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Is there a future for Chicano/Chicana studies?

Mexico City

A thousand Chicana and Chicano scholars came to this
ancient Aztec capital in June, as participants in The National
Association of Chicana and Chicago Scholars’ (NACCS) annual meeting, to
ponder the future of their discipline and to become reacquainted with

For Estevan Flores, director of the Latino/a Research and Policy
Center at the University of Colorado-Denver, simply having the
conference in Mexico was important because many of the students and
scholars participating had never been to the country.

“It was great to be meeting in buildings that existed even before
there was a United States,” says Dr. Julia Curry, a University of
California-Berkeley professor and head of the NACCS program.

This year, the struggle in Chiapas was foremost in the minds of
many scholars who attended. However, another primary concern was the
brewing conflict at home about the future of ethnic studies programs,
particularly Chicano/Chicana studies. University of California Regent
Ward Connerly recently called for a review of ethnic studies, with an
eye toward eliminating the discipline.

“Do we have the will to fight?,” asks Dr. Adaliza Sosa-Riddell, a
member of the faculty in the Chicano Studies Department at U.C.-Davis.
“Chicano studies is one of our lasting legacies [from the civil rights
movement]. Everything else has been squashed. It’s the last vestige
that has any meaning.”

The NACCS has sent a resolution to the University of California
Regents, according to Flores, stating that the association considers
Connerly’s statements an assault on academic freedom.

While Connerly’s statements are a threat, Flores believes “the
attacks give us a focal point to build a united front in support of
ethnic studies.”

In addition to whether ethnic studies will continue to find a home
at the University of California, Sosa-Riddell says one of the issues
not resolved within Chicano studies is the relationship between Chicano
and Latino scholarship. Many people fear that Chicano studies will one
day be subsumed by Latino or Latin American studies. The problem with
that, she says, is that Chicano studies is its own paradigm, whereas
Latin American studies or Latino studies do not represent new paradigms.

“Before Chicano studies, Latin American studies didn’t study us, or they studied us wrong,” Sosa-Riddell says.

The NACCS resolution to the U.C. coincides with an effort by the
association to create a review or accrediting process to help Chicano
studies programs nationwide. Flores predicts that process will be in
place within two years. One goal will be to assist academic units mat
are creating five-year programs to transition from being mere programs
to full departments.

The Righting in Chiapas

Concerns about the fate of Chicano/ Chicana studies at home were,
in many ways, overshadowed at the conference by the ongoing conflict in
the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. At least two delegations of
participants ventured into this highly volatile region to witness the
crisis firsthand.

Traveling into a war zone, may seem a little unusual for academics,
but it is very much in the twenty-five-year tradition of the NACCS —
an organization founded with the expressed purpose of integrating
scholarship, community, and political activism.

The Chiapas rebellion began on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista
guerrilla army attacked several towns in southern Mexico. They did so
to protest the imposition of the North American Free Trade Agreement,
and the virtual exclusion of anyone from the negotiations except the
business sector. The Zapatistas feared the agreement would lead to the
loss of their traditional lands and their way of life. After the
initial bloody skirmishes, prolonged negotiations broke down, leading
to the current impasse and the actions by the Mexican army.

The NACCS delegations traveled to communities which have been
attacked within the past six months, either by paramilitary or military
forces. In Acteal, Chiapas, they met with survivors of the December
massacre in which forty-five residents — mostly women and children —
were killed by paramilitary forces. They also traveled to El Bosque,
Navil, and the town of Pohlo, which recently was a Zapatista town of
430 residents. Today, the population has swollen to 10,000.

Dr. Martha Lopez-Garza, a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies
at California State University-Northridge, went to Chiapas with a
nearly a dozen other scholars.

“It’s a military zone,” she says. There’s a definite war going on
… I saw much more suffering than I expected. People were still afraid
to talk to us. I saw a lot of fear in people’s eyes — a lot of trauma.”

Aside from being observers, Lopez-Garza said that the reason the
scholars went to Chiapas was to compare Chicano community organizations
with Mayan community organizations. The scholars and students have
documented the entire trip and are preparing to present their findings
through opinion pieces and formal presentations later this year.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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