Chronicles of Chicana/o Studies: Mario T. García, a Chicano Scholar

Mario T. García

Mario T. García


Mario T. García is a Professor of History and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He is the Director of the Latino Leadership Project and the Research Liaison between the Department of Chicano Studies and the Center for Chicano Studies.[1] As a 20th century historian, García has built a noteworthy legacy chronicling Mexican (im)migrant communities, such as in El Paso, Texas. His current research involves generational approaches, civil rights struggles, oral history, and even more recently Chicana/o Catholic history.

Mario T. Garcia received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in History from the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) and his Ph.D. in History from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). During the academic 2009 school year, García was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar.[2] His current interests are in the fields of Chicana/o Studies, History of the United States, Religious Studies and Comparative Race and Ethnicity. García taught at Yale University before settling in at UCSB. In his research and teaching profession, García discusses the key figures, organizations, and issues of the Chicana/o community’s history while shedding new light on Chicana/o history and the history of American ethnicity and civil rights movements.

García has received several important book awards for his academic publications, including the 1981 Virginia McCormick Scully Literary Award and the 1981 Southwest Book Award given by the Border Regional Library Association for his critically acclaimed monograph that focused on the Mexican experience in El Paso during the late 1800s and early 1900s.[3] In addition, he was the winner of the 1990 Southwest Book Award of the Border Regional Library Association for writing and publication of outstanding literature of the Southwest

García has been critically acclaimed for his work by other Chicana/o historians, including Richard Griswold del Castillo who stated that García’s first monograph was a “book [that] succeeds in linking the local history to larger themes in American history and as such stands as an example to be emulated by other historians of the Southwest.”[4]

García has worked with graduate students at UCSB, helping to nurture a cadre of new scholars devoted to Chicana/o Studies. García has been an instrumental member of a scholarly community focused on recovering the historical legacy of the Chicana/o Movement.[5]

Major Themes/Issues

Mario T. García’s work largely concentrates on the historical experiences of the largest racial/ethnic group in the United States by incorporating the Mexican community into studies of American history.

In particular, García examines 20th century Chicana/o history specifically emphasizing the experiences of El Paso’s Mexican community, the “Mexican-American Generation” of the 1930s to the early 1960s using as its focal point the emergence of new leadership among U.S. born citizens of Mexican descent, as well as the Chicano Movement Generation of the late 1960s and early 1970s through an emerging autobiographical narrative.

García interrogates American history for its failure to incorporate the “immigrant” experience, namely Mexican migration, as “inextricably linked with the growth of American industrial capitalism.”[6] In Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920, García argues that Mexicans have long been neglected by traditional American historians adding that cultural change and continuity are deeply rooted in the Mexican community’s contributions to the industrial development of the country. As Mexicans became established throughout the American Southwest and other regions throughout the United States, García expanded the historical lens beyond the traditional “immigrant” historical narrative.

In Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930-1960, García explores the rising political evolution of well-to-do Mexican Americans who were firmly entrenched in several Southwestern cities. García challenges conventional narratives that have viewed Mexicans as important only within traditional “immigrant” studies.

As García observes, the history of the Civil Rights Movement is viewed only through the narrow framework of the Black and White narrative, which omits Chicana/o participation. García constructs a narrative that firmly roots and reinserts Mexican Americans as part and parcel of the American Civil Rights movement. By looking at the early leadership within the well-to-do Mexican American community, García’s historical panorama deviates from the working-class narrative that centered early Chicana/o Studies monographs.

Most recently, García has probed Chicana/o Catholicism. As an institution, the Catholic Church has been central to the social, cultural, political, and economic development of the Mexican people since the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries. As such, García lends his analysis to Chicano Liberation Theology as it applies to the Chicana/o community.

As a professor of Religious Studies at UCSB, García has looked at the role popular religion has played in creating a unique political and cultural identity among Chicanas/os. In Católicos: Resistance and Affirmation in Chicano Catholic History, García examines the formation of spiritual acceptance of Catholicism within the Chicana/o community, while separately addressing his own upbringing as a Chicano Catholic during his days as a student at Texas Western University (now the University of Texas at El Paso).

