Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974

     Mexican American Parrhesia
     at Troy

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     The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California,

        ABSTRACT       In the late 1960s, Mexican American and Chicana/o students and faculty began to create
        new cultural and academic spaces at the University of Southern California (USC). As outspoken advo-
        cates, they promoted a collective social identity as they questioned USC’s commitment to fulfilling the
        moral and humanistic responsibilities of its educational mission. These students and faculty members took
        part in the formation of ethnic studies and Chicana/o studies on their campus and in higher education
        generally. Their activist contributions, however, have been ignored by USC and by most of the scholarly
        community. Yet, through their work and use of parrhesia (saying what one means with frank speech), the
        core Chicana/o movement concepts of Aztlán (the conception of a sacred homeland, borrowed from the
        Aztec cosmovision archetype of origins) and Chicanismo (a collective Chicana/o cultural nationalism) have
        been woven into the mythology of USC, creating a Chicana/o legacy of deep education and learning.
        KEYWORDS: Aztlán, Black Student Union (BSU), Chicana/o, El Centro Chicano, ethnic studies, Mo-
        vimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), Mexican American, paideia, parrhesia, student
        activism, United Mexican American Students (UMAS)

             EOPLE EITHER HATE or love the University of Southern California. The pride and near-

     P      nationalistic fervor connected to the “Trojan Family,” especially its sports programs,
             contribute to the polarized appreciation of USC. This love/hate debate is limiting,
     however, causing scholars to miss the complex layers beneath this unique urban research
     university in the heart of South Central Los Angeles. This historical study recalls silenced
     stories about the long presence and significant contributions of Chicana/o students and
     faculty at USC. Chicana and Chicano student activism and parrhesia (saying what one
     means with frank speech) on campus in the 1960s and 1970s led to the creation of

     California History, Vol. 98, Number 1, pp. 28–55, ISSN 0162-2897, electronic ISSN 2327-1485. © 2021 by the Regents of the
     University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article
     content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
     reprintspermissions. DOI:

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974
Chicana/o-movement-inspired programs and institutions that became vital to the mission
of the university, including ethnic studies classes and a Chicana/o cultural center. The
multigenerational efforts and struggles of Mexican American and Chicana/o students,
staff, and faculty, and the institutions they helped create, produced a legacy of Chicana/
o paideia (deep learning) at USC, one that incorporates the core Chicana/o movement
concepts of Aztlán (the conception of a sacred homeland, borrowed from the Aztec cos-
movision archetype of origins) and Chicanismo (a collective Chicana/o cultural national-
ism) into USC’s mythology.
    Here, I specifically examine the era of the Chicana/o generation at USC, the generation
that carried forward the legacy of activism by the Mexican American generation. These
intergenerational influences are reflected in the example of Dr. Rodolfo F. Acun~ a and his

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students. Acun ~ a earned a PhD from USC in 1968 and became one of the founders of the
academic discipline of Chicana/o studies. He taught and mentored USC students who
were active members of United Mexican American Students (UMAS), Movimiento Estu-
diantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), and other key organizations of the Chicana/o move-
ment. USC students who took Acun~ a’s classes were transformed by a spirit of Chicanismo
that transcended the traditional political goals of the Mexican American generation and
challenged traditional USC school spirit through use of parrhesia.1 The concept of parrhesia
as used in the present study is informed by Michel Foucault’s reflections on the word’s
origins, meaning, and implications. Foucault stated that “when you accept the parrhesias-
tic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to
yourself: you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where
the truth goes unspoken.”2 In this regard, Chicana/o student activists at USC rejected the
security of silence, certainly exposing themselves to hardship—though not necessarily
death—by speaking truth to power. Cornel West offers an equally helpful discussion of
parrhesia, describing the Socratic commitment to critical self-reflection as the “critique of
institutions of authority, motivated by an endless quest for intellectual integrity and moral
consistency. It is manifest in a fearless speech—parrhesia—that unsettles, unnerves, and
unhouses people from their uncritical sleepwalking.”3 Roderick A. Ferguson’s study of
student protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s provides another useful framework for
understanding that era’s Chicana/o student movement. “Plainly put,” writes Ferguson,
“when students challenged the university, they were calling for a new social and intellec-
tual makeup of the university and for a new social order in the nation at large.”4
    The challenges brought about by Chicana/o students produced institutional changes at
USC, leading to a symbolic recreation of Aztlán on campus. Chicana/o and Mexican
American activists successfully pushed for the creation of the La Raza Institute of
Mexican-American Studies (LRIMAS) in 1969, El Centro Chicano (1973), the Festival
de Flor y Canto (1974), and the Latino Floors (1974). Each of these ultimately successful
additions to the USC educational landscape was envisioned by Chicana/o groups. More-
over, USC initially rejected each as too radical.5
    Throughout the initial period of negotiation, the university adapted—to incorporate,
appropriate, and ultimately squelch—the ideas of student activists. The most significant
change for students and for the larger campus community at USC came with the estab-
lishment of El Centro Chicano (ECC) in 1973. ECC’s mission was informed by its student

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974
and faculty promotors, and students themselves initiated its activities and programming.
     As a result, ECC became a new intellectual, activist space for students and the community
     beyond USC, one reflecting the Chicana/o values of Aztlán and Chicanismo.
        The present study uncovers this history by examining primary and secondary materials
     from the period 1967–1974, including the USC Daily Trojan newspaper, MEChA and
     Black Student Union (BSU) newsletters, University Faculty Senate meeting notes, the
     personal papers of Manuel Ruı́z Jr., and oral histories given by Chicana/o students and
     faculty. Currently, USC Special Collections archives preserve only a handful of documents
     relating the general history of USC student activism on campus, and even fewer docu-
     ments focused on USC students of color.6 This study creates a new archive, one that will
     reorient future studies about the Chicana/o student movement in Southern California.7

