Gabriel Acevedo Velázquez, Assistant Professor (English Education)
Gabriel Acevedo’s mother called him to say that Tommy Lasorda had died. The call itself wasn’t unusual; this newest member of the ASU English Education faculty has maintained weekly contact with family and friends from his native Puerto Rico since he moved to the U.S. to start his PhD. He’s not a big sports fan, though, so he just sympathized politely. “I’ve never actively on my own—ever—put a game of any sport on my TV.” he admitted.
Acevedo’s imaginative gaze is fixed instead on the big screen. He is a cinephile, forced to indulge from home since the pandemic began. He will return to the communal atmosphere of the theatre as soon as possible post-vaccine: “There’s nothing like that experience.”
He and his friends have a podcast in Spanish about movies and pop culture that is now branching out around the U.S. They are working on partnerships with other podcasts and developing relationships with critics. He rarely buys or rents films through streaming services, though. Instead, he watches any of the hundreds of movies he already owns or buys the disk for new releases. As with books, the physical and the tactile are essential components of the experience for him.
Acevedo is a meticulous collector of nostalgia. Decades of movie and concert tickets fill albums that have survived both hurricane Maria and his mother’s desire to get rid of them. His first concert was the Back Street Boys in 1999 and the most recent was Elton John in 2019, but his favorite decade as a collector of culture is the 1980s. “I am an 80s kid forever; I will die on that hill. Best movies, best fashion…best everything.” His arrival in Arizona coincided with the start of the pandemic so it’s been hard to meet people as he usually would. He has not even met his new colleagues. Neither could he go home for the holidays. Thus, over breaks from teaching and research, the stress of four solid years of intense work was relieved by playing video games on his vintage Nintendo 64, a gift he received on his fourth birthday. “All the games are original and still work, I treat them like babies.”
He feels fortunate to have been hired so soon after finishing his doctorate. “I love teaching—creating courses that I like and sharing them. I have always wanted this. In my heart and in my head, I [have always been] a professor.” It might be the exuberant affection of his upbringing or his inherent love of people, but he is not a fan of Zoom. “I do hope this gets better soon because I think that stuff is being missed when we’re not actively engaging with people in person.”
He thinks about lasting effects of the pandemic that we aren’t talking about. “I hope people realize that we do need people, even if sometimes we don’t like other humans.” When he finally gets to use his office on campus, he will invite students or colleagues in to chat for a few minutes if they pass by his open door. “That dynamic…you’re not only here to take a class, hand in a paper and leave. That’s not the way I see education. I hope we can get back to that for sure… Being in my office, going by the offices of co-workers; I don’t want to lose that.”
An R2D2 replica looking over Acevedo’s shoulder attests to his love of “anything spacey or alienesque.” His taste in fiction ranges from the comedic philosophy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which he has taught a course on, to the sci-fi series, Dune, and the dystopia of Margaret Atwood novels. Yet as a writer his niche is poetry, particularly slam poetry. Some of his work was published last Fall and there are plans for a book of poems in the future.
When asked what kind of movie character he would play and about good guys, bad guys and happy endings, he creatively mixes things up: “Ooh, this is fun. In no particular order: Voldemort from Harry Potter, Aragon from Lord of the Rings, and Scarlet O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. If I could put those three in a blender and become one with those attributes, it would be perfection.” The thought experiment starts to expand into a compelling idea. “With a soundtrack mix of John Williams classical symphony and Breakfast Club music…I am here for that.”
Acevedo values downtime and has no problem with solitude; in fact, he regards regular short doses as a necessity. Sundays are spent hiking in nature with a bottle of water and a camera. Since bars and restaurants are off the table for him at the moment, he’s been exploring Arizona by taking drives and stopping when he sees something interesting. But as a “card-carrying” people person, in normal times he is more often in the company of friends. “Perfect days have been when my friends and I would just make some food, pack it up in a basket or backpack, and maybe go to a park where there was a concert.”
The next call with his mother might cover the topic of the annual vacations he likes to plan with close friends and family when he’s not in Puerto Rico. They never miss a year if they can help it. COVID-19 has delayed things but destinations wait patiently on standby: Vegas, the Grand Canyon, New Zealand. Acevedo and his friends promised to never lose touch with each other. Four and a half years later those ties remain in excellent working condition, like hurricane-proof memorabilia. It’s a worthwhile effort in times like these, notes Acevedo. “I think it’s very important to build good relationships and to keep them.”
Image: Courtesy of Gabriel Acevedo Velázquez