The Future of Chicano/Latino Studies

We’ve reached the end of Latino Heritage Month 2009.  Hope you had a good one.  I live every month like its Latino Heritage Month, so for me it’s been as good as life…

I thought I’d leave you with an excerpt of a historical primary source that helps us connect the past and the present in a meaningful way.  I work in the fields of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies.  Founded some four decades ago, as a direct result of student and community efforts to remake the university and create an institution which could better serve the poor communities from which they came, these academic fields began with a political charge in mind.  As the years progressed, that charge often confronted an opposition.  Today, from efforts in Arizona to make Chicano Studies classes illegal to efforts in the Cal State system to begin eliminating the programs for financial reasons, the existence of Chicano/Latino Studies is anything but certain.

Our source comes from Ernesto Galarza, one of the first ethnic Mexicans to receive a PhD in History in the U.S.  Dr. Galarza was the Mexican and Mexican American specialist in the U.S. for much of his professional career, one that spanned academia and work in community service organizations.  He lived what he preached and, near the end of his life, as he spoke to Chicano students at UC Berkeley, preach he did…


SOURCE: Ernesto Galarza, “Student’s Responsibilities to the Chicano Community,” address delivered at the University of California, April 20, 1977, Berkeley, California.

You Chicano scholars who are here now today must recognize this drastic change on the American campus, and begin to ask yourselves, must we abandon what’s here for us?  This campus contains immeasurable treasures for all of us.  Here is an accumulation of experience that should be open to us for each one of us to analyze and evaluate and put to our own uses.

And you can’t get it off campus—these magnificent libraries and research facilities.  These are public facilities. This is public wealth organized and set up here for your use. Please think very carefully before you abandon this place because of certain difficulties that you’re having.  The thing to remember is that the training, the capability in the law, in sociology, in whatever these disciplines may be called, is available only here. Unfortunately, it is under the control, under the vigilance of people who don’t share your motivation. But that is no reason why you should abandon your claim to these resources.

You do have a claim to them. The point of view that I’m asking you to consider, of course, is not an easy one to carry out.  One of the difficulties that we as Chicanos and Mexicans have always faced is that our universe in the university is so unfamiliar and so distant from the community from which we come.  It’s awfully hard to explain to your families and to your neighbors—neighborhoods that are constantly in turmoil and in the process of change—what it is you’re up to, what you’re doing, what your difficulties are. There’s a gradual alienation between us on campuses and those in the community.

I contend that the solution or the effort to overcome that alienation is ours and not the community’s.  We understand what causes it.  We know why we are victimized by it.  We know why the community itself is victimized.  But you cannot ask a person who has not had your opportunities to become mentally critical and professionally competent to dig at, to go at the fact that you need to establish a thesis.

3 thoughts on “The Future of Chicano/Latino Studies

  1. I tried to declare a minor in Latin American studies here in Calgary and I took the first two intro level classes I needed and was pumped about it until I realized it would have taken me at least an extra two years to meet the minor requirements because they just don’t offer the necessary classes regularly enough.
    Sad story.

  2. This past week I was reminded that the Xican@ studies department is in more danger than just the cuts of its funds. The institutionalization of Xican@ studies is built upon the need for the academy to recognize that the research and knowledge that is being produced through a Xican@ studies paradigm merits a home in their ivory tower. The hope was to continue our work within this new home that had historically excluded and marginalized us.

    This week, I realized that when Xican@ studies entered the academy it was going to have to mold itself to better meet the demands of the institution that funds it, I did not know what the extent of that assimilation would be.

    This week, I had the department chair of my colleges’ department reprimand a student for hosting an information session on the Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies courses that were being offered next semester. The professor told the student that the student did not have the right to hold this event and that there were other students who did have this power. May I mention that the event this week was a first for this department (at least since the time it became a department).

    This week, this professor’s email to this student told me and all other students who have been actively promoting the Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies program that we did not have this right. We do not have the right to continue the legacy that our brothers/sisters/sibling, mothers/fathers/parents risked so much to built for us. Instead, we must allow for those who are selected by the Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies Department to continue this legacy for us.

    This week, I reminded myself that I cannot be a Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies major and other students spent hours, some even more, trying to figure out if their passion and knowledge of our raza matched the academic credits that are necessary to have this title written on their diplomas. We love our professors so we have willingly given them the power to create these requirements that keep us from this label, knowing that they themselves are bounded by what the institution has allowed them to teach. This week, however, I realized that it is time for students to step up and retake our seat in the department. If we fail to do so then this compulsory bureaucracy for false legitimacy will turn our department into another one that makes us feel like aliens in our home.

    You can take away our department, you can limit our agency within it, but you will never take away our Xican@ Studies. This Xican@ Studies will prove that “Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos, y si nos echan, pues regresamos.”

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