|EDINBURG, December 12 - Back in the 1960s its detractors called Pan American College in Edinburg “Tamale Tech,” a former student recalls.
“We did not have many resources and the comments the college got were very disparaging. We were not expected to do very well academically because we were Latinos. I remember, some years later, someone telling me, I thought you would have been at home, with a five kids living on welfare,” the former student said.
“But, I was not. I became a professional, like so many others that went to Pan American University and then UT-Pan American. Every time they kept raising the bar for us, we would exceed it. We deserve today. We deserve a new institution that can grow to become a Tier One university. The Rio Grande Valley deserves this.”
The former student requested her name be kept anonymous because of the job she now has. She said she could not be more proud of seeing her alma mater having its day in the sun.
What was once Edinburg College, and then Edinburg Junior College, and then Pan American College, and then Pan American University, and then UT-Pan American, is now UT-Rio Grande Valley. In Austin, the UT System Board of Regents selected UT-RGV as the name of the university that will be created through the dissolution of UTPA and UT-Brownsville.
Last month, the UT System offered five potential names for the new university for South Texas: UT for the Americas, UT-Las Americas, UT-International, UT-Rio Grande Valley, and UT-South. South Texas residents were asked to give input on these suggestions. Thousands did so, via social media, phone calls and letters. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the three most popular names to emerge from the public’s response were: UT-Rio Grande Valley, UT-South, and UTPA.
At the Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, Cigarroa told the story of a student he called who was concerned about how the UT System gets out to the colonias, to reach out to colonia children who might want to go to the new university. Cigarroa said the System got feedback from the colonias via walking the streets and asking for input.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the author of the bill setting up the new university, was at the UT System Board of Regents meeting on Thursday. “There is no better investment than education," Hinojosa said. “We are grateful you have listened to our concerns,” he told regents.
The most popular name for the new university was UT-Rio Grande Valley, said Randa S. Safady, UT System’s vice chancellor for external relations. The second most popular name was UT-South. Safady said the name UT-RGV represents culture and tradition. “When people are asked where they are from, they say, I'm from the Rio Grande Valley,” Safady said.
The perception earlier in the deliberations was that UT System regents wanted a name like UT for the Americas or UT-Las Americas because both conjured images of a new university reaching beyond the Valley and into Latin America. Both Cigarroa and former UT System Regent Chair Gene Powell have talked about the new university being the “gateway” to the Americas. However, there was pushback on these suggestions from people like Professor Gary Mounce at UTPA who said such names would remind people of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. “The U.S. Army ‘taught’ methods of subversion, sabotage and torture to Argentinian soldiers, part of the “dirty war” targeting liberals in that country. The Army also trained remnants of Dictator Somoza’s brutal National Guard and agents of other Central American dictators,” Mounce said.
Sen. Hinojosa spoke for an apparent majority in the Valley when he recommended UT-Rio Grande Valley. In a letter to UT System Regent Chair Paul L. Foster, Hinojosa said UT-RGV provides for a “much more regional approach” and “encompasses all of the Valley and our various counties and communities.” He said it “evokes pride in the people of the Valley and keeps the traditions of UT- Brownsville and UT- Pan American.”
Hinojosa also said the name UT-Rio Grande Valley “represents the many communities and cultures joining together with common focus and direction.” As the Valley “aligns as a community and embraces a one regional Valley mindset,” Hinojosa said, “the name UT RGV best exemplifies our unity and the long awaited transformation of the Valley through education.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, disagreed with his Senate colleague. He favored the new university being called UT-Las Americas.
“When it comes to naming our new university I would hope the UT System Regents could consider naming our new university something more global, more hemispheric than UT-RGV. Naming it just for our area is not a wise thing to do. If we are going to attract national interest and international interest a good name for it would be UT-Las Americas,” Lucio told the Guardian.
“I think the name UT-Las Americas would resound across Latin America. It would set the stage for greater things for this region, this part of North America, and for the country.”
Governmental affairs consultant Salomon Torres said he favored the name University of Tejas. “What is ‘Tejas’, you can almost hear a school child ask. It is what the Spanish called this area when they settled it and it was the name of a Native American people, would answer the parent or teacher. It is a name that denotes pride in heritage and a recognition that the history of Texas did not begin in 1836 when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto,” Torres said.
City administrator Fabio Angel said he favored the name UT América. “This name does several things. It denotes the fact Latin American textbooks do teach that it is one, single continent, united by the events of 1492. It supports the original idea of a single continent in the beginning, as in "U.S. of America", NOT U.S. of ‘The Americas.’ The Hispanized ‘é’ in América denotes inclusiveness and acceptance of Latin America. And, the ‘é’ also respects the legacy of old Tejas, that is, the pioneering European language of the first European: The Tejanos!”
Editor’s Note: Reporter Esmeralda Torres contributed to this story from Austin. The Guardian will bring more reaction to the naming of the new UT university for South Texas as it comes in.