklin Spanish teacher, Gregorio Rangel leads an interesting and inspirational life. At Franklin, he teaches Spanish 5-6, Spanish 9-10, and AP Spanish Literature.
A Portland transplant, Rangel was born and raised in New York City. He took his first job as a carpenter, at age 14, to earn a little extra money. Living in a city as large as New York City offered many carpentry jobs for him to do, and since he was well paid, he continued carpentry through college.
Rangel grew up in a bilingual English and Spanish household. In high school, Rangel studied French, and surprisingly, learning French awakened his interest in studying the Spanish language. Because he was raised speaking Spanish, he never took much of an interest in formally learning it. It was only once he started learning French that he became interested in Spanish because he noticed a similar structure between the two languages.
Growing up in New York City, Rangel lived in poor, working-class neighborhoods, and because of this, he had the opportunity to meet people from all over. He explained that living in high-rise apartments so close to others allowed him to meet people very different from himself. This exposure fueled his interest in learning other cultures and languages, which led him to travel and live around the world.
For Rangel, traveling allows him to experience people and cultures that are unfamiliar to him, and to experience the unknown and new food. He believes food and music are good entryways into different cultures.
It is an understatement to say that Rangel is also very into music (which as a former Spanish student of his, finally explains why he occasionally played Italian opera music in his class). Growing up, he lived in a very musical family, and he took an early interest in singing, specifically. After completing high school, Rangel attended Oberlin College where he earned an undergraduate degree, followed by a master’s in music from Florida State University, and a doctorate in music from Boston University (BU).
Any fans of Min Jin Lee, the author of “Pachinko”—a book which is on the reading list of many Franklin English teachers—will be excited to learn that Rangel knew her in college. While at BU, he had a friend who dated Lee. As Rangel shared, Lee was involved in a messy relationship with this friend while she attended Yale, where they would consistently get into arguments, and Rangel would frequently hang out with them. Rangel described Lee as vivacious, and he enjoyed hanging out with her, although the two have not stayed in touch ever since she broke up with his friend. But, curiously, not long ago Rangel went to hear Lee talk at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, and she quipped that when she switched from being a lawyer to a writer she was dating this awful guy—who Rangel realized was his friend. He’s not awful, Rangel thought!
Music was Rangel’s primary job for a large portion of his life. He mostly worked as a singer: singing in operas and choruses in countries all around the globe. In addition, he taught music classes at the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Rangel has always loved traveling—and living—in different countries, and he has traveled his whole life. He lived in Madrid, Spain, for a few years as his interest in studying Spanish emerged. He lived in Paris, France, for a few years where he worked as a musician, while also teaching some Spanish and English. He also lived in Moscow, Russia, when he was 22, and traveled around when it was still a part of the Soviet Union.
Russia was a special experience for him because it was the first time he completely immersed himself in a language that he had not studied previously. Because he was thrown into Moscow, and into a situation where he needed to learn Russian immediately, he learned the language very quickly. Rangel admitted, however, that while his conversational skills and vocabulary were very advanced in Russian, his writing and grammar skills were less than advanced. This was because he was mainly learning the language through his conversations and everyday encounters with people in Russia, and not in a formal classroom setting where he would have learned all the rules.
Rangel’s international living extends beyond just Spain, France, and Russia. He has also lived in Poland, Ukraine, and Puerto Rico. Rangel remarked that he is especially upset with the bombing of Kyiv, a lovely city. Rangel is currently eyeing visiting the Galapagos.
Due to all his global living and traveling, Rangel speaks an astonishing number of languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Polish mostly fluently, while also knowing a few words and phrases in Japanese, Turkish, and other languages of the many countries he has visited. He explained that he always learns a few words and phrases in the languages of the countries he is visiting, just out of politeness.
Rangel finally got into teaching Spanish, his current career, through teaching music, when he realized that he enjoyed teaching and wanted to dive even more into languages. He received a master’s degree from Portland State University in Spanish Literature. Today, he has been a Spanish teacher for more than 20 years, and he is fueled by his love for literature, languages, and learning about the history and cultures of Spanish-speaking countries.
If there is one takeaway that he wants his students to understand, it is that Spanish-speaking countries are not monolithic and that every country has its own culture. Furthermore, even within countries, there are regionalisms and localisms.
Rangel eventually landed in Portland, where he now lives, because of his wife. The two met in Boston and moved to Portland because of her family. Rangel and his wife have two sons, a 13-year-old and a recent high school graduate. Rangel loves Portland and its smaller size and finds it much more manageable than the crazy chaos of New York City, because being in a crowded city was not always easy.
Rangel’s concluding thought in the interview was that he wished to inspire students to travel and be open to experiencing other cultures and experiences. If one cannot travel internationally, he believes that learning about other cultures through the internet is also extremely valuable. He believes it is immensely important to experience another place where things work differently. As a closing remark, Rangel urged students not to forget where they came from while also embracing other perspectives and experiences.