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     In the 1960s and 1970s, a wide spectrum of movements—including the African American–
     led civil rights campaigns originating in the American South and the later Black Power
     movement; community and student-led variations of the Asian American movement; the
     American Indian movement; and the Chicana/o movement—promoted a broad politics of
     cultural nationalism, direct action, and self-determination for oppressed peoples. Student
     engagement in these campaigns translated into demands on campuses throughout the
     United States for wider access to higher education for people of color; for the formation
     of ethnic studies programs; and for the founding of research and cultural spaces, including
     meeting spaces for students of color. In 1969, under pressure by students of color and the
     broader communities they represented, USC adopted an ethnic studies curriculum and,
     following a national trend, began admitting more students of color.8
         USC’s creation of an ethnic studies curriculum proceeded slowly. It began in the fall of
     1967, when students Jesus Estrada Melendez and Raoul Isais cofounded USC’s Mexican
     American Association (MAA). The MAA organized Mexican American students to call out
     USC for its long history of ignoring the needs of the Mexican American community and
     the university’s handful of Mexican American students. In a joint statement to the USC
     Daily Trojan, Melendez and Isais said that “we want to provide Mexican American stu-
     dents at USC an opportunity to become part of the university, and, therefore, the com-
     munity.”9 Melendez and Isais rallied USC students and together they challenged the
     university to make institutional changes in line with the goals of the burgeoning Chi-
     cana/o student movement.10
         Earlier in 1967, UMAS was organized by Southern California Chicana/o student acti-
     vists from mainly two groups. One originated in East Los Angeles Community College
     (ELAC), with ties to California State University, Los Angeles. The second was the Univer-
     sity of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).11 According to scholars Juan Gómez-Quin~ ones
     and Irene Vásquez, “as a result of neighborhood ties, school associations, and direct
     efforts, students from several colleges formed a cross-city circle in addition to their cam-
     pus activities.”12 The 1967 UMAS conference at USC was particularly fruitful, resulting in

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974
a synergy between Chicana/o student communities that soon matured into an activist
social network that stretched across the region and the state. Part of this collective surge
of Chicana/o student activism was a shift in activist style, one that recognized the suc-
cesses militant activists were having in Northern California, where sit-ins and other forms
of demonstration prompted concessions from school administrations.
    At USC, the MAA was formed following the first UMAS regional conference, held May
13, 1967, at Loyola University in Los Angeles. Attended by MAA student leaders Melendez
and Isais, the conference brought together more than a hundred Mexican American
college and university students from the entire Southern California region. The meeting
inspired attendees to return to their respective campuses and begin organizing. Attendees
agreed that they would collectively draft the constitution of the new Mexican American

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student organization at the second UMAS regional conference.
    Originally scheduled at ELAC, organizers later shifted the second UMAS conference to
USC. USC UMAS hosted the event on December 16 and 17, 1967. The conference drew
two to three hundred students from across Southern and Northern California. The second
UMAS conference was an important step that coincided with the establishment, as one
study puts it, of “internal structuring among the local chapters” and the rise of more
militant Chicana/o student activism across campuses.13 In addition to cementing USC
as the center of the UMAS movement, the conference was a threshold event, leading to
a surge of Chicana/o student activism at USC over the next few years. During the fall
semester of 1967, the MAA was absorbed into USC UMAS.
    According to La Raza newspaper, the UMAS conference sought to “map a ‘leadership
revolution’ in their communities.”14 La Raza reported on the two-day conference with
a full-page spread that included conference goals, an overview of the event, and pictures
under the headline “Time of Studies & Statistics Over! Time for Action & Revolution
Now!” (Figure 1). The topics covered at the second UMAS conference reflected a sense of
urgency, sparking what one study called “high tides” of student activism at the local,
state, and national levels, whose collective energy continued through the new year and
well into 1968.15
    Organizing the conference solidified the communication network between the South-
ern California UMAS chapters and Chicana/o student activist organizations in Northern
California, including the San Francisco Bay Area’s Mexican American Student Confeder-
ation, Berkeley’s Quinto Sol, and San Jose’s Student Initiative. The conference produced
a model that MEChA still uses today, fifty years later, for its annual statewide conferences.
The format includes general membership sessions, academic and cultural workshops,
regional breakout sessions, “noche de cultural” events, and examples of collective political
action. Such political actions include drafting resolutions that embody conference parti-
cipants’ sense of pressing cultural, political, educational, and economic issues, as well as
organizing participants into public demonstrations that call attention to those issues.
During the second USC UMAS conference, for example, as the Los Angeles Rams
engaged the Baltimore Colts in an NFL football game, UMAS activists marched around
the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum carrying signs that read: “Change Now!” “Bad Edu-
cation, Why?” “The War Is Here, Not In Vietnam!” “La Guerra Esta Aqui, No En Vietnam!”
“Viva Tijerina!” “We Want Better Schools” and—most succinctly—“Chicano Power!”16

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974
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     FIGURE 1. La Raza newspaper provided full-page coverage of the United Mexican American Students
     (UMAS) conference held December 16–17, 1967, at the University of Southern California.
     Courtesy of the University of Arizona Libraries Digital Collections

     Miguel De La Pen~ a transferred from ELAC to USC in the fall of 1968. At the age of twenty,
     De La Pen~ a was a seasoned Chicano student activist and a leader of the Chicano move-
     ment. He was well versed in Mexican American grassroots and electoral politics, in local
     and national civil rights efforts, and in the Mexican American community identity politics

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Mexican American Parrhesia at Troy - The Rise of the Chicana/o Movement at the University of Southern California, 1967-1974
that shaped East Los Angeles. As a writer for Inside Eastside, an underground newspaper
published in that community, De La Pen~ a understood community issues, including topics
important to Chicana/o youth enrolled in East Los Angeles high schools.17
   De La Pen   ~ a’s activism was noted in historian Marisol Moreno’s study of the Mexican
American Student Association (MASA) and La Vida Nueva at ELAC in the period 1967–
1969. Moreno noted De La Pen     ~ a’s role as a key student leader of MASA at ELAC, whose sense
of urgency inspired the group to more militant forms of student activism. His support for
militant student activism evolved through his engagement with MASA. According to De La
Pen~ a, MASA was initially divorced from political issues, with student activists initially focused
on peer tutoring and raising funds for scholarships. When he became president of the group,
De La Pen ~ a recognized the growing schism between moderate and militant student factions.

