Spotlight Iowa City: KRUI DJ broadcasts culture


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Once a week, Brett Johnson transforms into “Don Gregorio.”

Johnson goes by the DJ name (which he acquired in Brazil) as host of “The Latin Beat” every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. on KRUI 89.7FM, discussing cultural traditions and current events in Latin America.

Through interviews, music, and personal experiences, the 26-year-old debunks the myths about Latin American culture.

“Some people think [Latin America] is just a place where everybody speaks Spanish and eats tacos, but really, each country has its own diverse culture,” said Johnson, a teaching assistant in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Past shows focused on topics ranging from relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to Brazilian Carnival music.

Though just 4.3 percent of all the UI’s international students come from Latin America and the Caribbean — according to a fall 2009 report from International Programs — Johnson said it is important for people to understand these populations because of the rapidly expanding Latino population in the U.S.

Johnson’s younger sister, Kelly Johnson, said she is proud of her brother’s work and he encouraged her to study in the Dominican Republic, where she conducted research on breast feeding.

“[Brett] is genuine but awkward,” his sister said and laughed. “In high school, he won the award for person you want to hang out with the most, and that fits him perfectly.”

Brett Johnson always had a fascination with culture as a Spanish and religious studies double major (he wanted to be a Spanish teacher), but it wasn’t until after graduation that he fully understood the potential of his degrees.

On two different trips, he eventually made his way to Salvador, Brazil, and Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In Belo Horizonte, the Coralville native researched history and economics.

“Brazil is so blended,” said Johnson, who also speaks Portuguese. “It’s got both European and African influence, among others, and when you mix that all together so many beautiful cultural manifestations come out, whether it be in the arts or just everyday life.”

Former roommate and UI alumnus Elliott Pohnl said that while Johnson has interest in other cultures, he also has a fascination with his own American culture, which allows him to better relate his message to others.

“[Brett] is the most well-rounded person I know,” Pohnl said. “He is open to a lot of things and likes to try new experiences, not just in other countries, but at home too.”

Johnson is also working on a graduate research project outside of Latin America, focusing on “El Camino de Santiago,” a famous pilgrimage to the city of Santiago, Spain.

He wants to document why people choose to go on the pilgrimage and what it means to them, from a variety of perspectives, ranging from an “80-year-old nun” to “a group of young Italians looking to drink beer every night.” He actually plans on making the pilgrimage firsthand, starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and walking to Santiago.

In the future, Johnson hopes to report during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. No matter what he ends up doing though, it is likely he will find a way to spread some culture into the lives of others.

“As a journalist, you always want to represent the truth of something,” he said. “And that’s what I hope to do [in my research].”

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