Dr. Manuel F. Medrano is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Brownsville specializing in Mexican American history and culture. In this guest blog he brings his historical perspective to a landmark event that took place in 1969 which continues to have repercussions to the present day.
EL PLAN DE SANTA BARBARA: AYER Y HOY.
In U.S. history the 1960s have often been called the Decade of Hope and Despair. Space travel, medical breakthroughs, disenchantment over the Vietnam War, public assassinations were but a few of the events that buoyed and burdened the country. During the 1960s the civil rights issue forced us to look into our collective mirror of race, ethnicity and gender. Many times what we saw we did not like and could not accept.
For Chicanos much of the issue was in the failure of the educational system. High dropout rates, low achievement scores and dismal numbers entering and graduating from college were attributed to students themselves and not their educational environment. Student walkouts and farm worker strikes in California and Texas occurred because these were last options. Student activist groups were born out of disenchantment and necessity and because it was the 1960s. By the end of the decade, it became clear that most colleges and universities stymied Chicano success, instead of promoting it.
In April 1969 about one hundred professors, students and administrators primarily from California and other Southwestern states met at the University of California-Santa Barbara to discuss a mong many concerns the status quo of Chicano college students. On the steering committee were Jesus Chavarria, young professor from the host institution, Juan Gomez Quinones, a major organizer of the meeting and Carlos Munoz, later chronicler of the student movement. Sponsored by the Chicano Coordinating Committee on Higher Education, the three day symposium produced a 155 page blueprint for change called el Plan de Santa Barbara. Among its major proposals were curriculums in Chicano Studies, relevant to students and their communities, more community control in Chicano educations and the rejection of assimilationist ideologies and tactics utilized by the Mexican American Generation.
Its manifesto began with “A realization of time and place, a consciousness and a commitment to self-determination: For all people, as with in individuals, the time comes when they must reckon with their history…The destiny of our people will be fulfilled.” With the plan of Santa Barbara and the pressure of student militancy, Chicano Studies departments, research centers and programs were initiated first in California and other southwestern colleges and universities and later in the Great Lakes and New York areas. For the first time in their educational history, Chicano students began to claim at least a partial ownership of their academic experience.
In April 1969, Dr. Rodolfo Acuña founded the Chicana/o studies department at UC’s Northridge Campus. Today, it is the largest department of its kind in the country with over 25 full-time professors and over 160 class sections offered every semester. The Northridge program was quickly followed by programs at San Diego State University and UT Austin and El Paso in 1970 and UC Santa Barbara in 1971. Along with a variety of undergraduate programs throughout the country, two Ph.D. programs exist here and at Michigan State University. This year, the Mexican American Studies Center at the University of Houston, under the directorship of Tatcho Mendiola, celebrates its fortieth anniversary.
Chicano Studies programs were born from the struggle and that struggle continues. Funding cuts, downsizing of faculty and an increasing nativist sentiment challenge both existing and future programs. The end result may be a generation of Latino graduates who would fail an elementary quiz about Latinos. How qualified are these professionals to be our leaders of the future? I could have easily been one of these graduates, but Chicano Studies classes prepared me to teach Chicano history for over four decades.
Dr. Manuel F.Medrano is the author of “In Body and Mind,’ “Imagenes,” “In The Shadows of My Soul” and the biography of folklorist and scholar Americo Paredes, “Americo Paredes, In His Own Words.” He can be reached at: Manuel.Medrano@utb.edu.