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UTSA conference to assess Texas Chicana/o studies

By James M. Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist

(Feb. 23, 2009)--UTSA will sponsor the 2009 National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies Tejas FOCO Regional Conference, February 26-28, at the UTSA Downtown Campus. The conference theme is "Interdisciplinarity Unbound: The State and Status of Chicana/o Studies in Texas."

The field of Mexican-American studies has created a wider appeal for Latino students to enroll in colleges and universities. These programs likely grew out of an increased awareness of diversity issues developed during the civil rights era of the late '60s and early '70s. In Texas, one of the first programs in Mexican-American studies emerged at the University of Texas at Austin with a call for ethnic inclusion. Texas has implemented Mexican-American studies with trends commonly differing from the rest of the nation.

"Despite the growing demographic expansion of Hispanics or Latinos in Texas, we have much to do to impart Mexican-American scholarship in our colleges and universities," said Josephine Méndez-Negrete, conference co-chair and UTSA associate professor of Mexican-American studies.

Although initially on target with the development of ethnic and area studies in the United States, Mexican-American studies in Texas has relied on affiliate models for teaching its content rather than establishing standing departments and centers throughout the state.

The conference will begin with a free event, "Noche de Cultura," at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26 at the Buena Vista Theater. The cultural revue will feature performances from Conjunto Palo Alto with Juan Tejeda, Azul y Maya, Cruz Ortiz, Barbara Renaud Gonzalez, Que Padre, Carolina Rubio and UTSA Downtown Campus Vice Provost Jesse Zapata. An open microphone will conclude the event.

The public is invited to attend a 10:30 a.m. conference session Friday, Feb. 27 at the Buena Vista Theater honoring state Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas for his advocacy in the development of Mexican-American studies. Alonzo was the first Mexican-American student body president at UT Austin. Later elected to state office in North Texas, he secured funding for the University of North Texas to provide tuition assistance and loan forgiveness for students to pursue bilingual education teaching certificates. Additionally, Alonzo spearheaded efforts to secure textbooks for third- and fifth-grade English-as-a-Second-Language students. Alonzo will receive the NACCS Tejas FOCO "Premio Letras de Aztlán" award.

The conference's closing plenary session is 10:30 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Buena Vista Theater with a screening of "A Class Apart." The documentary by Carlos Sandoval and Peter Miller examines the Hernandez v. Texas case of 1951, which challenged Texas juror selection and the systematic exclusion of Mexican-Americans from the jury system. The Hernandez case played a major role in subsequent desegregation cases. A panel discussion will follow with San Antonio Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra, retired UTSA professor of bicultural-bilingual studies Bertha Perez and author and retired educator Victor Rodriguez.

"Mexican-American studies contributes to the creation and production of knowledge and as a discipline, results a win-win situation for Texas," said Marie "Keta" Miranda, conference co-chair and UTSA associate professor of Mexican-American studies. "Our students' transcultural and bilingual understanding serve as the resources needed for today's global realities."

Conference registration is on-site all day Friday, Feb. 27, and 8-9 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 28; $10 for community members, $20 for students and $30 for faculty.

For more information on the 2009 National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies Tejas FOCO Regional Conference, call (210) 458-2637 or e-mail conference co-chairs Josephine Mendez-Negrete or Marie "Keta" Miranda.

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