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Chicano studies: forging identity – development of Chicano studies as a discipline

Carlos Munoz, Chicano studies professor at the University of California-Berkeley, says the relatively large influx of Chicano students into universities unleashed a political movement focused on civil and human rights and an intellectual movement that both challenged historical knowledge and created the discipline of Chicano studies.

Books such as “Occupied America.” by California State University-Northridge professor Rodolfo Acuna, which is widely used in Chicano studies classes, created the intellectual underpinnings that rejected the notions — accepted by previous generations — that Chicanos were immigrants or foreigners, that they wanted to assimilate and that they were docile.

Prior to the development of Chicano studies as a discipline in the mid-1960s, very little knowledge existed about the Chicano, says Refugio Rochin, director of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University. In addition, there were very few Chicano professors.

With the advent of Chicano studies programs. Chicano and Chicana scholars began to produce knowledge about their own community for the first time.

“Chicano studies changed the way we viewed the land we lived on.” by allowing Chicanos to see U.S. imperialism for what it was, says Rochin. It also connected Chicanos to their indigenous roots, he says.

The movement was also responsible for the articulation of “sin fronteras” — the concept of no borders,” says Rochin.

Rochin notes that while there are a few Chicano research centers or departments throughout the Midwest, most were developed in California where Chicanos were numerous but a minority in the general population. This contrasts with a general lack of Chicano studies programs along the U.S./Mexico border, where Chicanos are in the majority.

The Rise of Chicana Feminist Scholars

Lea Ybarra, associate provost for academic affairs at California State University-Fresno, was present when the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Scholars (NACCS) was formed. “By the time NACCS was created in 1974, women had to be taken into account,” she says. For example, as an undergraduate, she had been the chair of the Third World Coalition at UC-Berkeley, where women were in many leadership positions.

Despite this, men had to be constantly challenged for their lack of attention to the issues of women. The women of NACCS, however, did not allow themselves to be walked upon, she says “There were so few of us, we were assertive. We had to be.”

Even with that however, NACCS did not have a conference dedicated to women until 1983.

Antonia Castaneda, a professor at UT-Austin, says that the Chicano movement was fraught with internal contradictions. “It was male-defined. It was sexist, misogynistic and homophobic. The movement was about economic, educational and political equality, but fundamentally, it was not about gender equality.”

The challenge for Chicana scholars is to both dispel myths about Chicanas/ Latinas and also to continue to examine the intersection between class, race and gender, she adds. “For instance, Chicano scholars have examined police brutality, but not internal [domestic] violence directed at women.”

Chicana feminist scholars are exploring issues ignored by Chicanos, such as the role of women, gender and sexuality in society, early labor organizing efforts by Chicanas, the role of women in community, civil and human rights organizations and early writings by Chicana authors.

At the end of the 1970s, Ada Sosa-Riddell, director of the Chicana/Latina Center at the University of California-Davis, who was part of the early Chicana Caucus within NACCS, helped co-found “Mujeres Activas en Letras en Cambio Social (MALCS — Active Women in Letters for Social Change),” to deal with specific Chicana feminist issues.

Prior to Chicana feminists stepping forward, dealing with feminist issues “was seen as white women stuff.”

MALCS has allowed for a full articulation of feminism, says Sosa-Ridell. For instance, Cynthia Orozco, a visiting scholar at the University of New Mexico has challenged the 1969 “El Plan de Santa Barbara,” the document which laid the foundation for Chicano studies exclusion of women.

The body of knowledge — which is vast and growing — produced and recovered by a generation of Chicano and Chicana scholars, has proved that Chicano studies is a discipline, adds Quinones.

Less Advocacy

Jose Angel Gutierrez, director of the recently created Chicano studies center at the University of Texas-Arlington, says that Chicano studies centers and departments have generally stopped being advocates. The exception, he says, are campuses such as CSU-Northridge. Unlike most of the others, CSUN’s department has historically been connected to political action.

Arturo Madrid, the Murchison Distinguished Professor of Humanities at San Antonio’s Trinity University, agrees that after the initial phase of Chicano studies, Chicano and Chicana scholars — not by their choosing — generally confined their studies to the university. This is what motivated a number of scholars, including himself, to create the Tomas Rivera Center think tank in 1984.

“It [TRC] was the first place where on a sustained basis, the intellectual research on the Chicano/Latino community was connected with persons who shaped and influenced public policy,” says Madrid.

Maria Herrera Sobek, a professor at UC-Irvine is the kind of scholar who, prior to the movement, was excluded from the university. Born of farm worker immigrant parents, Sobek grew up in a shack and attended segregated schools in Texas, where she picked cotton. Today, a renowned scholar and poet, she says her background helped shape her academic studies. Her work on folklore and corridos — or ballads — comes directly from her upbringing.

Sobek says Chicano studies “has been great” for the university and the community but she feels that Chicano scholars have not been successful in presenting the results of their research to the public.

Antonia Castaneda says that Chicano studies challenged the structure of the university. But because it is a relatively new field, it has historically been in a struggle for survival. That’s part of the reason why many scholars did not engage in public policy debates outside of the academy. “Linkages [still] need to be made,” she says.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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