Center for Mexican American Studies

It was recently revealed that the Black and Latino Studies Building, pictured above, will soon be renamed the Gordon White Building. Photo courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin.

I am a student at UT, a nontraditional student in the Center for Mexican American Studies and the department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. It recently came to my attention through a letter that a ceremony will soon be held to announce that the BLS (Black and Latino Studies) building has been renamed the Gordon White Building. According to the letter, it is being named after Edmund T. Gordon’s parents (he is the Chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department) and Charles and Fran White, artist-activist and teacher-activist, respectively, who donated art pieces that now hang in the Blanton Museum of Art.

 The objection I have is that there is no part of the name that honors anyone in Mexican American Studies/Latino Studies. In fact, we the students did not even receive notification or even an invitation to the event.  As you can see, the event is already scheduled for May 6.

While no disrespect is intended to the Gordons or the Whites, I, as a Mexican American Studies student, feel that we have been slighted. The intent of the building was to house both African American Studies and Mexican American/Latino Studies, and yet it seems that we were left out completely from the name selection and from the renaming ceremony. And my understanding is that the AADS students also had no idea this was even happening and that they also feel that attaching the name “White” is somewhat discordant with a building built to house African American students and Mexican American/Latino students. 

As hard as it has been for our communities to come out of the shadows, we have been relegated back into the shadows and taken several steps backward. 

We would like to know who chose the name and why neither group of students was even made aware that these names were being considered. 

We would rather have it remain BLS until a name that reflects both departments is considered and agreed upon. 

— Yolanda Estrada Muñoz, Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, nontraditional Student.

 

Black and Latino Studies building renaming anouncement

Texas land commissioner George P. Bush speaks Monday evening at the awards ceremony for the inaugural Latin Leadership Award.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

UT President Bill Powers presented land commissioner George P. Bush the inaugural Latino Leadership Award on Monday evening.

The president’s office worked in conjunction with the Center of Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies to select Bush as the first awardee, said Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies.

“We went through a series of 15 nominees, and we evaluated them for leadership, public service and areas like that,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “With him as the first Latino land commissioner, I think in its [179-year] history of the office, we thought it was an appropriate acknowledgement of what it means to be a trailblazer in Latino leadership today.”

As a son of a Mexican-American mother and as a Hispanic man who grew up in the U.S., Bush said he was honored to receive the award.

“Going to this University, being honored for the first time, it’s truly a honor and privilege,” Bush said. “It’s truly a challenge to take things to the next level, to give a hand to the next generation of students looking at opportunities whether its public service or grad school or finding opportunities that can improve their life. [There is] a lot of work ahead.”

Bush said he wants his agency to help both the center and the department.

“They’re doing research that I think is going to benefit our agency,” Bush said. “In terms of projecting the big needs facing the community, they mentioned health care, immigration, voter ID and so forth, which is helpful to our agency.”

While Bush accepted the award, approximately 15 protesters in the West Mall came to express their dissatisfaction at Bush receiving this award, as well as with his political track record. 

Feminist activist Martha Cotera speaks in front of the tower in protest of the decision to grant Land Commissioner George P. Bush the inaugural Latino Leadership Award Monday evening. Cotera and other protestors cited Bush's political record on issues ranging from immigration to fracking and environmental concerns as reasons why he should not have been selected for the award. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

According to Daniel Yanez, an Austin community organizer, Bush appears to care about issues facing the Latino community, but he hasn’t done anything actually benefitting that group.

“As a politician, he has never come out for Hispanic or Latino or Mexican-American issues,” Yanez said. “To give him an award, particularly of this type — I have to laugh.”

Protesters addressed several of the issues Bush said he wishes to improve. Students gathered around to listen to feminist activist Martha Cotera, who took a strong stance against most of Bush’s political policies, ranging from immigration to fracking and environmental concerns.

“It’s difficult for students and faculty and staff to get involved in actions like this,” Cotera said. “We do not know how this honor came about. We are concerned that the values that this person has publicly talked about and in the Republican platform that he supports are anti-civil rights, anti-poor, anti-women.”

Millennial Latinos in the United States often struggle with identifying as both citizens of America and “Americans” as a result of racialization and exclusion, according to University of Illinois at Chicago professor Nilda Flores-González.

