|I, Juan de Pareja
Elizabeth Borton de Treviño
Theme: Persevering under Difficult Odds
Grades: Grades 9-10
This work of historical fiction is based on the life of an actual person
who modeled for a work of art. Juan de Pareja is a young black slave
in 17th century Spain who survives the plague and the capricious treatment
of his original owners. He is then inherited by a nephew of those ownersmaster
painter Diego Velázquez. Juan becomes Velázquez's personal
servant in his studio. Though devoted to the Velázquez family,
Juan secretly begins to paint, an activity forbidden to slaves. After
much agonizing, he reveals his secret and discovers Diego Velázquez's
devotion to him to be equal to his own devotion to Velázquez. Velázquez
declares Juan de Pareja a free man and gives him a post as his assistant.
- Title Exploration.
Have students discuss the title, I, Juan de Pareja. Help them
to pronounce Juan's name correctly and ask students to predict something
about him. Do students think he will be brave or cowardly? proud or
meek? confident or insecure? Why? Invite students to compare their
predictions with the man Juan proves himself to be in the course of
the novel. Ask students what they would name a book about themselves.
What stories about their lives would they include?
- Concept Webs.
Ask students to work independently or in small groups to create two
word webs or other graphic organizers: one that explores their associations
with the word master and one that explores their associations
with the word slave. How would they describe what it's like
to carry out each of those roles? Then have students create webs for
the words boss and assistant. As a class, discuss the similarities
and differences students discover between master and boss and between
slave and assistant.
Juan wants to learn to paint, but as a slave, he is prevented from
doing so. Ask students to consider the internal struggles he might
have had as he tried to decide whether he should teach himself to
draw and to paint. Divide them in to groups, and have them role-play:
One student is Juan, and one student is an interviewer, seeking
the story of Juan's life. Did Juan make the right decision? What
effect did Juan's decision have on other aspects of his life?
- Personal History.
After Master dies and Juan and Lolis get ready to move to Seville,
Juan says sadly, "Home for me, was where he was." Lolis responds,
"Home is where I am now, Husband." Have students write a personal
history in which they explain what the word "home" means to them,
- Slavery in Spain.
Have students write a research paper on the slave situation in 17th
century Spain; challenge them to find the actual historical parallels
between Treviño's fictional Juan and Velázquez's actual
slave, Juan de Pareja.
- Art Through Adversity.
Have students choose an artist from history who overcame great odds
to express his art. Instruct them to write a research paper detailing
this artist's life.