Texas A&M University-Kingsville creates space for Mexican-American history

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A new Institute of Mexican-American Studies at Texas A&M University-Kingsville aims to showcase the legacy of Mexican-American contributions and activism in South Texas.

The Institute has been open as a physical space on campus since September and was officially incorporated by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents last week.

“It’s a reconnection with our HSI (Hispanic Serving Institute) children, faculty and staff, and also with our community,” said director and history professor Alberto Rodriguez.

Kingsville was a center of the Chicano movement in Texas. Over the decades, civil rights organizations such as La Raza Unida and the Mexican American Youth Organization have been active on campus and in the community.

“These are the shoulders we stand on,” said Rodriguez. “Without them, we wouldn’t have what we have now. … We want to make sure we understand that history isn’t something that happened overnight or just didn’t blossom. It’s because of things that were done in the ’60s and ’70s and even the ’40s.”

Rodriguez is a Mexican-American history professor who teaches about the Borderlands. As a first-generation college student raised in a family of farm workers, Rodriguez recalls his parents’ conversations with United Farm Workers and the American GI Forum.

“I grew up with it,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve seen activism, we’ve seen strikes, we’ve seen strikes.”

But many students today are unaware of that local history, he said.

“Every time I teach a Mexican-American history class or Texas history class, most of the students are surprised even though we’re almost 72%[Hispanic]students,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the institute hopes to bring in guest speakers, host community events, and collaborate with academic units and organizations across campus.

“It’s not just an academic unit,” Rodriguez said. “It’s open to our community, and not just our (university) community, but our Coastal Bend community, our South Texas community.”

According to a summary contained in the Board of Regents’ meeting documents, the institute plans to host an annual Mexican-American student symposium on the plight of Mexican-American students at the university, as well as faculty roundtables and a Latina-faculty Mujeres of South Texas panel align .

A Hispanic Faculty Council was formed on campus a few years ago. The council was actively involved in the founding of the institute, with faculty members supporting the effort and regularly donating snacks for institute attendees, Rodriguez said.

Housed in a three-room suite in Rhode Hall, one of the busiest buildings on campus, the institute is open every day of the week. The physical space is set up to encourage community and conversation, including places for students to learn and hang out.

“There’s art, there’s music,” Rodriguez said. “There is an open space where they can just relax, but also for our faculty and our alumni to come in and empathize with the origins of the university.”

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