Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
In Memoriam: Luis Acévez

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Luis Acévez


In Memoriam
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures




Luis Acévez, who taught in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures from 1969 to his retirement in 1992, died unexpectedly on April 16 of meningitis. Mr. Acévez was a regular guest at departmental recognition ceremonies in the years after his retirement. We all enjoyed his good humor and charm. And we looked forward to tasting his niece Blanca's delicious marble cake made with pure vanilla from Mexico. In December, 1987, Pieces of Eight featured a profile of Mr. Acévez. Portions are reprinted below with some modification:

"Luis Acévez considered a good cheeseburger the height of creative cuisine in this country, his adopted land. 'I love a really good cheeseburger,' Acévez said enthusiastically. He was also fond of tamales, ham and eggs and apple pie but the consuming passion of his life and long career was linguistics.

"Mr. Acévez began his formal studies at Ysleta, a bi-lingual Jesuit college in El Paso affiliated with Loyola University of Los Angeles. He concentrated on the humanities, classics and philosophy, learned Latin and Greek and became a Jesuit. By the time he was into graduate studies at universities in Mexico and the United States, including earning a MA in philosophy, he was writing dissertations in Latin and papers in Hebrew and Greek. Along the way, he also studied French.

"Acévez did graduate study at the National University of Mexico, delving into Hispanic civilization, Spanish-American literature and Mexican art and archeology.

"With degrees in classics, philosophy and comparative religion and theology, Acévez moved from a reaching assistant (teaching English as a foreign language) to teaching Latin, Greek, advanced Spanish composition, English as a foreign language and French at Instituto de Estudios Superiores.

"With such a background, Acévez answered a call from General Douglas MacArthur for 'Christian educators' to go to Japan to teach. In 1950, sponsored by the Jesuits and with a visa signed by MacArthur himself, Acévez went to Japan. 'I wanted to learn the secrets of this powerful country,' Acévez recalls. 'I studied the Japanese language intensely.' He was rewarded with a double Class A certificate from the Japanese Ministry of Education to teach 'anywhere in Japan.' His teaching was in a prep school in Yokosuka. After a couple of years, he felt the urge to travel on and returned to a Jesuit graduate school, West Baden College in South Bloomington, Indiana.

"After four years at West Baden, Acévez spent a year at French-speaking Collège du Sacré Coeur, Mont-Laurier, Québec, Canada, then went to Puerto Rico to teach history and philosophy.

"He earned still another graduate degree, in linguistics, from the University of Michigan. He returned briefly to Japan to teach Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American studies and tutor Americans in Japanese as a second language.

"He accepted a teaching assistantship at Stanford and began graduate studies in Hispanic philology. After a year he transferred to Georgetown University for doctoral degree work in combined linguistics. While in Washington, he took a post with the US State Department's Agency for International Development, part of the Alliance for Progress program.

"Acévez worked for four years in South America, establishing an institute for languages in Quito, Ecuador, offering English, French, German and Spanish for the people of the consulates and embassies. He was asked to do the same thing in Brazil, but the program was phased out.

"In 1969, Acévez came to ECU as an assistant professor in Romance Languages, later the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures:

"'Actually, everywhere I have lived I have really tried to adapt myself,' he said. 'Adapt without losing my identity, of course. Really, I have loved every place, every people.' Acévez's secret for getting along with people is, he said, to realize 'you are just like one of us - whether in Japan, Ecuador, Canada or Mexico. First of all, understand. Take a great interest in the local cultures and customs. Then, appreciate and admire. Have an open mind. The main mistake that people make is thinking automatically that 'it's different, so it's wrong.' That's a false premise. I fear that it has lead to almost total failure of the US foreign policy,' Acévez said.

"Recalling his childhood in Mexico, Luis Acévez sometimes 'felt like a charro (cowboy).' The youngest of four children whose father died at an early age, the family lived both on a ranch and in the city of Guadalajara. Acévez admitted that he may have been looked on as 'a little brat.' He returned to Mexico for visits. It is a country 'of tremendous suffering and turmoil," he said. In Mexico, he said, 'one hopes for the best but is ready for the worst."

"Acévez's philosophy was somewhat stoic. 'You have to love what you have to do,' he said. 'Otherwise, you torture yourself.'"

-- Sylvie Debevec Henning, Chair