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SOU's Chacon studies representations of violence in Latin culture

SOU’s Enrique Chacón researches representations of violence in Mexican music

SOU Assistant Professor Enrique Chacón enjoys teaching Spanish language classes, but his focus is on teaching how violence is represented in Latin culture – and how those representations have changed.

“I’m teaching this course on the representations of violence in Latin America and I think those kinds of topics are quite interesting, because they’re directly related to my research topics,” Chacón said. “What I do through these classes is I present some examples and some theory to my students, so we can approach art, literature, film, etc., and understand not the violence itself better, but how and why it’s represented as it is.”

His research coalesced into “La Estética Perversa del Movimiento Alterado, Violencia y Música Transnacional,” which roughly translates to “The Perverse Aesthetics of the Altered Movement, Violence and Transnational Music.” The paper combines Chacón’s interest in music and representations of violence by detailing how a specific genre of Latin music has shifted over time.

“There is a traditional music in northern Mexico that is very popular, and there is a tradition in the lyrics that comes from the (1910 Mexican) Revolution where these songs praise the heroes,” he said.

“There was a shift 30 years ago where they started talking about drug traffickers – narcos. So that shift from a hero to a narco, and then there was another shift 10-15 years ago that is not only praising narcos but are sung in first-person. I study the aesthetic implications of that shift.”

Chacón talked about his research at last spring’s César E. Chávez Leadership Conference, a gathering of regional Latinx high school students and student leaders that is hosted by SOU. He presented his research both to help educate SOU-hopefuls and to get more information on the topic from a younger generation.

“I played a song, and most of (the students) knew the song,” he said. “So I asked these students, ‘what is this? What is this kind of music?’ And one of them said right away, ‘this is the music from Mexico. That’s our music.’

“For me, that was very surprising because for my generation what TV and ideology and all those things sold as the music from Mexico were mariachi bands. But now young people perceive this to be the music of Mexico.”

Students at the conference participate in workshops focusing on leadership, cultural arts and college preparation. Chacón values the conference’s intent, hoping to see more Latin American students succeed in higher education.

“It’s very important that (colleges and universities) reach people from (minority populations) in general,” Chacón said. “It’s proven that the output of studying higher education is that you become a better citizen. I think it’s a way of transforming yourself and impacting the world in a different way.

“Just 2 percent of professors in the whole country are Hispanic. I think we need to change that.”

Chacón has personal experience with crossing cultures and succeeding in American academia. A first-generation immigrant, he earned a master’s degree in Mexican literature from the Autonomous University of Puebla before studying at the University of Pittsburgh for his doctorate in Hispanic languages and literature. Chacón’s studies across the continent give him particular insight into the differences between Mexican and American colleges.

“(In Mexico) you choose what to study from the very beginning, there was no general education or possibility for you to explore other topics,” he said.

“You had to make the decision of what you’re going to be specializing in for the rest of your life when you’re in high school … and that is good and bad. It’s good to have more information about one topic, but on the other hand it’s not that good because you don’t know anything about any other topics.”

Chacón’s initial pursuit of journalism led him away from what he wanted to do, and after some introspection he realized that he wanted to return to college to study Mexican culture and language. His research led to an opportunity to study in the United States. Chacón liked the diversity of US academia, and bounced around in different higher education positions before eventually settling at SOU.

“I’ve worked in the past in bigger universities, and you don’t really get to know your students,” he said. “For example, I had students at the University of Tennessee taking intermediate Spanish, they were going to be majors and minors, but we had so many professors that I didn’t see them again.

“That is what’s so important about SOU, that it’s a smaller community, and you get the chance to help students and help them better.”

Chacón teaches lower- and upper-level Spanish language and culture classes at SOU, and fosters an atmosphere of collaboration among students and faculty.

“It has been proven that people who speak a second language develop more cerebral connections, and it’s been proven (they) make more money,” he said. “At SOU, we offer different languages – Japanese, Spanish, French – and I think it’s important that people learn a second language.”

Chacón enjoys playing music, meditating, exercising, cooking and watching films in his spare time.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer