George Villanueva is an assistant professor of Advocacy and Social Change at the School of Communications at Loyola University Chicago. George’s research is focused on the changing global context of community, civic engagement, sustainable urban development, democracy, race and ethnicity and hip hop culture.
We sat down with George to chat pedagogy, hip hop culture, and the euphoria of Chicago summers…
What drew you to Chicago? Where do you live now?
I’m originally from Los Angeles, and after finishing my PhD in communication at the University of Southern California I came here to Chicago. What drew me to Chicago was the opportunity to teach an Advocacy and Social Change Major that was the first of its kind in the communications department nationwide. So, as a professor, I research and teach about the role that communication, media activism, and expressive culture plays in social change goals for marginalized groups and cities.
I was really excited to come here because I was very familiar with Chicago’s long history of social activism, really how youth and social movements are all invested in kind of creating social equity in the city. It was really exciting to be able to teach students who are interested in activism because that was some of my research interest.
What neighborhood in the city do you live in?
My first year actually, when I moved here, I lived in Uptown but now I’ve lived in Albany Park for the last three years. Albany Park as a lot of us know in Chicago is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, both ethnically and working class wise. So it’s important for me because I like a lot of ethnic restaurants and I particularly like seeing immigrants and communities of color ethnic restaurants, especially Mexican and Filipino foods, such as Subo, Marla’s kitchen, Rubies, Torteria San Lenchito and Taqueria El Asadero. So those are just some of my favorites. I really love the food landscape in Albany Park.
What has it been like for you living in Chicago?
Chicago’s a dope city to live in, I’ve really been acclimated to the weather… I do like winter, it forces me to stay inside more and read, write and think more, which is important for the job I do at this moment. Obviously I like when winter ends and Summertime Chi comes around because there’s just euphoria everywhere. Everybody is happy, everybody’s outside. And it’s just addictive. So it’s really cool to kind of feel that around the city.
Coming from Southern California, I think there’s a little bit more of an acceptance of ethnic diversity that goes beyond the white/black paradigm that I think a lot of North East cities and Midwestern Rust Belt cities have. Obviously racism is very prevalent in Los Angeles, but I think there’s a little bit more of an acceptance of Latino and Asian ethnic communities. Chicago, again, is as diverse obviously, it’s 30%, Latino, 30%, black and African American, 30% white, and then there’s Asian Americans as well. But I think Chicago is still a little challenged about trying to kind of deal with a lot of its ethnic communities, especially beyond some of the traditional white/black racial paradigms that we experience here in the city.
Being an educator and mentor, particularly in a university setting is important to me, because I really believe in trying to get younger generations of think about how to become advocates for positive social change. So in my education work, I do teach about histories of structural violence and how it oppresses communities, at the intersections of race, class, sex, gender, and other identities. But I also think it’s important to not just stop at critique I think it’s important to foster creativity and imagination and students to kind of empower themselves to become agents of social change. It’s important to teach and research about how communication media activism and expressive culture can be used to change the world and it’s important to pass that down to students as well
What lead you to become a mentor / educator, and why is this work important?
Being an educator and mentor, particularly in a university setting is important to me, because I really believe in trying to get younger generations of think about how to become advocates for positive social change. So in my education work, I do teach about histories of structural violence and how it oppresses communities, at the intersections of race, class, sex, gender, and other identities. But I also think it’s important to not just stop at critique. I think it’s important to foster creativity and imagination and inspire students to empower themselves to become agents of social change. It’s important to teach and research about how communication, media activism, and expressive culture can be used to change the world and it’s important to pass that down to students as well…
How has the city shaped you and your art, career, mission, etc.?
Chicago has been a great influence on my research, my teaching and my cultural work in education. What I noticed out in the field, especially here in Chicago was how involved the creative arts scene was, particularly the hip hop culture was, in creating spaces for community building and advocacy. So it really transformed how I look at research and how I started a different project and also influenced me in developing a course called hip hop culture, communication and social change at Loyola, where I’ve been able to also invite artists, media producers and community organizations, who all use hip hop culture to kind of advocate for different types of positive change in the city of Chicago. So that’s really been a benefit in terms of how Chicago has shaped my worldview.
At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?
As an educator and scholar activist, I think the one big thing I want to give back is a capacity for imagination. And that’s both to the students and also the different community members I’m in relationship with here in the city. It’s important to self actualize, where you don’t have fear about being political, in today’s society and and also working towards freedom around dismantling social oppression, not from an individual kind of perspective, but from a collective perspective. My name is George Villa nueva. And this is what Chicago sounds like.