CSULA Chicano Studies Considering Name Change

School officials mysteriously silent on name change to historic department.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Forty-three years ago, propelled by the momentum of the Chicano Movement in East LA, Cal State Los Angeles (CSULA) established the first Chicano Studies Department in the nation. Back then minority groups across the country were awakening politically, rebelling against discrimination and finding their voice.

With the empowerment fought for and enjoyed by minority groups and women since the 1960s has come a greater sense of identity, and an unwillingness to be lumped with other groups striving for the same basic rights and dignity.

Today, Latinos compose 48 percent of the population in Los Angeles County and 37 percent of California as a whole and are poised to become the majority—but contrary to some would like to believe, they are not all culturally, linguistically or politically alike.

Now, Cal State LA, the largest university on the eastside of Los Angeles, currently has 16 cultural-focused organizations, seven of them—nearly half—focus on providing academic support for Mexican and Latino students and promoting their heritage.

Cal State LA’s Department of Chicano Studies (CHS) has also amplified its academics to include more histories than just those of Mexican Americans and Chicanos, and has added Central American Studies and Mesoamerican Studies minors.

Now it is proposing changing it’s name to the Department of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies (CHLS).

When a decision will be made is unclear, according to the University.

“The decision to accept and make the proposed name change is currently under consideration by the University’s administration. However, it is premature to develop a press release or release information regarding this potential change at this time. We will let you know when a decision is made,” Paul Browning, director of media relations for CSULA told EGP in an email.

EGP made several attempts to get information from the university regarding why the name change was proposed, anticipating some kind of statement regarding being inclusive about diversity within the Latino community. CSULA declined our request for information.

Inquiries and expressions of concern have spread through the Chicano activist community, which is seeking a role in the process.

While the university considers the name change, some activists have already made up their mind—they don’t like it.

Chicano Round Table and Xicano Studies Alumni Association de Aztlan have formed a “Chicano Studies Community Task Force Committee” to oppose the change.

The group is formed by activists such as Axayacatzin “Xihuan” Montalvo of Chicano Round Table and postgraduate alumni of CSULA, and David Sanchez, former leader of the Brown Berets and President of Mexican-American University, a start-up college without a formal campus in East LA.

The word “Latino” excludes Chicano and Mexicano history and only includes the European origins that colonized the Americans (Portugal, Spain, and France), the group said in a recent email.

The groups says that Latino Studies is already emphasized in the Latin American Studies Department at CSULA with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.

“Non-Chicano Studies teachers continue to profess Latino Studies to market Eurocentric cultural identity. By incorporating Latina/o Studies into Chicano Studies, Chicanos are disrespected, insulted, not recognized and misrepresented,” the group alleges.

They also indicate the word Latino does not preserve the philosophy of Mexican American cultural sovereignty, it “has no theoretical framework or history that respects the ethnic culture of Chicano and Mexican Americans… it has no legal, political and cultural standing in respect to the civil and human rights of Mexican Americans… it is a subaltern term to further subdue Chicanos who are the second largest national minority (30 million) in the United States,” the group wrote.

Cindy Aragon, a CSULA Chicano Studies major and assistant curator at the new downtown museum LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, says she can sympathize with the opponents of the name change but says it doesn’t really bother her.

“If they still leave in ‘Chicano’ as in ‘Chicano and Latino Studies,’ I would be okay with it, but if they eliminate the word ‘Chicano’ to just ‘Latino Studies,’ I would be against it,” she told EGP on Monday.

Because of the history of the department’s origin, Aragon says the current name must be kept to respect history, but she clarifies that it’s a misconception to think that Mexican-Americans exclusively participated in the Chicano Movement.

“Immigrants from Guatemala and other Central Americans were also part of Chicano Movement,” she said. “In that time 60s and 70s Central Americans were an even smaller minority than Mexican-Americans so they identified and blended-in with them. There were Central Americans in the movement.”

Aragon says the name change makes sense because the Central American immigrant population has been growing and CSULA’s Department of Chicano Studies is not boasting large numbers of graduates in their major.

“I think there’s nothing wrong in trying to perhaps make them feel more comfortable and welcome, that this department is not just geared toward one Latino community,” she said.

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May 12, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

2 Responses to “CSULA Chicano Studies Considering Name Change”

  1. ben cadena on May 16th, 2011 9:46 am

    It is time to expand input and let all in. C/s

  2. Jorge Illueca on August 12th, 2011 8:24 pm

    Central Americans were certainly involved in the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I was born in Panama. My family migrated to Los Angeles when I was 2 years old in 1947. I was an active member of Mecha and actively involved in the Chicano Moratorium, including participating in the protests of August 29, 1969. I find the name change for the department interesting, particularly since I was the Chairman of the Chicano Studies Department at CSULA from 1973 to 1974. Many Central and Latin Americans lived in Chicano neighborhoods at that time and shared many of the same experiences, particularly as regards racism and marginalization. Their experiences should be taken into account. However, I can see that the proposed title can cause some confusion. Traditional Latin American Studies should remain in the Latin American Studies Department. Moreover, sensitivities between Chicanos/Mexican Americans and Central Americans may be difficult to overcome for many. Other options should be considered, such as creating a major in Hispanic-American Studies within the Chicano Studies Department or establishing a separate Hispanic-American Studies Department, casting a wider net over the experiences and lives of all Hispanic-Americans residing and struggling to make something of themselves in the U.S., without duplicating the courses offered under Chicano Studies but linking to them as part of the overall curricula.

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