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UCLA Scholar Seeks to Raise Awareness About University’s Forgotten Mexican American Forefather

The forefather father of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was a Mexican American politician by the name of Reginaldo del Valle, according to recent research. Although his contributions to the institution’s founding have been largely forgotten, UCLA Professor David Hayes-Bautista is seeking to resurrect del Valle’s memory.

Reginaldo Francisco del Valle, who served in both chambers of the California Legislature, was the force behind the creation of the Los Angeles Normal School, a predecessor institution of UCLA, according to Hayes-Bautista author of “Reginaldo Francisco del Valle: UCLA’s Forgotten Forefather,” and director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health.

Del Valle spent years in the state legislature securing the establishment, funding and winning of independent governance for the Los Angeles State Normal School, Hayes-Bautista says. “It is commendable for a legislator to be so dedicated to such an important cause and succeed.”

Hayes-Bautista stumbled upon del Valle’s name while casually perusing through a book at a Long Beach, Calif., bookstore

“There was a very brief mention of del Valle in the book,” says Hayes-Bautista, “but I’ve been at this long enough to know that if you see one mention of a minority doing something, there is more to the story. I started digging.”

Hayes-Bautista discovered that the creation of the Los Angeles Normal School with autonomous governance was a struggle for del Valle, involving several bills over a number of years.

Del Valle first introduced a bill during the 1880 legislative session, but was unable to win approval as five other cities introduced competing legislation to establish their own normal schools. In the 1881 session, del Valle successfully introduced and negotiated the passage of the bill that then-Gov. George C. Perkins signed into law to establish the branch state normal school.

Later, del Valle’s initiative ensured sufficient funding for the construction and operation of the school. Del Valle developed a legislative scheme in 1885 to allow those in Los Angeles to make their own decisions, rather than have decisions made by people at the normal school in San Jose. His first attempt at passage was not successful. He retired after the 1886 session, and in the following year, his proposal finally was enacted, carried by Assemblyman John Brierly.

The normal school provided the only access to publicly financed postsecondary education in the southern region but was limited by being only a teacher’s training college. As the population in Southern California grew after 1886, with Los Angeles County surpassing San Francisco County in population by 1910, public pressure grew on the University of California to establish a campus in the southern part of the state.

To accommodate a growing student body, the normal school moved to a larger site on Vermont Avenue in 1914 — now the site of Los Angeles City College. But demand for education continued to grow. An agreement was reached in 1919 in which legislation abolished the state normal school and, in its place at the Vermont Avenue site, a southern branch of the University of California was established.

So, why was del Valle’s contribution omitted from the history books?

Hayes-Bautista suspects racism.

“I don’t have any data,” says Hayes-Bautista, “but I can easily imagine that it may have been a little bit uncomfortable for [the powers that be] to admit that a Mexican was the founding father of UCLA during the 1920s.”

UCLA will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019. Hayes–Bautista and his coalition of students and teachers feel that homage should be paid to del Valle for his hard work and “heavy lifting.”

“If it were not for del Valle, there would not have been the Los Angeles State Normal School to serve the institutional platform from which the UCLA campus grew and developed,” Hayes-Bautista says.

At the UC-Berkeley, there are a number of halls, roads and statues named for Henry Durant, founder of the institution that preceded UC-Berkeley, the Private College of California.

In 1868, the University of California’s Board of Regents absorbed the Private College of California to create UC-Berkeley. The regents elected Durant as the institution’s first president.

During UC-Berkeley’s centennial celebration in 1968, Durant’s legacy was honored.

For del Valle, there are no roads, buildings or statues. The most recent mention of del Valle’s name in an official capacity came last month during the inauguration of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block who prominently mentioned del Valle, the Los Angeles Times reported.

During the program, a brief history of UCLA explained that the second UC campus was created when Southern Californians clamored for public higher education to match that of UC-Berkeley and triumphed. The historical mention declared, “Thanks largely to the skilled efforts of a Latino State Assemblyman, Reginaldo Francisco del Valle.”

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