Reflexiones: Looking back and planning forward
As the 2011-12 academic year comes to a close it's a good time to think about our accomplishments and challenges. And what a year it's been! In honor of our 40th anniversary as the Midwest's first and (still!) only full-fledged free-standing Department of Chicano Studies, faculty and staff in the department, with the assistance of students and alumni, scheduled an ambitious year of programming and events. Last summer we selected the theme of Celebrating Our Past, Haciendo Nuestro Futuro, 1971-2011 to frame our year-long celebration of activities. We kicked off the year at El Grito collaborating with La Raza Student Cultural Center, who was also celebrating its 40th year. In addition to a panel discussion with some of the department's key founders, we took time to honor their roles as brave visionaries in advocating for the department's establishment, and we also held a memorial tribute to longtime faculty and chair Guillermo Rojas who passed away in 2011.
While the lineup of activities throughout the year number too many to do justice to in a short summary, suffice it to say that each month we offered students and our community partners opportunities to reflect, learn, and expand their understanding of the impact that Chicana/os and Latina/os have made in Minnesota and the U.S. at large. Among the many topics we addressed in panels with local and national experts were, the history of Latinos in journalism, Xicanindio identity, cinematic representations of cultural genocide both at home and abroad, educational justice within the school systems, Latin@ demographic change, and the future of Chican@ Studies regionally and nationally. In addition to hosting numerous scholars from around the country, we also used poetry, visual art and teatro to build and expand our community, affirm our cultural and linguistic heritage, and assert important and insightful social critique about race, gender, and class relations in the U.S. As always, the recent 8th annual Un Paso al Futuro bilingual-bicultural graduation celebration was a beautiful way to end the year as it reminds us of why our presence at the University of Minnesota makes such a difference.
Looking forward, as a strategy for enhancing our visibility on campus, department faculty and faculty affiliates agreed to modify the name of the department and the title of our degree program from Chicano Studies, to Chicano and Latino Studies. We do so in hopes of making our department and curricular offerings more visible to those who may have more familiarity with the larger umbrella term of Latino than they do with Chicano. This change will also provide us some curricular flexibility to expand our course offering as well to be more inclusive of the broader Latino community even as we stay firmly grounded in the legacy of Chicano Studies. Though we opted for simplicity's sake not to revise our title to signal gender inclusiveness by using a/o or the @ to signify our commitment to keeping issues of gender and sexuality central to our curriculum, we all agreed that we must consistently ensure that our mission, curricular offerings, and syllabi must reflect the centrality of these concerns to the discipline as a whole.
As the department continues to evolve and expand our in-reach to the university and outreach to greater Minnesota, we have many challenges to address and many things to celebrate. Being 40 has been a time to think about where we've been, what we've achieved, as well as what we've yet to do. I believe I share a belief with many, many others that our best is yet to come! Let's work together to make that dream a reality.
Louis Mendoza, Department Chair