Is Chicano Studies as relevant as it was just 20 years ago? “Have you ever taken Chicano Studies?”
His face and voice projected a steady countenance as he looked directly at me from across the table. It seemed he could see through me and sense that I was in need of some direction.
“Yeah, I remember taking a Chicano Studies course a long time ago!” I answered indifferently.
“Well there are different kinds of Chicano studies” He replied. Frank was not what I expected by way of a guidance counselor. Hell, I was only there because I chickened out after two days of intermediate algebra. I arrogantly dismissed the college’s assessment of my math skills by enrolling in a course that I was not prepared for. The bravado I exhibited in the first class quickly diminished on the second and landed me in the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) counseling office reduced back to the timid underclassman that I was.
To my good fortune, fate appeared in the form of Frank Gutierrez, a grandfather like figure sporting a gray braid and life as I know it would never be the same.
This chance meeting with Mr. Gutierrez would profoundly alter my future educational experience. Turns out he was also an instructor of Chicano Studies who just happened to be recruiting for his course. Frank exhibited a genuine desire to see that Chicanos and Chicanas succeed in all their educational endeavors.
Frank Gutierrez’s Chicano Studies course inspired me to put my best self forward. Frank’s approach to the subject imbued a sense of purpose that is to awaken young naïve Chicanos/as to their historical reality. Frank effectively lectured to his students a trajectory of Chicano history from western European feudalism through colonization and U.S. imperialism and its subsequent effects on our indigenous heritage. His soft-spoken demeanor was very convincing as he connected the past to the present condition of Chicanas/os in the U.S. He always made clear that his job was to deprogram our minds and to undo our public education/brainwashing.
That one class instilled me with a greater sense of social responsibility toward my community. I excelled in my studies and became more politically aware both on and off campus. I went from a spectator to a participant. In other words, Chicano Studies motivated me to get involved. I was radicalized.
One of the first examples of me stepping outside of the box was when I drove from my apartment in Bell to U.C.L.A. to support a student fast in the early 1990s. The cause was to establish a Chicano Studies as a full-fledged department. I remember seeing the brief coverage on the local morning news and knowing that I had to be there. In the past, I would have sat idly by, let alone getting into my car and driving to Westwood.
I like the way Consuelo Rey, a Chicana professor of political science describes it, “It is like a foco in your head suddenly gets switched on!”.
Like I stated earlier, the altering of my education would fuse learning with activism in the ensuing years. One would compliment the other. The issues facing the Chicano community are broad in scope. I found myself engaged at some degree in issues regarding Affirmative Action, student fee increases, bilingual education, police brutality, immigration rights. I attended and helped organize conferences, educational forums and demonstrations. I worked and volunteered for organizations and programs such as MEChA, EOP, Upward Bound, Associated Students, Southwest Voter and Education Project and Americorps.
One of the most rewarding was working several summers as a program assistant for a migrant educational program at UC Riverside.
The focus of my activism had to do with Chicanos/as gaining access to higher education. I was also inspired and helped to promote events for the United Farm Workers and the Zapatista movement.
Like most Chicanos and Chicanas, I have had my share of personal setbacks and struggles. I am still struggling to break free from old ideas and attitudes. However, I have been steadfast in my defense and promotion of Chicano Studies in all of its manifestations.
Like Frank said there are different areas of Chicano and Chicana Studies. I have disagreed with other Chicanos and Chicanas, but the one thing that it has done for me is that I have grown to love and respect my cultura. I believe that there is a spiritual component that we experience as we embrace the Chicana/o philosophy.
What sets Chicano Studies apart from other fields of study is our personal connection to our history that we get to research and write from our own unique perspective.
Ever since Frank planted those little seeds of knowledge into my head in that first Chicano Studies class, I have strived to do my small part to nurture that knowledge so that it may flourish and have a positive affect on others. That is why I continue to study the discipline.
“In fond Memory Of Frank Gutierrez”
— by David Casillas