Jon Ayon Alonso, a new professor in the Film & Digital Media Department, has taught at Stanford University, San Francisco State, the California College of the Arts, and City College of San Francisco, and he’s excited to bring all this experience to UC Santa Cruz. Part of the reason the university appeals to him stems from the program’s focus on social documentary. But maybe the number one reason is the rich history of prestigious faculty members — including Renee Tajima-Peña, Spencer Nakasako, and Angela Davis.
“They’re heroes of mine,” he says, “They’re people I’ve looked up to and admired.”
Alonso says his father was his first film teacher. He thinks his reason for getting into his profession is common among many Latinx filmmakers —his family loved films, and it was a way for them to come together.
“My parents fled their home countries for different oppressive and scary reasons, so I grew up in a very non-communicative house,” he said. “Film was one of the ways that my father communicated with me because he really loved film. And my mother, too — she loves film as well. But my father was my first film professor, and he would sit me down to watch films from the old country, from Mexico's golden age of cinema. He’d watch them with me and teach me about them.”
Getting to spend time with his father, Alonso, unlike his siblings, didn’t mind that the movies were in black and white and had a slow pace.
“It was kind of a special thing we shared, and I just fell in love with film in general,” he said. “On top of that, my dad didn't really speak English, so American films were a way that he could hear the English language and understand it because there was a visual representation, and tone and music informing him what the films were about.”
Alonso first moved up to the Bay Area for a few reasons — as a kid he was a fan of Bay Area hip hop, like Mac Dre, E-40, and the Coup, as well as Bay Area sports teams like the Raiders and the Oakland A’s. Then, his partner at the time went to Stanford University to study education, prompting Alonso to move to Oakland, something he had thought about since he was young. He went to school here, getting his B.A. in Cinema from San Francisco State and an M.F.A. in documentary from Stanford.
Alonso has gotten recognition and support from Francis and Roman Coppola, The Annenberg Foundation, SFFILM, NewFilmmakers LA and Sundance.
With his first short documentary, Sombras, Alonso got personal recognition from his parents for a film he interviewed them about their experience leaving their countries and coming to the U.S.
“Their response was very emotional, and it was one of the first times that I think my parents expressed pride in what I was doing,” he said. “It sparked a huge discussion afterwards of things that my mom and dad hadn't told me, even in the interviews for the film.”
Alonso is currently working on his first fiction film since undergraduate school, Niki•Tomi•Beto, based on his childhood in Highland Park.
He says he’s enjoying being on the campus, getting ready to teach.
“I feel very honored to take on this role, and I love my colleagues so far. They all seem so supportive. I appreciate what Dean Celine [Parreñas Shimizu] is doing in terms of building a more diverse program for students,” he said. “The statistics of UC Santa Cruz mirror a lot of my own background — there are a lot of first gen college students, a lot of transfers, a lot of children of immigrants, and lots of BIPOC students.”