During a lecture at the Student Activity Center on Wednesday, Flores-González, an associate professor of Latin American and Latino studies, said she drew her conclusions from a study she conducted on the protestors involved in the surge of marches across Chicago in 2006 for immigration reform.

She interviewed 113 Latino millennials — people born between 1980 and 1995 — and asked questions about how they identify racially, and how their experiences may have affected these identities. Her research primarily focused on how Latinos identify in the “racial middle,” which encompasses the races other than black and white.

According to Flores-González, the majority of the Latinos she interviewed had experienced racism or had been stereotyped as “illegal” immigrants, which makes them feel unwelcome. Flores-González said she believes this is the reason why many millennial Latinos feel as though they have to choose between an American or Latino identity.

“We need to also pay attention to how the historical moments, coupled with the racial experiences are making Latinos and Latinas feel like they don’t really belong here,” Flores-González said.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 54 million Hispanics living in the country, which is roughly 17 percent of the population.

According to Flores-González, Latinos who grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods or in middle-class families are prone to labeling themselves as white. She said she believes this is a result of assimilation and the individuals trying to feel more American.

“Becoming American is not about becoming white,” Flores-González “It is not about downward assimilation, but instead it is about becoming Latino.”

Flores-González was invited to speak at the University as part of her application for a senior social scientist and associate professor position at the Center for Mexican American Studies. Luis Guevara, program coordinator for the CMAS, said the atmosphere of the University was not as welcoming to the Latino population when he first arrived in 1991 as it is now.                               

“I wouldn’t say it was hostile, but there were events that would happen that made it a stressful time,” Guevara said. “The University as an institution has worked diligently to foster a more welcoming environment for Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and different groups that make up the University.”                                       

Eric Bybee, a cultural studies and education graduate student who is Latino, said although there is racialization of his ethnic group, he feels comfortable on UT’s campus. 

“I think that UT, compared to other places, there is a very strong Latino presence compared to other places I’ve lived,” Bybee said. “My experience being here at UT, and part of the CMAS, has been one that has been very racially fulfilling.”

In this podcast, Anthony Green and Madlin Mekelburg discuss the suspension of sophomore basketball guard Martez Walker, the Departmentalization of the Center for Mexican American Studies and "Thread" the new UT centric dating app created by Zach Dell, son of Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell. They are joined by News Editor Jacob Kerr to discuss the ongoing problems the UT System faces with its MOOC initiative. Reporter Natalie Sullivan also joins the gang to discuss this week in crime.

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. 

The Center for Mexican American Studies may become its own department if plans are approved in November and an advisory committee finds adequate funding sources.

The center would become the Department of Mexican-American and Latino Studies. Domino Perez, associate professor and director of the center, said the major obstacle to implementing the center’s plan is finding funding. 

“We understand that in order to become the nation’s premier department of Mexican-American and Latino studies and for our future growth, we will need substantial funding,” Perez said in an email. “Therefore, we need to be entrepreneurial in locating resources to fund these efforts.”

Perez said the departmentalization committee conducted its first meeting Friday to discuss funding efforts. 

The center could departmentalize by 2015 if its plan is approved in November. Perez said that the change would coincide with the center’s planned move to the Geography Building from its current home in Burdine Hall. The center moved into Burdine in July.

The UT System Board of Regents approved a second expansion of the Geography Building and increased the total cost of the construction project to $15.5 million in August, making room for the center to move into the building upon its completion in March 2015.

Perez said the regents have since cut the construction project by $1 million earlier this month.

“They cut the budget of the expansion after determining that the overall combined cost per square footage of both the renovation and expansion was too high,” Perez said in an email. “There are other buildings on campus with much higher per square footage costs.”

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the regents, who have held two special meetings this month, have not taken any action on the building project since they approved its expansion in August.

The center received a blow in June when Gov. Rick Perry vetoed part of a bill authored by state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, that would have given $1.5 million to the center. The bill would have offset some large cuts to its budget from the 2011 legislative session. Perez said Perry’s veto has not trampled departmentalization efforts.

“It was never going to be the primary source of funding for our efforts. What it did do inadvertently was spark interest, locally and across the country, in our departmentalization efforts,” Perez said. “People are watching UT closely, hoping it will to lead and shape future conversations and research about the fastest growing demographic in the country.”

