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Professor’s Room: Jose Quintana

An occasional series that explores the inner sanctums of academia – because clever people have interesting spaces.

By Cora Zaletel

April 17, 2019

Jose Quintana standing in his officeJose Quintana, senior lecturer of Chicana/o Studies, teaches history through cultural elements such as language, art, music and food. His research is culturally based, with a special focus on the deconstruction and reinterpretation of folklore. After all, what would literature, the arts, even movies be without the base of folklore and legend? Step inside Quintana’s office to see.

1.  Nobel Peace Prize – Quintana’s daughter Alba, 10, bestowed this Nobel Peace Prize on her dad along with a letter and certificate for $1 million (which he hasn’t cashed yet). Alba said she wanted to honor her father’s commitment to promoting peace and nonviolence, evidenced by his involvement in the MLK Marade, rain or shine.

“Racism doesn’t stop because of snow,” he says. She is following in her father’s footsteps with her involvement in Peace Jam through Denver Public Schools, where she has met Nobel Peace Prize recipients Oscar Arias (1987) and Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992). 

2. Matt Jenkins painting – MSU Denver Art Professor Matt Jenkins traded Quintana this painting that features two Mexican revolutionaries and reads, “TU VOTO NO VALE,” which translates to “Your vote doesn’t count.” Quintana explained that NAFTA has affected tariffs and indigenous communities in southern Mexico. Corn production is subsidized in the U.S., so when it’s shipped to Mexico, it pushes Mexican farmers out of work. Quintana points out, however, that when Mexican farmers migrate to the U.S., they — and not the American companies — are seen as the bad guys.

3. A village of Homies – This gathering of 2-inch plastic collectibles represents various Chicano Mexican American characters created by David Gonzales based on his “Barrio Guys” comic strip. Introduced in 1998, Homies were initially sold in grocery-store vending machines and have become highly collectible, spawning many imitations. Quintana collected a few Homies, which he used in his folklore classes, but the village has expanded thanks to the generosity of his students. Some see them as offensive and stereotypical (professor, cheerleader, homeless man, gangster, postal worker), but Quintana stresses in his classes that there’s a fine line between archetypes and stereotypes.

4. Two jars of oregano – Quintana incorporates food as well as music into his classes, such as “Borderland Studies: Tacos, Tamales and Tortillas,” where he and his students share food and recipes. These jars of Greek and Mexican oregano help Quintana start conversations about the indigenous foods of the Americas and how they were influenced by European foods, and how foods from the Americas have influenced the world. For instance, what would European desserts be without Mexican vanilla and chocolate?

5. Guadalupe collection – A belt buckle, prayer candles, an Italian cross and an image of a prostitute praying to the Guadalupe on the back of an old tin beer sign are all used to engage students in discussions about the images of the Virgin Mary. Quintana challenges students to consider which are the most authentic. Are they fad or folklore? Curiously, he says, most students think the most authentic is the wooden cross with the “Made in Italy” sticker on the back, which Quintana purchased from a religious store adjacent to a cathedral in Burgos, Spain. He hopes one day to add the Guadalupe Homie toy to the above collection, but its popularity has made the price skyrocket.

If your faculty colleagues surround themselves with outrageous objects, alluring artwork or noteworthy knickknacks, please email with the subject line “Professor’s Room” to see them featured (or to nominate yourself).

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