Professor puts theory into action

Lauren J. Mapp

A mass kidnapping occurred on Sept. 26, 2014, when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College in Mexico went missing after attempting to “borrow” a bus to ride to a protest.

One year later, there are many unanswered questions as to their whereabouts, what many (including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) believe to be misinformation or lies from the Mexican government, and protesters around the world asking for justice. San Diego City College professor and department chair Enrique Davalos traveled last month to participate in demonstrations for the one-year anniversary of the disappearance as part of his longtime tradition of fighting for social justice.

“It’s more than just kidnapping, because it’s the government that’s doing that, so it’s a double crime, it’s not only the single crime of human rights, it’s the highest level of violation of human rights because it’s the government that’s doing this thing,” Davalos said in an interview before traveling for the Sept. 26 demonstration.

Where some professors might only discuss the history and theories behind social activism, Davalos’s pedagogy seems to holistically unite theory with action. He tries to raise awareness to Chicano issues through field trips and also supports students getting involved with protests and civil demonstrations to help create positive change.

“He does a lot of activism in the community,” Professor Elva Salinas said. “He encourages and invites his students to join him and many times students who have not really been able to understand the connection between theory and practice – what is it that we do after you do all this learning, what are we going to do with it? He really bridges that gap for them and helps them to bridge that gap, to find something that they are passionate about and then for them to be able to then to go out seek something or get involved in something that they find really exciting.”

Having attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico) for both his undergraduate and graduate studies, he received his bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s degree in the history of Mexico. He then went on to teach at UNAM for 10 years before moving to teach near the Mexican and U.S. border.

“Whatever I am, in terms of intellectually and education, I am a child of this university,” Davalos said. “Also, I was a professor for 10 years in the same university before moving to the border and to be now here at City College.”

Davalos wrote his thesis on Aztec sexuality, choosing the subject because he was “disappointed in political activities” at the time and wanted to study something that was “very personal, not political.” He believes that focusing his thesis on Aztec sexuality in order to avoid politics was, in retrospect, a naïve attempt as it put him in the middle of the political debate of the era.

Though the Catholic priests had made the Aztec culture sound like a militarized, nonsexual entity in their mistranslated texts, Davalos found through his research that Aztec sexuality was a lot different in reality.

“I was really impressed, actually at how complex the issue of sexuality could be in terms of the construction of the personality and the construction of the culture,” Davalos said. “Sexuality was considered like a major value, one of the major enriching experiences in life, and the people have a lot of different ways to express their eroticism both in religious and sacred fields, but also in their daily life.”

Davalos started working at City College in the Humanities department in 2000, but began working in the Chicano Studies department when a position opened in 2006.

Salinas, a professor in the English and Chicano Studies departments who has worked at City College since 1984, has worked with Davalos since he joined the college. She said that she has “grown as a professor and as a human being” by learning from him throughout their time working together, and that a lot of that learning is due to his compassionate nature as a teacher.

“What he tries to do – and does do – is he humanizes the classroom, he speaks in a really compassionate tone, and he allows the students to voice their opinions – he gives them that space,” Salinas said.

Chicano Studies major Elizabeth Robles, who is currently taking Chicano 150: History of Mexico and Chicano 141B: U.S. History from a Chicano Perspective with Davalos, was so inspired after taking her first class with him that she changed her major.

“Last semester I changed my major from Administration of Justice to Chicano Studies,” Robles said. “My friend recommended me Professor Davalos last semester, so I decided to take his class and it really feel like that class is really powerful and I actually really learned a lot about my culture, so I decided I wanted to change my major and actually I’m looking forward to (being) a professor one day and to actually teach in a college.”

As part of his holistic teaching method to help students to become involved with social movements and to see the side of the issues that aren’t in mainstream news sources, Davalos arranges field trips to indigenous lands and maquiladoras.

“We organize field trips so students can learn about the human cost and social cost of the industrial development without planning and without any kind of protection for the environment and for workers in Tijuana,” Davalos said.

In the future, Davalos said, he hopes to continue to see the Chicana and Chicano studies program develop and grow to include classes with a stronger emphasis on gender issues, art and border issues.

“We have for many years been dreaming to open a class on border stories that emphasize the connection between Mexico and the United States here on the border,” Davalos said. “So far, we have been able to create the (Binational Conference on Border Issues) and we have a website and everything, but still to create sort of like a major in border stories has been very challenging for us because…it requires a lot of time, energy and resources, and the administration doesn’t have them or they don’t want to give us them.”