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Some students supported reformist measures for combating societal inequality, while others
favored more militant, aggressive approaches, including the kinds of scathing critiques of
institutional racism appearing in student newspapers such as La Raza.18
   This factionalism came to a head during the 1968 demonstrations by students of East
Los Angeles high schools, as MASA at ELAC divided over whether or not to endorse the
walkouts. In the end, MASA split apart. As Moreno puts it, “MASA’s refusal to officially
participate in the Walkouts would soon lead to the creation of a new Chicana/o student
organization on campus called La Vida Nueva.”19
   De La Pen   ~ a transferred to USC in the fall of 1968, but he continued his activism as
chair of USC UMAS and as regional vice-chair of UMAS for Southern California. At USC,
De La Pen~ a experienced a campus culture shock. “The white people here (students and
faculty) are extremely hostile, extremely non-receptive to what I have to say as far as
Sociology classes are concerned. I’m feeling white racism at it’s [sic] peak.”20 On and off
campus, De La Pen     ~ a and UMAS focused on increasing Chicana/o access to higher edu-
cation and securing Chicana/o studies and ethnic studies curricula for USC students.
   De La Pen~ a brought a cultural nationalist focus to his efforts to challenge institutional
racism at USC and to bring about an educational revolution. He remarked, “The reason
why I am bringing this to mind is because I have been talking quite a bit with Maulana
(Ron) Karenga . . . and the direction I would like to see UMAS go to would be more or less
the US organization.”21 De La Pen~ a’s cultural nationalist vision sought to nurture Mexican
Americans’ agency and demand for self-determination through collective work to expand
access to the university, drawing in the Chicano communities of the barrios.22 “So what
I’m suggesting,” he summarized, “is that we mobilize people in certain areas no matter
what the conditions are, then organize them, and then nationalize them.”23
   Another early USC UMAS student leader, Dominick Rubalcava, describes the “gentle”
tone that administrators adopted toward Chicano activists on campus. “I have to say that
the USC administration was pretty gentle with us compared to other campus experiences.”
Unlike administrators at UC Berkeley, for example, who called on law enforcement to deal
with student demands, Rubalcava speculated that USC administrators “realized that the
world was changing,” and that “USC had to respond to us and the way campuses were
changing.”24 But unlike De La Pen        ~ a, a first-generation college student who grew up in
East Los Angeles, Rubalcava was already a member of the USC Trojan family through his
alumnus father. Like De La Pen~ a, Rubalcava also transferred to USC from a community

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college. His views became increasingly politicized and critical of the administration as an
     active member of USC UMAS.
        Rubalcava and De La Pen~ a were classmates and leaders in USC UMAS as Chicana/o
     student activism grew more militant, symbolized in the changing of USC UMAS’s name
     to MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) in 1969.25 MEChA was created in
     March 1969, during the writing of the foundational document of Chicana/o studies in
     higher education, El Plan de Santa Barbara.26 The intent of MEChA was for existing
     Chicana/o student organizations to adopt a unifying name and a set of guiding principles
     committed to Chicana/o education, cultural nationalism, self-determination, and Chica-
     nismo. The Chicana/o context of Aztlán as a mythical Aztec/Mexica homeland was a met-
     aphor for unity and self-determination for Chicana/o students. The concept of Aztlán as

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     a sacred homeland became a central theme borrowed from the Aztec/Mexica cosmovision
     to create an Aztlán archetype of origins. The stages of this Aztlán archetype are a shared
     story of origins, a journey of struggles, the hierophany (a manifestation of the sacred) of
     a new homeland, and the creation of a new space.27
        Rubalcava graduated from USC in 1969 and from UCLA Law School in 1972, while De
     La Pen~ a remained at USC until he graduated on June 4, 1970.28 Almost three months later,
     on August 29, 1970, De La Pen    ~ a walked out of the Saint Alphonsus Parish, on Atlantic
     Boulevard in East Los Angeles, holding hands with his bride, Silvia Yescas. Together they
     joined the National Chicano Moratorium march against the war in Vietnam, which took
     place on the morning of their wedding.29 The iconic picture of this young, newly married
     couple taken by educator Sal Castro reflects the joy, hope, and exhilaration of that day as they
     walked on Whitter Boulevard with 25,000–30,000 other marchers (Figure 2).

     USC UMAS TO USC MECHA, 1967–1969
     Rubalcava characterized UMAS activism on campus as “a relatively small group of Mex-
     ican American students at USC.” In 1967, “we were not weak, but just less effective than
     other campuses that were active in the region.”30 Rubalcava recalls that in 1968 “UMAS
     had a good working relationship with the Black Student Union (BSU). We were similarly
     situated at USC so many of the same issues we faced made sense to work together.”31 In
     his 2009 doctoral dissertation, Gustavo Licón notes various instances in which UMAS and
     the BSU chapters on various Southern California campuses collaborated to pressure in-
     stitutions of higher education to respond to their demands.32 Across town at UCLA,
     UMAS and the BSU publicly campaigned together to elect Rosalio Mun          ~ oz, a Chicano
     student activist, as the first Chicano elected student body president in November 1968.
         By 1968 and 1969, USC reflected the growing momentum of more militant campus
     activism taking place locally in Southern California, across the nation, and around the
     world.33 As the USC Daily Trojan put it, in an article entitled “UMAS Calls for Student
     Action,” “the story of Mexican-Americans at USC is really that there is no story. Ten
     Mexican-American students insist that must change. . . . They (Mexican Americans) like
     to recall that it was a mouse that roared” (my emphasis).34
         By the fall of 1968, the scope and tone of Chicana/o student activism in the community
     and on college campuses reflected a “ya basta!” (“enough already!”) militant stance that

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FIGURE 2. East Los Angeles high school teacher Sal Castro photographed newlyweds Miguel De La Peña (a
USC student) and Silvia Yescas (a student at California State College, Dominguez Hills, today known as CSUDH)
marching while holding hands in the National Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles, August 29, 1970.
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

challenged the popular public perception that Mexican Americans were inconsequential. A
new generation of Chicana/o students at USC were now organizing to challenge the
institutional status quo, making demands familiar to activists engaged in the Chicana/o
movement. And they were not alone. As historian Marisol Moreno notes: “Chicana/o
student organizations in California routinely formed multi-racial/ethnic coalitions with
the BSU and SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), sharing information, experience,
and labor in an effort to consolidate student power during times of organized pro-
tests . . . and in pressuring academic institutions to negotiate with student leaders.”35
   USC was no exception. Chicana/o and African American students supported coalition
politics between the BSU and UMAS (later MEChA) repeatedly during the late 1960s and
into the 1970s. The BSU at USC began in the spring semester of 1968 with a handful of
initial members. Richard Stewart, a graduate student in education, was the chairman, and
Keith Jones was the co-chairman. The BSU also included USC students Sheila Willis
(secretary), Ron McDuffie (political chairman), Robert (Bob) R. Silva (editor of Black Trojan
1968, the BSU newsletter at USC), Danny Grant (editor of Black Trojan 1969), Henry
Blackburn, and Joe Conner. In an article published in the USC Daily Trojan, Stewart stated
that the goal of the BSU at USC was “to provide an arena or forum where new methods,
ideas and activities can be explored, to advance and improve the cultural awareness and

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sense of history of the black student so that he might better function in his responsibility
     to the community and himself.”36 In a show of solidarity, the BSU’s Black Trojan news-
     letter advertised in the USC Daily Trojan for “black and brown students” to work on
     creating the newsletter together.37
         During the fall of 1968, the university took note of the rise in campus protests across
     town and across the nation, and reacted to brace itself. In October 1968, the USC Faculty
     Senate adopted a resolution reaffirming academic freedom on campus. The major stu-
     dent activist groups at USC in the late 1960s and early 1970s included Students for
     a Democratic Society (SDS), Student Mobilization Committee, Trojan Young Demo-
     crats/Young Democrats for Human Rights, Trojan Young Republicans, Young Amer-
     icans for Freedom (YAF), Ayn Rand Objectionists, Student Affairs Coalition, BSU,

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     UMAS/MEChA, and the Asian American Alliance.38 At the USC Faculty Senate meeting
     on December 18, 1968, senators recommended that the university assign “an urgent
     priority to the matters raised in the student demands and of making more widely known
     actions already taken by the University.”39 A subcommittee was tasked with studying the
     institutional steps USC might take to establish a bachelor’s degree program in ethnic
     studies as early as spring 1969.40 The minutes from the USC Faculty Senate meetings
     on December 18, 1968, and February 19, 1969, reflect the sense of urgency that some
     senators felt to respond to student concerns, especially UMAS and BSU demands for an
     ethnic studies curriculum.41
         On October 21, 1968, USC UMAS and BSU presented USC President Norman Top-
     ping with a list of four demands, which they delivered at a face-to-face meeting:

        1. That the university take the initiative in acquiring funds to accommodate 100
           black and 100 Mexican American students;
        2. That the university endeavor to utilize its influence to acquire funds from private
           industry, and utilize these funds for black and brown students;
        3. That when considering applicants for financial aid emphasis be placed on
           admission requirements, and not on competitive examination scores;
        4. That full tuition remission be rendered to black and brown students by the

     The university accepted these demands as recommendations. Over four months, repre-
     sentatives of UMAS and BSU met with President Topping and the USC administration
     until they arrived at a compromise announced on January 6, 1969:

        1. Admission and full tuition remission for 50 black and 50 brown qualified
           disadvantaged students for the Spring semester of 1969.
        2. Establishment of an ongoing program for scholarships for marginal minority
           students to be initiated in the Fall of 1969 at which time 200 students are to be
        3. Establishment and implementation of black and brown curricula which have
           already been submitted.

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4. The Black Studies course to begin in the Spring of 1969 will be taught by a black
      man. One of the three black men listed below are our ONLY choices: Mr. Harry
      Truly, Mr. George Kafanya, or Mr. John Davis. The Brown Studies course to
      begin in the Spring of 1969 will be taught by a Mexican-American. One of the
      three brown men listed below are our ONLY choices: Dr. Ralph Guzman, Dr.
      Juan Gomez, or Dr. Rudy Acun~ a.43

   The 1969 school year thus began with great momentum among student activists at
USC and across the nation, but USC UMAS chair De La Pen~ a was publicly critical of white
radicals, whom he criticized for failing to support increased opportunities for students of
color at USC. In a tone of parrhesia, he declared that “the real devils in this situation are the

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white radicals” and that “all we want is an equal break; an equal access to these institutions
and a chance to have our little minority programs.”44 The USC Daily Trojan’s editorial
page on January 8, 1969, supported the four demands of UMAS and BSU. In the same
issue, the Daily Trojan published excerpts from an informal poll of USC students that
reflected a mix of opposition and support for the efforts of UMAS and BSU. The issue
included a front-page reprise of interviews with De La Pen~ a entitled “De La Pen~ a: Ded-
icated Man.” The article discussed his leadership role as chair of UMAS, UMAS and BSU
demands, the role of the university, and the university’s future. In another use of parrhesia
as a tactic, De La Pen
                     ~ a commented in the article, “They think I’m a foreign student—they
think I’m from India or something. And here I am an American citizen just like they
are.”45 Along with thirty-one scholarships, the USC administration announced that three
ethnic studies courses would be offered starting in spring 1969, based on the recommen-
dations of the Ethnic Studies Subcommittee of the campus Curriculum Committee.46

On February 19, 1969, an Academic Senate subcommittee formally recommended the
institutionalization of ethnic studies. Dr. Paul Hadley, chairman of the Curriculum Com-
mittee, said the recommendation proved “that the university is significantly and vitally
concerned with the cultural needs of minorities.”47 The recommendations were composed
of three parts: (1) USC was to initiate a bachelor of arts degree program in ethnic studies
starting in fall 1969, with a multidisciplinary field of study focused on African Americans,
Mexican Americans, or Asian Americans; (2) USC would hire one or two faculty members
to coordinate and direct the program, specifically including Dr. Boniface I. Obichere and
Rudy Acun~ a; and (3) the director(s) of the program would submit one or two courses that
would provide an orientation to the field of study and research methods related to the field
of study.48
   The ethnic studies program copied the nondepartmental status and interdisciplinary
design of USC’s American studies program, which had existed since the early 1960s, and
immediately drew criticism from students as well as faculty co-directors. Chief among
their complaints was that the ethnic studies program was under-resourced and discon-
nected from the needs of USC’s students of color. In a series of editorials in the USC Daily
Trojan, UMAS attempted to dispel myths about the ethnic studies programs then being

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established at USC and other colleges and universities.49 Some of the myths that UMAS
     challenged included, for example, that ethnic studies programs were only for black and
     brown students; that the programs would promote nationalistic movements; that ethnic
     groups such as Mexican Americans had made no historical contributions worthy of study;
     and that the programs would not be academically rigorous. An ongoing criticism was that
     institutional resources were not matched to growing student demands. De La Pen~ a omi-
     nously stated in one of his editorials that he believed that “until the black community is
     ready to physically move on this campus, BSU and UMAS will be the continued target of
     nonpermanent programs, departments, and grants” (my emphasis).50
        De La Pen~ a embodied parrhesia through his Chicano student activism, as he challenged
     the university for failing to meet its moral and humanistic responsibilities to Chicana/o

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     students that should have been central to its educational mission. USC alumna Mary Ann
     Pacheco agreed, noting that many students felt that the university was not serious about
     creating a successful and long-lasting ethnic studies program at USC. She observed that
     students supported the new program by taking classes but felt that the university’s failure
     to hire tenure-track faculty to lead the program signaled that it was not interested in
     supporting the development of the program in the long term.51
        The new undergraduate program in ethnic studies at USC began in the fall term of
     1969, under the part-time co-directorship of Joseph Platt, a Mexican American educator
     from Arizona and PhD candidate at USC, and a tenured faculty member from UCLA,
     Boniface Obichere.52 Within a year, both had announced their departures and the univer-
     sity was making plans to reorganize the program.53 One irony was that USC had squan-
     dered the opportunity to hire two ethnic studies pioneers at the beginnings of their
     careers, both of whom went on to become prominent scholars in their fields. USC hired
     Oxford-trained Obichere to serve part-time as a co-director of its ethnic studies program
     during its first year, but he soon returned to UCLA as a full-time tenured faculty member,
     where he enjoyed a thirty-year career as a highly respected researcher and professor. Rudy
     Acun~ a later accepted a tenured faculty position at San Fernando Valley State College,
     where he became the founding chair of its new Department of Chicano Studies, estab-
     lished in 1969. His faculty leadership, scholarship, and teaching served as a foundational
     contribution to the field of Chicana/o studies.
        The USC Faculty Senate repeatedly recommended that USC offer Obichere and Acun~ a
     positions to secure their roles as directors of the ethnic studies program, but only Obi-
     chere accepted (and he left within the year).54 In the fall of 2004, USC’s Program in
     American Studies and Ethnicity (PASE) Self-Study Report admitted that “with minimal
     financial backing and few faculty appointments, neither program (African American nor
     Chicano studies) blossomed at USC. By the late 1980s, both faculty and students were
     unhappy with university efforts to establish ethnic studies up to that point.”55 Unfortu-
     nately, the PASE report overlooked the collective struggle of the many students of color
     who had organized, protested, and challenged the university to create, maintain, and
     support ethnic studies at USC since the 1960s. Nor did the report acknowledge the pivotal
     public role that students played in pressuring USC to reenvision its ethnic studies curric-
     ula in the years after the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising/Riots.56 Instead, from the beginning,
     USC failed to nurture its ethnic studies program. The university neither committed to

38   SPRING 2021
hiring tenure-track faculty who could lead ethnic studies through its initial years, nor
developed a plan for the future of its ethnic studies curricula, nor established an ethnic
studies department to support the curricula. Acun ~ a, who later described the differences in
departmental versus program structures for Chicana/o studies, argues: “Without a depart-
ment, you have scholars studying Chicana/os from the vantage of disparate disciplines.
The result is that Chicana/o historians or sociologists, simply by virtue of their ethnicity,
become “Chicana/o Studies specialists.”57
   USC’s delayed implementation of a sound structure for its ethnic studies program, and
the lack of commitment leaders demonstrated by refusing to provide the program with
permanent institutional resources, led to the failure of USC’s initial attempt at providing
students with ethnic studies curricula. It was this legacy of willful neglect that character-

