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Despite the wide range of struggles that Mexican-American Studies (MAS) has faced since its inception in the 1960s, the academic field recently gained a significant victory that advocates and engaged Texans can be proud of.
Just last year, the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) came under fire when its board of trustees under Chancellor Bruce Leslie voted to remove majors from students’ academic records. More recently, faculty, students, and supporters of San Antonio College (SAC) had ample reason to celebrate when the school’s new Mexican-American Studies Center opened its doors on the near-downtown campus.
Visitors entering the Chance Academic Center needed only follow the scent of burning sage through bland white hallways to a room where Linda Ximenes was blessing the future space of the MAS Program as well as attendees of the event.
Papel picado hung from the ceilings and lent color and authenticity to the purpose of the event. Bookshelves filled with books authored by writers of all ethnicities celebrated the essence of the Mexican-American experience solidifying the space as a center for academic excellence.
After the blessing, attendees enjoyed an excerpt of a play penned by MAS program faculty member Mariano “Mono” Aguilar titled Adelita, which opens at the Josephine Theatre on Nov. 3, as well as a local group performing Son Jarocho, a regional folk music fusion of Spanish, indigenous, and African cultures that originated in the state of Veracruz in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico.
MAS Center and Program Coordinator Lisa Ramos wrote her dissertation for her Ph.D. in history on Mexican-American Civil Rights lawsuits and how the racial categorization of Mexican Americans as white affected identity politics and relationships.
“There were no real obstacles but we did have to follow procedural guidelines which takes time but once we submitted, approval followed,” Ramos said of her longtime vision coming into fruition in May.
She credited the smooth process to existing MAS programs and degrees that are offered at other ACCD campuses such as Northwest Vista, Palo Alto, and St. Phillip’s colleges. “We just followed the models from those campuses and developed the curriculum and program from there,” she explained.
Aguilar explained that a designated MAS office had not previously existed on campus. “We were all on different parts of the campus in our respective departments but getting approval for the program gave us the ability to request this space.”
He added that the only MAS courses that were offered prior to the center’s creation were Mexican-American history and Mexican-American literature. “We’re hoping to add more in the upcoming semesters,” Ramos added by laying out the order of things. “We’d received approval for the program in May, for this space in June, and the first classes began this fall semester in August.”
According to Ramos, planning and organizing for this endeavor began more than a year ago. “We’ve been working on the budget, finding people who can teach the courses, and figuring out how to get exposure (for) the course(s) through the school.”
Ramos also gave credit to Tammy Perez, who works in the Spanish department, for getting the course titles and numbers into the SAC catalog so they’re searchable. “That for us was the biggest success because when people are looking for the courses they want to take, we’re now an option.”
As for advertising the event and bringing attention to the center, “Mono (Aguilar) planned all the Hispanic Heritage Month events and incorporated this event into the planning,” Ramos explained.
SAC students seeking to expand their cultural base or gain insight into the Mexican-American experience in the Spring 2017 semester can look in the SAC catalog for Mexican-American History, Mexican-American Literature, and Mexican-American Politics. “We’ll be adding Mexican-American Fine Arts Appreciation in the Fall 2017 semester so hopefully that will bring in more interest than we already have.”
Ramos and her colleagues hope that that interest will extend beyond students who asked questions at the grand opening event or are already enrolled in MAS classes.
According to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, Latinos make up 54.82% of San Antonio’s population, 59.4% of Bexar County’s, and the percentage of bilingual people in the Greater San Antonio Area is 34.21%.
These numbers speak to the fact that the community centered around Mexican-American Studies is thriving and growing. Students who decide to take MAS classes will be able transfer earned credits to a four-year institution such as the University of Texas at San Antonio, where the Mexican-American Studies program and degree has been in place for more than two decades.
Programs like these set a precedent for a more thoroughly developed social consciousness toward Mexican-American studies and for people who are critically engaged in their future. SAC’s MAS courses offer narratives not traditionally found outside of higher education, inspire learning beyond commonly held truths and values, and prove that the Mexican-American experience not only complements existing history, but is an integral part of it.