The center is currently funded and taught by multiple departments. After its proposed departmentalization, the program would be part of the College of Liberal Arts. 

Richard Flores, College of Liberal Arts associate dean, said the college is working toward this end despite funding issues. The center received $138,578 through the College of Liberal Arts during the 2012-13 academic year, according to the University’s Budget Office’s website.

“[Departmentalization] remains a priority of the college; the only question is how to fund it,” Flores said.

Students and faculty voiced their opinions in favor of the Center for Mexican American Studies to become a department within the College of Liberal Arts at a forum Wednesday.

The center offers undergraduate, graduate, masters and doctoral programs in Mexican American Studies funded and taught by multiple departments. If the center becomes part of the College of Liberal Arts, professors, lecturers and classes would be under one department.

Center director Domino Perez said the center turned down the opportunity as recently as three years ago when the center was under a different director.

“We were asked to imagine a plan where departmentalization is the finish line,” Perez said. “Historically, the center has been resistant. They did not want to be confined to any one college.”

Perez said after UT President William Powers Jr. asked her in January to consider plans for the center’s future and departmentalization, she drafted a preliminary plan to departmentalize within the next 10 years, although it may not take that long to accomplish. She said the center tends to focus on yearly goals, including classes and community outreach, rather than a long-term mission for the center’s future.

Perez said her proposal for the department includes a borderlands research institute that would focus on the Texas-Mexico border, although there are no specific plans yet.

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he favors departmentalization if students and faculty want the center to move in that direction.

“I believe building on our core strength, and given our geographical location, we have the opportunity to be the best center for Mexican American studies in the country,” Diehl said. “As the dean, it would be idiotic not to be fully supportive.”

This was the third forum hosted by the center this semester, intended to gauge what goals students and faculty want the center to have for the future. Before Wednesday’s talk, separate forums were held for students and faculty to discuss their thoughts on the center’s future, without the center or college administrators present to encourage an honest discussion.

Associate journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez said that during the faculty forum, departmentalization was not the topic of conversation, although it should have been. She said the center should ask for the faculty’s opinions before making the decision.

“I feel bad that we weren’t a part of that conversation three years ago,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “I would like for us to be asked that question, and I would like for us to vote on it. I would like for us to say, ‘these are the advantages and disadvantages,’ and have that discussion so it’s not just reflective of one person at the helm.”

She said the center will host a student and faculty planning session Jan. 11 to further discuss the option of departmentalizing.

Emilio Zamora, an associate professor in UT’s Department of History, inaugurates the Center for Mexican American Studies’ newly-instated “ Faculty Research Platicas”. Zamora discussed Mexican-American representatives in government since World War I until the present.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

Mexican Americans were historically neglected both in education and in government representation, according to two UT professors who presented their research Wednesday.

Emilio Zamora, professor in the Department of History and Jason Casellas, assistant professor in the Department of Government discussed their current research projects funded by the Center for Mexican American Studies.

Casellas’ project will focus on how well Mexican Americans are represented within the educational sphere. He said education tends to be the most concerning issue in Latino communities.

“High school drop out rates and a low socioeconomic status, among other issues, demonstrate how Latinos are consistently disadvantaged,” Casellas said. “Congress in turn has responded by paying scant attention to Hispanic education issues.”

The drop-out rate and the low socioeconomic status have been consistent throughout Mexican-American history, he said. Casellas said that as a political scientist, his study would also look at the larger implications of bilingual education.

“The Bilingual Education Act, along with other legislation was a great advancement for the Latino community,” Casellas said. “I want to take a look at the trends and patterns in social, political and economic spheres and explain why the trends seem to continue without improvement for Latinos.”

Zamora said his project will focus on Mexican Americans’ representation from 1940 to around 1980. The group was represented poorly in both the House and the Senate until 1961. Zamora said his main goal is to focus on the history of policy formation in Texas legislature and how Mexican Americans were represented during that time period.

“I’ve compiled a set of data of Mexican Americans in the senate and the house from 1846 to 2011,” Zamora said. “When we measure data, we have to qualify. There are explanations, and I want to associate those numbers with trends and patterns.”

Program coordinator Luis Guevara said the grant both professors received from the center will further their research into Mexican-American representation in education and politics throughout history.

“It’s all work in progress at this point,” Guevara said. “They will be reflecting on the research they have done so far and hope to continue doing.”