In light of the fact that a majority of Chicana/o historical studies concentrate on Chicana/o and Anglo relations, there is an urgent need to critically analyze the systemic consequences of Spanish colonialism. Although the framework of Católicos: Resistance and Affirmation in Chicano Catholic History is epistemologically different than Ramón A. Gutiérrez’s When Jesus Came the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846, Católicos does lend itself to centering the Chicana/o experience vis-à-vis the elephant in the room: Spanish Colonialism.

In perhaps one of the most important recent developments in Chicana/o Studies is García’s autobiographical approach to studying the history of Chicanas/os. In recent years, García has explored the writings, speeches, and documents of several Chicana/o figures within the sociopolitical development of racial/ethnic identity formation. García has published several works wherein Chicana/o historical figures use their agency to speak through their own words. García has compiled the following autobiographical narratives: Bert Corona, Rúben Salázar, Raymond L. Telles, Luis Leal, Dolores Huerta, Richard Cruz, César Chávez, Father Virgil Cordano, and Sal Castro.

Memories of Chicano History: The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona, Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970, The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith in Action, Padre: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano, Chicano Liberation Theology: The Writings and Documents of Richard Cruz and Católicos Por La Raza, A Dolores Huerta Reader, Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography, and Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice all speak to the vibrant direction that Chicana/o Studies is forging ahead as it extends the narrative from community studies to those that explore the dimensions of the individual through the testimonio. As these testimonios demonstrate, Chicana/o Studies is fashioning a (re)turn to oral history projects that chronicle an ancestral memory.

García helps us to better understand the sociopolitical dynamics by inserting the role of the communal experience while integrating the individual into the narrative of not only Chicana/o Studies, but also into the framework of American history that looks down upon Chicana/o Studies as a legitimate field of inquiry.


Mario T. García situates the Chicana/o experience within the larger context of American history by framing the voice of the subaltern as critical to the overall development of the evolution of racial/ethnic identity within the American industrial narrative. That Chicana/o Studies is framed as insurgent resistance, García’s work helps us to better understand why his most recent focus on the autobiographical and/or testimonio narrative might frame a clearer understanding of sociopolitical experiences.

García provides agency to the collective and individual Chicana/o experience by covering the individual historical narrative, for instance, extending the analysis of Chicana/o history begun by Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America. In Occupied America, Acuña established a theoretical framework that focused on thematic forms of historical analysis that located Chicanas/os as an internal colony.

García prominently utilizes a thematic approach for studying events by (re)shaping the communal voice down to the individual voice. In other words, García seems more concerned with the experiences of individuals, rather than in the larger subtext of the political or communal event.

In Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice, for instance, García grounds the 1968 East Los Angeles High School Walkouts through the experiences of Sal Castro whose leadership role helped foment a Chicana/o struggle of educational resistance during the 1960s that continues to this day.

Although the “Great Man” framework seems out of place in Chicana/o Studies for it recalls an elitist analysis that marginalizes a community and a people, what García does is begin a new framework for the studying of epic moments in Chicana/o history. Largely due to his extensive background in studying the Mexican migrant experience in El Paso during the late 1800s, García gives the impression that failure to chronicle the individual historical memory, Chicanas/os will lose an important opportunity to contribute to the larger understanding of American ethnographic history.

In essence, García’s current emphasis on the testimonio centers on returning Chicana/o Studies to its roots. Because the early Mexican experience was largely ignored and rarely documented, García understands that to excavate history, one must go to the source, and as such, he is unlocking the parameters of memory by selecting central Chicana/o characters so that future historians will have a foundation from which to begin more extensive analysis of the Chicana/o community. Indeed, Alma Garcia has edited a compilation of Chicana feminist writings entitled, Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, which captures Chicana/o agency and resistance against patriarchal structures during the Chicano Movement.

