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UT-Pan American students attended 'Latino Day of Advocacy for Educational Equity and Opportunity at the Capitol.' (Photo: Roberto Calderon)

Over the weekend of February 26-28, students and faculty involved in the University of Texas-Pan American’s Mexican American Studies program attended the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco (NACCS) conference in Houston, Texas.

Throughout the weekend students and faculty facilitated and attended several research presentations as well as engaged with community efforts for social justice. While at the conference we learned that there was a statewide neglect of funding MAS in higher education and that in only a few weeks a day of advocacy at the Capitol would take place addressing issues of educational equity for Latina/os.

On March 16, 2015 approximately 50 students representing the UTPA Mexican American Studies Club (MASC), Bilingual Education Student Organization (BESO), La Unión de Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and the Minority Affairs Council (MAC) attended the Latina/o Education Day of Advocacy at the Capitol in Austin. Through the assistance of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Hispanic Senate Caucus, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, students were bused to the Capitol to participate in a press conference by the Latina/o Education Task Force, rally their support, and meet with legislators.

Our effort as students was advocating for the Latino/a Education Task Force agenda, in particular greater funding of MAS in higher education. However, our Valley contingency focused primarily on permanently funding the MAS Center, the Bilingual Studies Center, and the establishment of a department of MAS at the new UT-Rio Grande Valley. MAS has existed at UTPA since 1971, yet still exists today as only a program and not a department. UTRGV has promoted itself as a bilingual and bicultural intuition which boasts a Latina/o population upwards of 90 percent. However in the UTRGV Legislative Appropriations Request there exists no special requests to fund MAS.

Today only a single MAS department exists in the state. In order to develop politically conscious and socially aware Latina/o leaders it is imperative to fund not only a MAS Center, but also a department in the Valley. We believe we have the potential to become the premier MAS department in not only Texas, but in the nation. Our sentiments were met with vocal support from our legislators. This support is additional affirmation to our ontological vocation of preserving our history and determining our future.

To not create a MAS department after 45 years of existence is to say that the study of the Mexican American experience is of little value. Who will be the legislator to champion our cause? Or will it be the student activism, as it was in 1971, that brings the permanent funding of a center and the rightful establishment of a department dedicated to the study of our Mexican American communities?

One thing is for certain, we will not stand idly by while crossing our arms as our heritage and culture escapes yet another generation. NuestraEducaciónEsNuestraLucha.

Editor’s Note: The main photo with this story was provided by Roberto Calderon of the UT-Pan American Mexican American Studies Club. It was taken on the south steps of the state Capitol on March 16, 2015.