Santa Clara University

Dual Perspectives

Juan Velasco, second from left, teaches students such as Asha Wilkerson, Sarah Tarpley, and Patrick Semansky, about the interaction between Mexican and American culture.
Juan Velasco, second from left, teaches students such as Asha Wilkerson, Sarah Tarpley, and Patrick Semansky, about the interaction between Mexican and American culture.
English Professor Juan Velasco’s two doctorates, one from the old world and one from the new, are emblematic of his duality. He speaks, writes, and teaches in Spanish and English. His publications are both scholarly and artistic. His research on “border theory” investigates the interaction between cultures, especially Mexican and American culture.

 

Velasco’s picaresque novel in Spanish, Enamorado, tells the story of an Indian monk’s travels through China. “At the end, he finds his true self,” Velasco says. “High schools in Spain use the book to teach philosophy and religion.”  The novel he is now composing in English, The Fever of Light, started as a long narrative poem.

 

In his monograph, Moving Borders: Tradition, Modernity and the Search for “Mexicaness”  in Contemporary Chicano Literature, Velasco examines cultural traditions both south and north of the Mexican/U.S. border. “The experience of modernity has a pessimistic undertone in the South,” Velasco explains. “In the North, the experience depicted in fiction is more hopeful; the possibility of a good future exists.”

 

American Me is Velasco’s scholarly work in progress. It examines contemporary Chicano autobiography, a subject that is virtually untouched by academics because the materials are so recent. Velasco started this research after winning a postdoctoral fellowship from the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA.

 

Velasco says he and Santa Clara University are a good match. “This position was perfect for my research and my desire to be connected with the student community,” he says. The way that Velasco’s expertise in the art of autobiography informs his classroom teaching is a strong example of SCU’s teaching scholar model. In his Life Writing course, students write autobiographical pieces and learn about autobiography as a literary genre, about self reflection as a process, and about themselves. Velasco describes the course as “the most successful creative writing course I’ve ever taught.” The shared experience of writing honestly about themselves so cemented the students’ relationships with each other that many of them are still in extemporaneous discussion groups, and some of them now assist Velasco as peer educators in other courses.

 

Velasco’s close connection to the faculty community is another reason he thrives at SCU. He is a facilitator in the Ignatian Faculty Forum, which provides an opportunity for faculty members to explore how faith intersects with justice, culture, science, and the academy. “Teaching can be a very solitary enterprise,” Velasco says. “The Ignatian Forum helps us to see what our connections are. It helps us to stop and reflect on what we’re doing and why. It helps us to cross the psychological borders we’ve erected.”  The Forum, developed by Management Professor Andre Delbecq, is gaining respect as a “best practice” among Jesuit universities. Velasco and other faculty members recently traveled to Regis University in Denver to share the concept. Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, and Loyola of Maryland have all shown interest in the program.

 

Collaborating with Diane Dreher, also of the English department, Velasco is developing a multi-disciplinary minor in Peace Studies. “So much of literature concerns itself with war; it will be interesting to discuss peace as a literary concern,” he says. In a recent conference paper, “Zoot Suits: Scapegoating Behavior and the Power of the Media in Times of War,” Velasco examines the process of demonizing the “enemy.” He describes riots that took place in Los Angeles in the 1940s; riots caused by the press-fabricated story of Mexican Nazi collaborators. In the Peace Studies program, Velasco hopes to continue his exploration of the borders that separate us, both real and imagined.