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.