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ized the program through the 1970s and 1980s.58 Not until the early 1990s would ethnic
studies be restarted and reorganized at USC, this time again as the direct result of
Chicana/o student activism, and in the wake of yet another devastating urban uprising
in South Central Los Angeles.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the growing number of students of color at universities
reflected a range of leadership styles (model leadership, liberal moderate, and radical
community-oriented militancy) as more middle- and working-class populations, including
community college transfer students, gained admission.59 In addition, the demographic
transition saw a rise in female activism. As Dolores Delgado Bernal argues, success in
implementing elements of grassroots leadership depended on Chicana student leadership.
This was certainly true at USC, where Chicanas were the most successful in translating
student activism into institutional change between 1969 and 1974.60 Chicana/o student
activism at USC in the 1970s continued to build on the momentum of the previous years,
as students became increasingly militant in their demands for intellectual and physical
space on campus. Mary Ann Pacheco (Figure 3) arrived at USC in fall 1969 and became
a Chicana student leader, holding multiple leadership positions and acting as a spokesper-
son for student demands. By the time she graduated in the spring of 1973, her leadership
and voice had led to the Festival de Flor y Canto conference, a first-of-its-kind gathering of
Chicana/o Renaissance writers at USC; the creation of El Centro Chicano; and new
support for USC’s ethnic studies program. According to Pacheco, “I was a lousy Trojan
family member because I was not a ‘fight on’ cheer kind of person. . . . I do not wax
nostalgic about my time at USC like others who tend to romanticize the legacy of USC.”61
   Pacheco’s retelling of her student activism, as she pieces together and describes her
role as Chicana feminist leader on the USC campus, is what Maylei Blackwell—a feminist,
indigenous, interdisciplinary scholar-activist and oral historian—calls an act of “retrofitted
memory.” Pacheco’s memories challenge the continued institutional and scholarly neglect
of this history, some fifty years later. As Blackwell explains, retrofitted memories construct
new layers of knowledge that are rooted in Chicana activism. “Fragments are not merely
recuperated,” she writes, “but retrofitted into new forms of political subjectivity that may

                                                                           C ALI FOR N I A H IS T OR Y   39
FIGURE 3.      Chicana
                                                                       student leader Mary Ann
                                                                       Pacheco co-organized the
                                                                       Festival de Flor y Canto at the
                                                                       University of Southern
                                                                       California in November 1973.
                                                                       Along with USC students
                                                                       Raoul Isais and Aurora Ponce,
                                                                       Pacheco cowrote the original
                                                                       proposal to establish the El
                                                                       Centro Chicano at USC in

                                                                                                         Downloaded from by guest on 02 November 2021
                                                                       Courtesy of photographer
                                                                       Michael V. Sedano at http://

     draw from one historical or geographic context to be refashioned in another.”62 In his
     study of MEChA in California, Gustavo Licón explores gender norms within MEChA,
     especially Pacheco’s leadership at USC. According to Licón, “although she had the respect
     and loyalty of USC MEChA members,” Pacheco “recalls a community supporter asked at
     an emergency USC MEChA meeting [Pacheco] was leading, ‘who’s the chick and why is
     she doing all the talking?’ Members defended her role as a leader, but in most MEChA
     chapters men dominated leadership roles and questioned the ability of women to lead
     political action.”63
        Pacheco’s years at USC (1969–1973) provide insights into the small but dedicated cadre
     of Chicana student activists who enjoyed links to the larger Chicana/o movement. Pacheco
     embodied multiple dimensions of grassroots leadership, from holding office, to con-
     sciousness building, organizing, networking, and acting as a spokesperson. Pacheco’s
     leadership challenged sexist and patriarchal norms within her community that cast men
     as the public leaders while relegating women to secondary roles in the shadows.64 Like
     Miguel De La Pen   ~ a, Pacheco exhibited parrhesia through her grassroots leadership style.
     Her activism as a feminist Chicana student leader challenged the university to meet the
     moral and humanistic dimensions of its educational mission by acknowledging the needs
     of the Chicana/o community within and beyond the campus.
        Pacheco worked through MEChA and the BSU to challenge campus customs/traditions
     that limited the leadership roles and voices of students of color, networking with other
     students of color to build a diverse base of support. This included supporting the BSU/
     MEChA tutorial project (1969–1971), where she worked alongside BSU leader Joe Conner.
     She and other students of color likewise demanded that USC match scholarship funds to
     support the new student-endowed Student Aid Fund (1970–1971), challenged the univer-
     sity to admit more students of color, and tested USC’s commitment to institutional
     transparency regarding enrollment statistics for Chicana/os.65
        Chicana students like Pacheco led efforts to raise a collective Chicana/o consciousness on
     campus, understanding that they were combating a historical legacy of institutional racism

40   SPRING 2021
at USC, one that neither supported their place on campus nor reflected their actual experi-
ences there. USC’s institutional reactions—its half-hearted support for an ethnic studies
program that offered Chicano studies classes but included no plans for a long-term future;
its later decision to allow a center for the study of Mexican Americans, but to provide it with
minimal resources—reveal an institution committed to maintaining the status quo.
    For other campuses, founding new academic programs and departments to accommo-
date students of color represented genuine institutional change. The opposite was true at
USC. Indeed, USC was unique in its response to Chicana/o student movement demands
in comparison to other large universities in Southern California, where enrollment of
Chicana/o students during the critical activist years of 1968 to 1974 rose sharply and
quickly, increasing from a handful to fifty, from eighty to a couple hundred. On other

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campuses, administrators acceded to demands by students of color for open access to
university opportunities. The institutional response at USC, which lacked the critical mass
of Chicana/o students active in El Movimiento found on other campuses, was to make
minor concessions, such as quickly agreeing to an ethnic studies program in 1969, in
order to contain the threat of student protests and to blunt demands for more radical
institutional change.
    USC said yes to offering ethnic studies classes only one year after the first programs
were established on campuses across Southern California. Most of USC’s classes were
drawn from existing USC courses and taught by contingent faculty. Over time, the uni-
versity gutted its ethnic studies program of its radical and transformative potentials by
ensuring a narrow academic focus, limiting instruction to a handful of existing USC
courses; providing only limited, short-term funding; and making the minimal investment
of university resources. Institutional isolation further limited the mission of USC’s ethnic
studies program, as well as its ability to expand the intellectual work of the university
beyond the physical campus.66 USC refused to hire the tenure-track faculty who might
have led efforts to build a meaningful academic program. Nor did USC support the
creation of an ethnic studies department offering majors or minors in Chicana/o studies.
USC’s initial innovations appeased student demands in the short term and, as a result,
had no lasting impact on the institution.
    The most significant change for USC students and the campus community came with
formation of a cultural center. Through its student-initiated programing and mission, the
cultural center claimed a new space that reflected the twin zeitgeists of the Chicana/o
movement: Aztlán and Chicanismo.

