Salvatore Bizzarro, professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese, was one of eight children born to a school teacher mother and a theatre director father, and whose grandfather owned a circus. Born in 1939 in Tunis, Tunisia, he spent his childhood years in Italy before emigrating with his family to the United States at age 15.
“I came here as an immigrant, with no English skills at all,” he explains. “I was placed in high school in a machine shop class, but I always loved language and reading. We’d come to the U.S. because Italy was in such awful shape after the Second World War.”
Bizzarro’s love of creative words and work is in his blood, and he would eventually amass a library of more than 6,000 books in his CC office.
Following high school, Bizzarro became a language teacher to help other immigrants gain the skills and cultural know-how to assimilate to the U.S. easily. International learning has been a part of Bizzarro’s world from an early age, and this combination of exposure and experience led him to consider a career in journalism before turning his life to teaching.
At Fordham University in New York in the 1960s earning his bachelor’s degree, Bizzarro threw himself into anything related to Latin America — from geology to economics. At Stanford University, where he earned his master’s and Ph.D., he honed his study and research all the more, with his Ph.D. focusing in Hispanic American literature.
“Chile, and the work of Pablo Neruda, became a huge part of my life,” he explains. Bizzarro’s thesis for that same Ph.D., titled “Social and Political Themes in the Poetry of Pablo Neruda,” formed the backbone of his second published book, “Pablo Neruda: All Poets the Poet” (1979). His first was “The Historical Dictionary of Chile,” (1972).
Following his Ph.D. in 1969, Bizzarro launched a career in academia as a teacher, mentor, and scholar. He arrived at Colorado College in the fall of 1969, as an associate professor of Romance languages, a year before the Block Plan officially launched.
Initially not planning on staying long at CC, he ended up staying until full retirement in 2019. What changed his plans, as it so often does for many, is that he found firm and fast friends. That sense of community spurred on Bizzarro’s teaching and development. A year after he arrived, CC launched the Block Plan, and while Bizzarro came to enjoy and cherish the pace of learning it offered, he was initially skeptical.
“I thought it would be detrimental to learning and retaining language skills,” he explains. That’s why, “with other colleagues, we launched the adjunct programs across the language departments to help students with their upkeep and skill maintenance. It was vital that we taught languages on the first- and second-year level, not just to upper-level students with previous skills.”
The adjustment to the Block Plan was “challenging but really fun,” and Bizzarro was able to hone his craft at home and abroad.
However, nothing quite beats the truly immersive experience of studying a language, a culture, in the space and place where they originated. Bizzarro’s premiere legacy at the college is the full internationalizing of CC’s study abroad programs, culture, and opportunities — which continue to shape experiences, memories, and lives.
As the founder with History Professor Arthur Pettit of the CC in Mexico program in Cuernavaca in 1971 (later switched to Guanajuato and Oaxaca), Bizzarro and members of the Romance languages faculty ran the program for 37 years until 2008. His Italian in Italy program, where students take two blocks of Italian language classes while experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the country, ran for 22 years. He ran film and literature classes in Chile with Chilean author Antonio Skármeta for 12 years, and, with his wife Kathy Bizzarro, went to Spain to inquire about setting up the Spanish in Spain Program, a creation by his wife who ran it as director for 12 years. The program still runs today in Soria, operated by Professor Carrie Ruiz.
Bizzarro’s connections across the literary and political circles of Central and South America, as a result of his research, travel, and publication, bore fruit at home in Colorado at CC, as well.
Bizzarro helped bring to the college authors Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska, and Isabel Allende, as well as Azar Nafisi and author and PBS news personality Charlayne Hunter-Gault; political figures such as former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias Sanchez, and former U.S. presidential candidate and activist Ralph Nader; and activists such as Winona LaDuke and Anna Deavere Smith.
11 Responses to Salvatore Bizzarro
Sal was my first professor at CC in the first block of the block plan.
Richard Skorman of Poor Richards Bookstore and restaurant was also in that class – “ Latin American Radicalism “ I believe it was called. We have all remained lifelong friends, along with Kathy, who later took on the onerous job of keeping Salvatore in line. What a wonderful influence you have been on my life , Sal ! As always, Venceremos,
Dear Dan: You were also one of my favorite people, with Richard and Anthony Garrett, Cherie Fortis, Esther Fortunoff , et,al., The course was called LATIN AMERICA SINCE CASTRO, and talked about Chile, Brazil and Cuba in detail, while covering the rest of the souther continent. It is nice to hear from you and we will get together very soon as Richard is now reopened. Cheers, Sal
Sal was also my first professor at CC and little did I know, that course was the beginning of what would forever change my life. I arrived to CC as a very shy 18 year old Colorado Springs native that didn’t take risks but Sal saw potential in me and encouraged me to open my horizons. Without his influence, I wouldn’t have taken the leap to study abroad, which later turned into me moving abroad for 2 years and now to the west coast to pursue my masters degree. I’m thank God for letting me cross paths with Sal and Kathy. My life wouldn’t be anything like it is now without them helping me find the inner courage I didn’t know I had. Abrazos fuertes a los mejores profesores y amigos.
Dear Jamie: It was a pleasure to have you as an eager student who always wanted to improve her understanding of the culture of Mexico and speaking Spanish fluently, The answer was for you to go to Mexico and spend time there as you saw deemed necessary. You did it all and became very sure of yourself and your potential. I applaud your determination and success. You do remain as one of my good friends throughout the years. Cheers for your master degree. I am proud of your accomplishments. Sal
I too remember with gratitude Salvatore Bizzarro from my first year at CC 1971-72. I was very impressed with how much we learned and how little we met, particularly compared to another class for which we met three times a day. I loved his class. I have often described it, and the contrast to others as a positive example of the flexibility offered by the block system.
Through his encouragement i was accepted in a Latin Americas studies master’s program at Stanford. I chose instead to go to law school, but have often wondered about the road not taken. Very nice to see this profile, and revisit memories.
Dear Edith. Are you practicing law now? Let me hear from you. I remember you well. You were a very good student and took your courses seriously (reflected in your success with graduate and law school). Nice to get your message for a time that happened many decades ago.
Learning Italian was a joy with Professore Bizzarro!
Some of my favorite memories of CC are in the Roman Language Department.
My most unforgettable and meaningful experiences at CC happened because I was lucky to have Sal as an advisor my freshman year. I like to think he recognized my love for adventure, travel, and language early on and helped foster who I became as a student (and person), encouraging me to join the Chile trip as a freshman, and then to study Italian and travel to Italy. He is an invaluable part of the Colorado College community, and a great mentor and friend to many. Thanks for everything, Sal!
Salvatore was one of my strongest colleagues, far more than a member of the Spanish Department. I happened on his impressive accomplishments in travels South, and found his works very wide ranging and useful.
Don Shearn Psychology/Neuroscience Depts
I wiil be in Colorado Springs for the first time since 1994… October 1st til 11th.
I would love to see you again.
I will be staying with Bob and Suzan.
Hope you are in Colorado at that time.
I am grateful to all the wonderful students I had in my courses. They also were teaching me as well as I progressed in my career. Seven of them. among my favorites, will be coming to Colorado for Home coming this year (2022) and I will spend the entire weekend with them. What a honor to be so remembered by former students. This come down to what teaching as a vocation is all about. The rewards are limitless.