Ribbon cutting and conference accents importance of nation's ethnic studies programs
Posted: 02/25/2013
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The snip of a ribbon at the opening of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Center Feb. 22 marked a historic day at The University of Texas-Pan American.

A ribbon cutting of the new Mexican American Studies center was held during the NACCS Tejas Foco 2013 Conference held Feb. 21-23 on the UTPA campus. Pictured in front row are Conference co-chair Dr. Sonia Hernández, UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, MAS Program Director Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, Conference co-chair Dr. Marci McMahon, and College of Arts and Humanities Dean Dr. Dahlia Guerra.
"This has been a long struggle for us to get to this point," said MAS Program Director Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, an assistant professor of Spanish at UTPA, who credited the MAS faculty and its students and graduates for their persistence in nurturing the MAS program at the University and supporting the need for a space to house it properly.

UTPA's MAS program offers a major, minor and a 12-hour graduate certificate. A proposal for a master's in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in Mexican American studies is pending approval from The University of Texas System. The center, located in Education Complex, Room 2.216B, provides a meeting place for MAS students, faculty and members of the community and houses basic resource equipment, including computers, a TV, and a printer.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who greeted guests at the center's opening, called the day a very important one for the University.

"It is an opportunity to celebrate our culture in the Valley. It is an opportunity to educate our students about that culture. It is an opportunity to maximize our prestige here on the border. We have to be aware of where we are, who we are, and what we are, and the Mexican American Studies Program does precisely that," Nelsen said.

Dr. Sonia Hernández, an associate professor of history and a faculty affiliate of the MAS program, said the center will be a place where students, community members, faculty and staff can share ideas and intellectualize about community experiences. She said the MAS program at UTPA has the potential to serve as a national model.

During the NACCS Conference, Eva Ybarra, considered the "Queen of the Accordion," conducted a workshop on conjunto tradition and performed at the conference's Noche De Cultura during the evening Feb. 22.
"We have everything and it is so hand-in-hand with what the University wants, such as experiential learning and community service. We have all the ingredients and the ganas - the passion, the want and desire - to learn more and to intellectualize these experiences," she said.

The ribbon cutting was held during the first day of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) Tejas 2013 Conference that was held on the UT Pan American campus Feb. 21-23. The focus of this year's conference, which drew scholars, artists and activists from across the state and nation, was "Chicana & Chicano Studies ¡Ahora!: Community-Based Pedagogies, Scholarship and Activism."

Hernández, who co-chaired the conference with Dr. Marci R. McMahon, UTPA assistant professor of English and a teacher in the MAS program, said the theme was conceived in response to the recent attacks on Chicana/o and ethnic studies programs in Arizona. The co-chairs described the conference as a place to share, discuss and test academic research, creative activities, pedagogy and activism, especially the ways in which the work is directly informed by and embedded in the lived experiences of Chicanas/os and Latinas/os in Texas and the nation.

The conference included keynote addresses and plenary sessions addressing issues such as the use of testimonies as pedagogical tools, the state of Mexican American studies in Texas and community-based activism and pedagogy in the Rio Grande Valley. Panels and roundtable discussions were also held on a wide range of topics, from themes in Chicana/o literature and art to policing on the borderlands.

During a Noche de Cultura (Night of Culture) on Feb. 22, female accordionist Eve Ybarra, also known as La Reina de la Acordeón (The Queen of the Accordion), performed along with her conjunto, a group of South Texas acoustic and accordion musicians. She also hosted a conjunto workshop during the conference. Helena Maria Viramontes, creative writing professor at Cornell University and author of "The Moths and Other Stories" (1985) and "Their Dogs Came with Them" (2008), two very influential texts on Chicana history, signed copies of her books and conducted a writer's workshop at the conference.

Dr. Francisco Guajardo (left), UTPA associate professor of educational leadership, led a workshop during the conference on the use of testimonios and digital narratives as pedagogical tools. The conference attracted distinguished scholars nationwide to UTPA to share ideas and discuss issues regarding Chicana & Chicano studies.
Conference participants also had the opportunity to attend a performance of "Crawling with Monsters," a multimedia documentary created by UTPA's Department of Communication about the violence-based crisis in Reynosa, Mexico.

Dr. Marcos Pizarro, professor, chair and graduate coordinator of the master's program in MAS at San José State University in California, said he was impressed with UTPA's MAS program and its students whom he met during a pre-conference workshop he helped facilitate on MAS graduate school programs and student mentorship.

"It is clear to me that they are getting phenomenal mentorship and training from their faculty that is far away from anybody anywhere that I have seen," he said.

Pizarro said some of the more recent anti-ethnic studies sentiment that the conference hoped to address has grown out of the fear of change and misunderstanding.

"Yes, MAS and Chicana/o studies are directed at trying to understand the Mexican, Latino experience. But it's also for everybody. We have Anglo students, we have Afro-American students, we have Asian students," he said. "But it is about making sure that Mexican-American, Latino community understands themselves and their history. When those (MAS) students go out into the world, they are going to offer a different perspective and that's innovation, creating dynamic growth opportunities for everyone."

To learn more about NACCS and its annual conference at its website. To obtain information about the MAS program at UTPA, go to the MAS website.

Enjoy photos of this year's NACCS Tejas Foco 2013 Conference at UTPA at this photo gallery.