Academic space on a college or university campus is prime real estate, regardless of the
size of the institution. Many educational initiatives exist and thrive on very little actual
square footage. But more important than size is the institutional value that the academic
entity accords to the goals and missions of such an intellectual space. The mythology of
USC as the “land of Troy” has been a part of the campus lore since 1912. One of the most
identifiable symbols of this USC mythology is the Trojan Shrine, more commonly known
as Tommy Trojan, officially unveiled in 1930. Similarly, student demands for their own

                                                                           C ALI FOR N I A H IS T OR Y   41
institutional space ultimately resulted in creation of the Aztlán archetype at USC, physically
     cementing the Chicana/o movement and the mythology of Aztlán in the heart of Troy.
        In the 1960s, Chicana/o and African American students at USC led a new wave of
     creative intellectual and cultural “spatial entitlement” projects that reshaped the campus.
     Gaye Theresa Johnson’s concept of spatial entitlement provides the framework for describ-
     ing the collective student activism that took place at USC and in the surrounding com-
     munity. Spatial entitlement describes “a way in which marginalized communities have
     created new collectives based not just upon eviction and exclusion from physical places,
     but also on new and imaginative uses of technology, creativity, and spaces.”67 With this in
     mind, USC students of color helped to craft new and imaginative spaces on campus, the
     Community Center and El Centro Chicano, partly in response to the 1965 Watts Riots.

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     Also influential were multidecade urban renewal projects, such as the Community Rede-
     velopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles and the Hoover Redevelopment Project, that
     resulted in the eviction and erasure of significant historical housing sections in the com-
     munity surrounding USC.
        On October 9, 1969, Pacheco and other members of MEChA met with USC president
     Norman Topping to request that the university fund the creation of a Centro Chicano to serve
     as an urban recruitment center for Mexican American high school and junior high school
     students. USC denied this initial request. However, the momentum of student activism and
     organizing at USC continued to increase, as Chicana/o students again and again demanded
     meetings with administrators over a wide range of issues, including pressing the university
     to provide scholarships to students of color, reform its admissions policies, establish a USC
     Educational Opportunity Program office, and create a student fee to finance a Student Aid
     Fund. In 1969, USC agreed to the formation of La Raza Institute of Mexican American
     Studies (LRIMAS), but only as an alternative to student demands for a Centro Chicano.
        LRIMAS was established as an add-on initiative under the umbrella of the USC Center
     for Social Action (CSA), founded one year earlier under the joint sponsorship of the
     university and USC’s School of Public Administration. As the USC Daily Trojan put it,
     the CSA was to be the “coordinating and information headquarters for University pro-
     grams dealing with urban problems and conflict.”68 LRIMAS was significant because it
     established the first institutionally approved space dedicated to Mexican American/Chi-
     cano studies on campus. Jorge Carroll, administrative director of LRIMAS, defined its
     goals as bringing “together people of varied backgrounds who desire a comprehensive and
     intellectual experience in the study of the Mexican in America.”69
        Like other largely symbolic gestures by the administration, LRIMAS existed as an
     unfunded initiative. It met at the CSA office at 681 E. 34th Street, a space it shared with
     other student and community groups. During the fall of 1969, LRIMAS scheduled five
     classes for this location, to be offered in the evening and tuition free. At this time, UMAS
     expanded its network by creating an assembly of Chicano groups on campus that came to
     be known as the “Chicano Mesa Directiva,” intended to unite student efforts on behalf of
     Chicano student scholarships and recruitment, and to continue advocating for the ethnic
     studies program.70 Lacking an institutional framework or the support of an academic
     department, LRIMAS was inactive by 1971. Concurrently, MEChA began proposing the
     idea of a Centro Chicano in the fall term of 1969 but, despite multiple meetings with USC

42   SPRING 2021
administrators, had no success. That began to change in the fall of 1970, when a new USC
president, John R. Hubbard, took office. Unlike prior administrators, Hubbard spoke
publicly in support of MEChA’s demand for office space on campus, and he committed
to aiding the students in finding space of their own. President Hubbard said, “I am
convinced that MEChA is deserving of more space for their activities than is currently
   Despite Hubbard’s stated support, negotiations proceeded slowly. Almost one year to
the day later, USC announced plans for creation of El Centro Chicano. The announcement
came as administrators and student groups were engaged in yet another confrontation
over symbolic and physical space on campus, this time between Chicana/os and the USC
Student Union Board. In 1971, the student-controlled Student Union Board denied ME-

