August 24, 2007

Yolanda Retter Vargas

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Yolanda Retter Vargas, Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) Librarian and Archivist, on Saturday, August 18, 2007.

Yolanda had been at the CSRC since 2003. I knew she was the perfect librarian for the Center when she showed up for the first day of work with her tool belt. Within a week she had upgraded our storage facilities and was overseeing the installation of our compact shelving system. Yolanda turned the Library into a dynamic site that was always filled with students and scholars from around the world. She involved (and empowered) students in developing our Library holdings and services, increasing by 400 percent the number of students involved as interns, volunteers, and workers each academic year. In her four years at the Center, Yolanda oversaw a significant expansion of Library services, the development of the archival program, and a new effort to ensure digital access to special collections. Not only did our collections double in this period, but so did the number of people visiting and using the CSRC Library and Archive. In the last year, Yolanda also started two new efforts to broaden CSRC Library and Archive holdings: The LGBTIQ Initiative and the Mujeres Initiative. These initiatives have already resulted in major new holdings, and they will continue as an ongoing program and priority at the Center.

The above highlights from Yolanda’s many accomplishments do not begin to capture her uniqueness. I first met Yolanda in 1992, when I was just starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. Yolanda was a student in the PhD program, but she already had advance degrees in library science and social work. In the first class she took with me, Yolanda announced herself as a Latina lesbian separatist (or so I recall), and she scoffed at my reading assignments as little more than “po-mo homo theory.” We were off to a great start! Seriously. Yolanda was exactly the type of “student” I needed. She was grounded, committed, and opinionated, but she was also intellectually curious—a lifelong student. Learning mattered to her because it could help change the world. Even after she started working for me at the Center, she enrolled in a certificate program in the UCLA Department of Information Studies to obtain specialized training as an archivist. She was set to teach a course in the department this fall on community-based archives—something the department chair and I will now teach in her honor and according to her wishes.

The CSRC’s mission is simple and to the point: “Research that makes a difference.” Yolanda exemplified that goal in everything that she did at the Center, and in the many other things she did in the world. But Yolanda knew that sometimes research is not enough. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Yolanda came to me asking for an extended leave so that she could go to New Orleans. “I feel that it is the most important thing I can do right now.” Alas, Yolanda’s knees had other ideas, and she was unable to volunteer, but that same spirit informed everything she did up until the end. She will be missed.

Chon A. Noriega
Director and Professor

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