History (1968 to Present)

History of The Department of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies:

Present:  The Department changed its name in 2016: it is now known as the Department of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies (CLS) to indicate and highlight the growth of the interdisciplinary field and its curriculum.  The 2017-2018  CLS Department is headed by interim Chair, Alex Espinoza, renown writer and Director, MFA Program in Creative Writing & Literary Arts.  Former Interim Department Chair (2016-2017) Dr. Raquel Ackerman, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst by training created a transitional leadership for CLS to continue to grow and affirm itself as an innovative academic field, thus fulfilling the promise Mexican American Studies stood at it's inception as a Department in 1968.  

Beginnings:  An era known for its civil rights marches, anti-war protests, and student walkouts sparked the foundation of an academic discipline known for more than forty years as Chicano Studies. The academic discipline had its inception at Cal State L.A. in the Fall 1968 under the name of Mexican American Studies Program and coordinated by Dr. Ralph Guzmán, an assistant professor of government at Cal State L.A. The program’s focus was interdisciplinary, thus counter to the traditional academic emphasis on specialization and turning instead to the study of Mexican Americans through courses in history, culture, political science, psychology, and an emerging Chicano literature. As of its foundation the Mexican American Studies Program proposed to question the negative portrayal of Americans of Mexican ancestry in U.S. literature and the media, and to prepare students for careers in education, law, the social sciences and, among other fields, medicine. In 1968 the Mexican American student population at Cal State L.A. included only 4%, yet the campus stood at a walking distance from one of the largest Mexican American communities in the nation. On demographics alone, Cal State L.A. was destined to be the campus where Mexican American Studies would be born and thrive as a successful academic field.

In 1971 the program was instituted as the Department of Chicano Studies, with an increasing number of similar departments across the nation. By the 1990s Chicano Studies had reached an international audience, with Chicano Studies research institutes and centers in Mexico, Spain, France, and Germany. Working in unison with local neighborhoods, Chicano faculty acknowledged the importance of public service and community involvement in a student’s education. These ideals led the Department of Chicano Studies to support the establishment of Cal State L.A.’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), and of the Educational Participation in Communities (EPIC). Representing different fields and research interests, the full-time and part-time faculty in the early 1970s included Roberto Cantú, Alfred Carmona, Manuel De Ortega, Miguel Domínguez, Jorge Illueca, David Lόpez-Lee, Louis R. Negrete, Emilio Pulido, Rudy Quiñones, Richard Santillán, and Héctor Soto-Pérez. As Department Chair, Dr. Negrete created two options for students interested in teaching: the multiple subjects credential for elementary school teachers, and the single subject credential for high school teachers. Dr. Negrete also wrote and spearheaded the Master of Arts Degree in Mexican American Studies,  a graduate degree approved in 1977.

During its early years the department’s internal development and growth were fueled by divergent views and conflicting convictions among faculty, discrepancies and debates that established in the Department of Chicano Studies two university principles: faculty freedom and faculty governance. The book that determined the rules and procedures for deliberations, concessions, or compromises was Robert’s Rules of Order. In 1983 the Department of Chicano Studies welcomed Dr. Francisco Balderrama as Department Chair, and thanks to his leadership and shared ideals with other Chicano Studies faculty, the department hired a generation of faculty with diverse academic backgrounds: Dionne Espinoza, Bianca Guzmán, Ester E. Hernández, Valerie Talavera-Bustillos, and Michael Soldatenko. Recent hires include José Anguiano (CLS/Honors College) and  Priscilla Leiva (CLS/History). For more information on CLS faculty (e.g., their academic background, professional activities, publications), visit their curriculum vitas in the Department Website.  The department offers three minors for students majoring in other fields: the Minor in Central American Studies, the Minor in Chicano Studies, and the Minor in Mesoamerican Studies.     

The Chicano Studies faculty has organized book and film festivals, international conferences, colloquia, and campus programs that have included the nearby Mexican American and Latino communities. Chicano Studies faculty also created the Chicano Studies Publication Center, founded literary journals such as Escolios: Revista de literatura (1976-1979), Campo Libre: Journal of Chicano Studies (1980-1984), and edited the first bilingual edition (Spanish/English) of José Vasconcelos’ La raza cόsmica/The Cosmic Race (1979).  The 2008 Big Read, sponsored by the County of Los Angeles and Cal State L.A., selected Bless Me, Ultima--a novel by Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya--as the novel to be read city-wide and on campus. Chicano Studies faculty were invited to help coordinate the lectures at Cal State L.A. and in the city, along with a play adaptation of Bless Me, Ultima performed at the Music Hall, at the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, and as part of the closing activities of the Big Read in the City of Dallas, Texas. The actors were Cal State L.A. students and faculty.

Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies faculty are an integral part of Cal State L.A. The campus honored Chicano Studies faculty with the Outstanding Professor Award (Roberto Cantú, 1990-1991; Francisco Balderrama, 1996-1997), and the President’s Distinguished Professor Award (Roberto Cantú, 2009-2010).