On Tuesday, the University announced that it was creating a new Mexican American and Latina/o Studies department in addition to the existing Center for Mexican American Studies. The move, which had been expected but previously delayed, is certainly important for personnel reasons, but it stands out more for the new level of recognition that it confers on an academic unit that struggled in the beginning just to get off the ground.
For Américo Paredes, the opening of UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies was the realization of a lifelong dream. During his tenure at UT, Paredes fought tirelessly for and secured the creation of a special Mexican American studies program at the University. This was no small feat, as Paredes had to combat entrenched anti-Mexican sentiment both within the University and within the surrounding community. But in 1970, CMAS was formally established within what is today the College of Liberal Arts, where it has been housed ever since.
Under Paredes’ direction, the center trained a new generation of folklorists, proud of their heritage and unafraid to challenge discrimination in all its rebarbative forms.
Among these was Olga Najera-Ramírez, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and one of Paredes’ last students. Najera-Ramírez recently expressed her support of the decision to the Texan: “As founder and first director of CMAS, I believe [Paredes] would be quite pleased to see that [Mexican American studies will finally have] its own department. This is wonderful news and quite a tribute to [his] legacy.”
Admittedly, MALS will exist separate and apart from CMAS, but the new department couldn’t have been born without the hard work of Paredes and his successors. As Congressman Lloyd Doggett told the Texan on Tuesday, “[The creation of a Mexican American studies department] emphasizes the significance of the Center for Mexican American Studies. Its work recognizing, studying and honoring the contributions of Mexican Americans is about the future of Texas and the future of America.”
Now that Mexican American studies has been given the go-ahead to departmentalize, what tangible changes will it see on campus? Most importantly, it will no longer have to rely solely on the borrowed faculty of CMAS. This lends a certain amount of independence by allowing the department’s faculty to evaluate one another for hiring, promotion and tenure. Additionally, department status comes with a unique budget, and that increased dollar amount gives clout to any academic unit.
The addition of MALS to the campus will hopefully allow the work of early pioneers in the field to be continued and furthered.