EMMA: The early days were not easy. When we began to study history back in the, certainly the 70s, for me there were only two Chicana historians with PhDs in the universe, right? It was Shirlene Soto, who had gotten a degree in Latin American history, as well as Louise Año Nuevo de Kerr. But meeting the cohort from around the nation, everybody and anybody who’s studying Chicana history was really pretty important ‘cause that was the day that I met both Deena Gonzalez and Antonia Castañeda, who were going to be vital in my career for the rest of my life and still are.
ANTONIA: Not only in terms of being the first in my family to graduate from college, but also the first to be in spaces where we’ve not been before as women or as Chicana/os or as anything else that, whatever our identities are, my experience has been to have been the first in multiple entities and multiple institutions. The issues were basically the same in whatever space I entered where I was the first – whether it was an institution of higher education, or whether it was a business. I think I was among the first Chicanas at the WHA in US history.
DEENA: So when I went to graduate school I started realizing, more and more history of the west was a very important part but that I shouldn’t call it Chicano/Chicana history. It certainly had no concept, no person whose work was in that. And if there was anyone at Berkeley, they were over in the Chicano Studies Department which was a program with no grad students, only some majors and minors. What happened in the 1970s almost forced us to take stock and to really look at what we were doing. So many grad students go into graduate school and have this kind of open-door opportunity. We didn’t have that because we were being questioned constantly about who we were, how prepared we were, what we were ready to do, and what could or could not be done in grad school. So, identity played a big role, culture played a big role; race and obstacles and barriers, and all those sorts of things also played a role.
CYNTHIA: Very few people study history, and nowadays there are very few jobs in history. Even more importantly, in the major textbooks, that we’re still not integrated and often we do not see ourselves. You really do have to have professors who see that somebody has a talent. They have to be mentored, encouraged. They have to be given that idea that they are historians or that they could be historians. So today, we have so much more mentorship that is possible, but it’s still true that in major universities, that we are still lacking. Many institutions still do not even have one professor that teaches that as their specialty.
EMMA: We just need to continue pushing and having more professors who are willing to push for the fact that we need more people, we need more students. Students have, you know I think I’ve discussed this with certainly Deena and Antonia and I have talked about this a lot, students have more power than they think they do. And it was really- we go back to the sixties, right? High school students were the ones who were protesting. They were the blow outs, it was high school students who were saying: we need classes, we need this, we need that, you’re not offering this to us. This exploitation is more than we can handle anymore. And showing, statistically, the kind of ongoing discrimination, right? So, I think that students too, we need to continue helping our students and letting them know that they have more power.
DEENA: I think it is important to the community, to the entire Latino/Latina population, to the society as a whole. Society is richer for knowing who we are. Thank you.
CYNTHIA: Every historian can make a difference. We can make a difference in the classroom, with our publications, in our community. Thank you for this project.
ANTONIA: I thank you and your team profusely. I’m very very grateful that you are doing this project and so I thank you.
EMMA: Thanks for inviting me to be apart of this. ‘cause it is historical. It is important. It is necessary.
Dr. Antonia Castañeda, Dr. Cynthia Orozco, Dr. Deena González, Dr. Emma Pérez
Dr. Lorena Chambers
July 14, 2022 + July 15, 2022
The First 100: 50 Years of Chicanas Changing History
University of Michigan
Regents of The University of Michigan