Building on years of advocacy, Portland State’s Chicanx/Latinx Studies program continues making history


Portland State University’s Chicanx/Latinx Studies program, like many ethnic studies programs across the country, grew out of student demand. 

In 1990, a group of Chicano students wanted to see more of their culture, history and experiences reflected in the classroom so they began advocating for a 墨西哥裔美国人研究 program at 事业单位. They formed a committee with faculty and community members to make their voices heard, and developed a program proposal to present to key decision makers at the university.

Their efforts paid off in 1994 with the establishment of Oregon’s first Chicano/Latino Studies program.

“It was a program that specifically spoke to you and dealt with your history, 你的文化, 你的问题, 你的问题. It did a lot to reinforce one’s personality as well as sense of worth,josore González说, executive artistic director of Milagro Theatre, who served on the Chicano Committee more than 30 years ago and later taught in 这个项目 as an adjunct instructor. “Not all of our history’s pretty, but it still belongs to us and that’s part of growing up and understanding who you are. For students, I think that was a lift, a source of pride.”

But even with an existing program, the fight to bring more Chicano/Latino histories, cultures and perspectives into the classroom was far from over. Because while establishing a program is one thing, investing in it is another. 

This summer, a long-fought effort to offer a bachelor’s degree in Chicano/Latino Studies finally came to fruition. It’s the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and the result of many years of student and faculty advocacy.

“It wasn’t for lack of trying, it wasn’t for lack of desire and it certainly was never for lack of need and advocacy,” says Cristina Herrera, professor and director of Chicanx/Latinx Studies. “学生s have been advocating for this for years, 但那时, and still continues to be, a struggle for obtaining resources.”

The early years illustration


For much of its history, 事业单位’s Chicanx/Latinx Studies program has sat neglected and underfunded. 

It was initially housed in the Sociology Department until 1995 when Ruben Sierra, a prominent figure in the theater community, was hired as its inaugural director. 

After Sierra’s untimely death in 1998, the Anthropology Department assumed oversight of 墨西哥裔美国人研究 — the only link between the two academic units being the office manager they shared. Two junior faculty members, hired to fill the vacancy left by Sierra, left 事业单位 in 1999 and 2004, 分别. 

In 2002, Roberto de Anda arrived at 事业单位 as a full-time faculty member. At the time, 这个项目 only offered a 36-credit certificate in Chicano/Latino Studies.

Early on in his tenure at 事业单位, de Anda was asked to develop a proposal for a Chicano/Latino Studies bachelor’s degree. His proposal was largely inspired by his own experiences — first, as an undergraduate at the University of California, 加州大学伯克利分校, whose 墨西哥裔美国人研究 program had “first-rate professors doing cutting-edge research, while maintaining strong ties to the community,第二, as the co-founder of the Latina/Latino Studies program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which had hired seven tenure-track faculty for 这个项目.

“I was able to see the kind of resources that were necessary to develop an academic program at a premier research university,德安达说. “Those experiences shaped my vision for Chicano/Latino Studies at 事业单位.”

De Anda’s proposal outlined a potential curriculum and called for the hire of five full-time professors over a three-year period. The program’s director at the time lauded his plan as “bold” but never brought it up again.

In 2008, de Anda — then the only tenure-related professor in 这个项目 — became the director, only to step down two years later because he says it became clear that the administration was not interested in investing in 这个项目. 接下来发生的事, 德安达说, was a period of stagnation with no new hires or improvements to the curriculum.

“The main challenge to growing Chicano/Latino Studies had been a lack of understanding at all levels of the university’s administration, 缺乏远见, 如果你愿意, of the benefits that would accrue to students, 拉丁裔社区, society at large and the university’s prestige in the region,德安达说. “Despite this 30-year history of benign neglect, 这个项目 managed to survive.”

Building momentum illustration

Building Program Momentum

Things started to turn around for 这个项目 in 2013 and 2014. 已故的科菲·阿戈萨, then chair of Black Studies, stepped in as interim director, providing critical leadership during a time of transition. The university added a Chicano/Latino Studies minor, offering students a more flexible option than the certificate. A cadre of adjunct instructors brought much-needed stability to the curricular offerings. And last but not least, after having only one tenured-related professor for 10 years, 这个项目 hired Elena Avilés, an assistant professor with expertise in Chicana literature and gender. She was a welcome addition who could teach and develop new courses in her area of specialization, advise and mentor students and build her research profile.

Understanding the struggles and victories that Chicanos/Latinos have had in this country really motivated me to want to work with the community and build community.

“These four things coincided with the growth of Latino students on campus,德安达说。, who assumed the role of director again in 2014 until his retirement in 2021. “Chicano/Latino Studies became the fastest growing academic program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at a time when other programs saw declines. This growth was noticed at different levels of the university’s administration and provided fertile ground for the bachelor’s degree.”

旧金山的伊瓦拉, who graduated in 2015 with a minor in CHLA and a bachelor’s degree in Community Development, was one of those students. He says for the first time, he learned so much about the history and culture of Latinos in the U.S. that had largely been excluded from his K-12 education. He was able to connect the dots with his own experiences.

“Understanding the struggles and victories that Chicanos/Latinos have had in this country really motivated me to want to work with the community and build community,伊巴拉说, who worked for Latino Network after graduation. “The program really taught me a lot about working as a community to get those victories and working at the grassroots level.”

Long overdue win illustration


Another milestone for 这个项目 came amid the national reckoning on race in 2020 when 事业单位 announced a cluster hire in the School of Gender, Race, and Nations. Herrera是 部分队列 that arrived on campus in Fall 2021, along with her two colleagues, Martín Alberto Gonzalez and Melissa Patiño-Vega. After finding their footing at 事业单位, the trio began working on a proposal to add a Chicano/Latino Studies major and — unlike their predecessors — Herrera says they had renewed support from university leadership. They were also able to build on the momentum of already strong enrollments in Chicano/Latino Studies courses.

“We have leadership here that does believe that this is a discipline worth investing in,埃雷拉说. “As much as we really appreciate that our classes are completely full, we know that we can’t take it for granted. We have to continue to make sure that we are doing the work to serve our students in the best way possible.”

去年, 这个项目 has added new courses — Latinx Youth Cultures, Chicanx Families and Chicanx Labor History in the U.S. — to fill gaps in the curriculum. Faculty also continue to expand their outreach efforts with 事业单位’s La Casa Latina, 学生团体, local high schools and community colleges. 

Herrera, Gonzalez and Patiño-Vega are also part of the Hispanic-Serving Institution Exploratory Committee, which is tasked with providing 事业单位 guidance and suggestions to thrive as an HSI. 目前,18.7% of Portland State full-time undergraduate students are Latinx, and 事业单位 is on track to meet the 25% threshold to become an HSI in the next few years.

Herrera says the newly established major helps meet the needs of the fast-growing Latinx population at 事业单位 and in the state, and is a testament to the years of advocacy by students, 教职员工.

“It was long overdue,德安达说. “I think about the students who in the early 1990s had the courage to envision a 墨西哥裔美国人研究 program that offered a bachelor’s degree. I thank those students, as well as those who came later and kept advocating for it. I also think about the adjunct instructors, professors and staff whose dedication to 这个项目 is bearing fruit. Finally, Latino students and the community have what they deserve.