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ChA’s request for student office space in the Student Union building. Chicana/o students
naturally protested. A headline on the USC Daily Trojan’s front page read “Chicanos Seize
Offices,” but the accompanying photograph simply showed MEChA students sitting
around a table holding a Mexican flag as they discussed their need for office space.72
   Mary Ann Pacheco recalls her role in these negotiations. She had been elected as one of
three co-chairs of the Mesa Directiva, two men and one woman. Pacheco recalled,
“MEChA was seen as too community orientated in our scope of student activities. This
upset everyone in MEChA because our focus was on us as USC students but also on how
to reach out to the community.”
   The mission of ECC reflected the ideas outlined in El Plan de Santa Barbara, including
Chicana/o student recruitment, advising, and such community involvement projects as
tutoring and legal aid for students as well as their campus neighbors. Some critics ques-
tioned why Chicana/os needed a space of their own. As the student newspaper reported,
“when asked why the original community center on 36th Street was insufficient, [Raul]
Vargas said, ‘It was meant for everybody, but for all intents and purposes it is a black-
orientated program. We [Chicana/os] needed to do our own thing.’ ”73
   USC MEChA and its supporters on campus continued to press administrators for
a Centro Chicano, a space that would combine MEChA offices with student-led efforts
at Chicana/o student recruitment and retention. Student activists believed these efforts
should be spearheaded by students themselves, with support from USC. This, they
believed, would also expand the institution’s ability to meet the needs of the Chicano
community. After continued negotiations between the student community and the uni-
versity administration, the allocation of a physical space and temporary funding for ECC
was finally approved by Hubbard in the fall of 1972.
   President Hubbard publicly embraced ECC, describing it as “another example of our
concern with minority affairs and establishing mutually beneficial links with the commu-
nity.”74 He and other USC administrators trumpeted ECC as an innovation of the uni-
versity, but in reality, says Pacheco, ECC was conceived, proposed, organized, and
implemented by Chicana/o students and staff. According to Pacheco, the original proposal
for a Centro Chicano was written and edited by three Chicana/o USC students: herself,
Raoul Isais, and Aurora Ponce. In their negotiations with President Hubbard, it was
agreed that if MEChA provided a written proposal asking for funding, the university would
assist in creating a Centro Chicano on campus.75

                                                                       C ALI FOR N I A H IS T OR Y   43
The institution certainly played a role in securing ECC and the building it would be
     housed in, admits Pacheco, but “it was our proposal that was eventually funded by the
     Mellon Foundation,” and it was the student-led initiative “that led to the eventual creation
     of the USC El Centro Chicano. Once they had secured the institutional space, students
     directed ECC activities. We had an advisory board of MEChA students,” recalls Pacheco,
     “to help determine ECC programing.” They allocated meeting and office space within ECC
     for both students and staff, including offices for one Chicano music professor and the
     Chicano student groups Chicanos for Creative Medicine, MEChA, and Chicano Design.
        Students had no doubts about the value of having an intellectual space of their own on
     campus. Recalls Pacheco: “Part of our argument for creating a place like an ECC was that
     Chicanos had no home base on campus to be with each other, meet and hang out. The

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     original idea was to create this kind of unique space at USC that did not exist before to
     support Chicanos at USC and promote links to the community.”76
        Under the leadership of Interim Director Raul Vargas, ECC was opened in February
     1973 (Figures 4 and 5). ECC was first located in the former Hoover Redevelopment Project
     building at 3406 Hoover Street, at the southeast corner of Hoover and Jefferson, next to
     King Stoops Hall. This two-story building housed the director’s office, student organiza-
     tion offices, and meeting space for student programming.77
        Constant reminders of the link between USC and the broader Chicana/o movement
     were reinforced by the large murals soon added to the exterior front and sides of the two-
     story building by renowned Chicano artist Willie Herron III, in collaboration with fellow
     Chicano artist Glugio Nicandro, aka Gronk.78 Another link to the Chicana/o movement
     came with the large poster in the window next to the front doors, which quoted from the
     epic 1967 Chicano cultural nationalist poem “I Am Joaquin” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales
     (Figure 5):

        La raza!
        Espan~ ol!
        Or whatever I call myself,
        I look the same
        I feel the same
        I cry
        Sing the same.
        I am the masses of my people and
        I refuse to be absorbed.
        I am Joaquı́n.79

     In selecting these specific lines for display at the newly created building, ECC publicly
     declared its support of the collective social identity embodied in the Chicana/o movement,
     as well as the movement’s call to action.

44   SPRING 2021
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FIGURE 4.    El Centro Chicano, 3406 Hoover Street, May 5, 1973.
Courtesy of photographer Michael V. Sedano at

FIGURE 5.    Front entrance of El Centro Chicano. Willie Herron III, in collaboration with Glugio Nicandro, aka
Gronk, painted the murals.
Courtesy of photographer Michael V. Sedano at

                                                                                        C ALI FOR N I A H IS T OR Y   45
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     FIGURE 6.     MEChA students posed for this picture, published in USC’s yearbook El Rodeo in 1977, in front
     of the mural Ad Astra Per Aspera (“To the Stars Through Adversity”), painted by Chicano artists Robert
     Arenivar and José Luı́s González of Goez Art Studios on the outside wall of El Centro Chicano.
     Courtesy of USC Digital Library, University of Southern California History Collection, http://digitallibrary.usc.

        With the opening of ECC, Chicana/o student activists at USC gained a home from
     which to expand and grow. By 1972, Chicanismo had arrived at USC and was located in
     the offices, meeting spaces, and programming of ECC. MEChA’s fall 1972 membership
     roster included 150 Chicano undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate student
     organizations included Trabajadores de La Raza (from the School of Social Work), Chica-
     nos in Education, Chicano Law Students Association, and Chicanos in Public
        The idea behind ECC was to create a “spatial entitlement” on campus, one that would
     reflect student support for social justice struggles within their communities and could
     serve as a base of operations from which to press the university to do more to support
     students of color. Through ECC, students of color embraced the Aztlán ideal, applying it to
     the social reality of campus life at USC. Through its physical space and programming,
     ECC deployed the ideology of Chicanismo in hopes of developing Chicana/o conscious-
     ness on campus and embedding it, symbolically, into the university’s built environment.
     The building that housed ECC became the physical manifestation of a symbolic collective
        In March 1973, ECC gained the leadership of Dr. Silas H. Abrego, its first full-time
     director.81 Abrego implemented a broad array of student- and community-centered ser-
     vices that, as students had hoped, expanded the mission of the university and changed the

46   SPRING 2021
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