By providing an insiders peek into the philosophical mindset of central figures of Chicana/o history, García forces us to reconsider the historical events that are central to the understanding of race, class, and gender dynamics within American society. As such, history is viewed from the lens of the central actors in the interplay of history. History does not happen in a vacuum rather it occurs because communities and individuals are in a constant state of negotiating their place in society.

There are very few, if any, Chicana/o historians who are doing exclusive critical autobiographical and/or testimonio work. However, more recent Chicana/o Studies scholarship is beginning to focus on the actors that have made resistance possible against social injustice. It makes sense for Chicana/o Studies to (re)emerge as a space for empowering those who are often excluded in American history. Mary Pardo, for instance, in Mexican American Women Activists looks at two organizations that have worked towards social justice during the 1980s and 1990s. Decade of Betrayal by Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez who have documented the 1930s Mexican repatriation as a case study of individual and community experiences. As such, history is not detached from the individual experience.

Although the approaches to studying Chicana/o history are epistemologically different, oral history projects lend themselves for a far more engaging way to address conceptual theoretical frameworks that will challenge American history’s hegemonic attempts to silence the Other.

One of the limitations of García’s scholarship, it might be argued, is that García is not critical of the subjects he is documenting in the autobiographical approach. Although he allows his Subjects to speak, is it potentially possible for García to objectively detach himself from the individuals he is studying? This is, indeed, a tricky proposition for it speaks volumes as to what is the role of the racial/ethnic historian. It can be surmised, then, that García is only providing the means for which future historians will provide a deeper analysis of contextualizing those individuals whom he has chosen to study.

In the final analysis, then, García has proposed important frameworks for which to study Chicana/o history especially since the late 1960s, where much of his recent work is grounded. By collecting important documentation relating to the Chicana/o Movement, García has done future historians a favor by providing us with a critical lens into sociopolitical movements. After all, one must remember that García’s early scholarship is grounded in the sociopolitical movements of the Mexican American Generation. As such, García’s overall focus is on documenting Chicana/o resistance as an affirmation of their place to effect societal change in American society. We must continue this work.


  • Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
  • Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930-1960. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Memories of Chicano History: The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
  • Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970. Edited. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • The Making of a Mexican American Mayor: Raymond L. Telles of El Paso. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999
  • Migrant Daughter: Coming of Age as a Mexican American Woman. Co-Authored with Frances Esquibel Tywoniak. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.
  • Bridging Culture: An Introduction to Chicano/Latino Studies. Edited. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2003
  • Padre: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano. Capra Press, 2005.
  • The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith in Action. Edited. Landham: Sheed & Ward, 2007.
  • Católicos: Resistance and Affirmation in Chicano Catholic History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
  • Mexican American Religions: Spirituality, Activism, and Culture. Co-Authored With Gaston Espinoza. Durham: University of Duke Press, 2008.
  • A Dolores Huerta Reader. Edited. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008.
  • Chicano Liberation Theology: The Writings and Documents of Richard Cruz and Católicos Por La Raza. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2010. Revised Printing.
  • Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice. Co-Authored with Sal Castro. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

[1] “Mario T. García,” 2007. University of California, Santa Barbara. 31 May 2011. <>

[2] Garcia, Mario T. Chicano Liberation Theology: The Writings and Documents of Richard Cruz and Católicos Por La Raza. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2010.

[3] Yale University Press. 31 May 2011 <>

[4] Richard Griswold del Castillo in the Journal of American History.

[5] Chicano Education Research Project at UCLA <>

[6] Garcia, Mario T. Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. Pp.1.


Cultural Sovereignty


This entry was posted in Aztlan, California, Chicana/o Community, Chicana/o History, Chicana/o Identity, Chicana/o Ideology, Chicana/o Studies, Chicana/o Youth, Chicano Movement, Community, Cultura, Decolonization, Education, History, Knowledge, Language, Mexican, Movimiento, MuXer, NACCS, Palabra, Quotes, Resistance, Social justice, UCSB, Unity. Bookmark the permalink.

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