Professor Michele Dávila Gonçalves, who teaches in the World Languages and Cultures department at Salem State, says her speciality is contemporary female Puerto Rican narrative, followed closely by Brazilian cinema. These interests reflect Michele’s heritage—she was raised in Puerto Rico and her grandfather and husband are from Brazil, where Michele lived at one time. When Michele is inspired by a text, she honors it with a written response. She says, “I only write about texts that move me; that make me think; that I can relate to what’s happening.” Recently, she published two such pieces.
The first, “Las ironías de la soledad en Doce versiones de soledad de Janette Becerra” (The Ironies of Solitude in Twelve Versions of Solitude by Janette Becerra), amazed Michele, as the author, Becerra seemed to oddly predict the future—writing a collection of short stories about different characters in solitude around the world, years before a pandemic gave us all a greater meaning of what it means to be isolated. Michele was impacted by the author’s crafty way of highlighting how people seem to communicate less, as modes of communication increase with technology.
Michele’s second recent publication, “Testimonio de torturas visibles e invisibles: trauma y espectralidad en Batismo de Sangue” (Testimony of Visible and Invisible Tortures: Trauma and Spectrality in Blood Baptism), pays homage to the incredible film, Batismo de Sangue. The movie tells the tragic story of Dominican monks, among them Tito and Betto, who were against the regime during the decades of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985). Friar Tito was tortured, and that is why his friend Fray Betto wrote his story. This film, and the book it is based on, gives a visual to this experience.
Michele says: “When you see the movie, you see the torture—and that just shakes you.” For years people denied this event happening in Brazil and this film confronts what really happened. As Tito’s painful story unfolds, Michele reminds of the quote by Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok: “What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.” The secrets in this case belonged to the government.
Michele acknowledges that history is often modified by the people in power. Michele proudly teaches Latin American and Latinx culture and literature to her Salem State University students and recognizes that her students don’t often know true Latinx history. Instead, students have been taught history in a manner that keeps Latin Americans subservient. Her research keeps her up to date for her classes.
Michele is hopeful that the current generation stays on a path that is proving to be socially mindful. As she prepares her courses, she makes sure her message to Latinx,and Latin American students is clear: “We have value.”