September 28, 2007

Honoring a Chicana elder, founder of Chicano Studies

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Social activist and educator Gracia Molina de Pick founded the Chicano Studies Department at San Diego Mesa College in 1969.

As part of the college’s 2007 Chicano/Latino Heritage Celebration “A Legacy of Chicana/Latina Leadership,” the Chicano Studies Department will pay homage to Molina de Pick for her contributions to the field of Chicano Studies and social activism in the Mexican communities of San Diego County at an event on October 3, starting at 9:30 a.m. in the San Diego Mesa College Library.

“We’re paying tribute to her legacy in education,” said Cesar Lopez, assistant professor of Chicano Studies at San Diego Mesa College. “She’s our founder and she’s been a leader in terms of education and grass-roots activism. She’s also been a leader in terms of fighting for women’s rights.”

The event, which will include testimonies from Molina de Pick and others that helped found Chicano Studies in the college, will highlight the struggles of the community to have a presence in higher education.

“We want students and the community to know what was it like in the beginnings of the Chicano Studies Department,” Lopez said. “We want to look back and understand some of the struggles that Gracia and other leaders faced in order to establish Chicano Studies in higher education. It’s also a way to celebrate the fact that we’re still here and going strong.”

Molina de Pick, who’s 77, said that Chicano Studies was born as a result of the Chicano Movement and Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The goal of the department was to encourage Mexicans and Chicanos to take pride in their past.

“Through Chicano Studies I tried to increase the awareness that Mexicans and Chicanos should find a positive identity in our Indigenous roots in this continent,” she said. “Our Indigenous past is very glorious, and we have to take pride in that to have a positive present and future.”

Another aspect of Chicano Studies was to encourage students to fight for justice and protection of Mexican-American communities.

Molina de Pick said that she wrote all the curricula for the courses.

She said she arrived in San Diego Mesa College to teach Spanish language and literature in 1966. She founded the Chicano Studies Department in 1969. A few years later she left the college to move to the University of California, San Diego.

Today the Chicano Studies Department at San Diego Mesa College has three tenured-track professors and several adjunct professors, and each semester between 550 and 600 students take courses in the department, Lopez said.

Lopez said that the department will change its name from Chicano Studies to the more inclusive Chicana and Chicano Studies. Also, next academic year the academic program will undergo changes in its curriculum and requirements.

“We’re changing, adapting, and growing,” said Lopez, who teaches courses such as Introduction to Chicano Studies and Chicano culture.

About 17 percent of San Diego Mesa College’s student population is Chicano/Latino, Lopez said.

Rita Sanchez, professor emeritus of English and Chicano Studies at San Diego Mesa College, said that it is important to highlight that it was a woman who founded Chicano Studies.

“We need to honor our founder to recognize that it was a Mexicana woman who established this department. Honoring an elder is a wonderful thing to recognize her work.”

Sanchez said that learning from Chicana leaders like Molina de Pick, Mexicans in the San Diego can overcome social challenges.

“If students take Chicana Studies they learn how we have had to speak out for the rights of Mexican people in the U.S. Now with anti-Mexican sentiments alive these days, we have to work even harder for our rights. We’re constantly moving forwards.”

San Diego Mesa College is located at 7250 Mesa College Dr., in San Diego. For more information on the event, contact Prof. Cesar Lopez at (619) 388-2368.

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