NACCS 2020 Scholar Award Statement

by Albert Camarillo

Editors note: In April 2020, we would have found ourselves at the Sheraton Downtown Hotel celebrating our honorees for 2020. We planned our awards night dinner around a room overlooking the Seattle skyline at night. But we could not let the moment just pass without recognizing our recipients. Even though we could not physically celebrate Dr. Camarillo, Scholar, and Dr. Salinas, Book Award, we provide you with some comments that would have been shared with each of you if we had been in Seattle.  Please take the time to recognize their contributions to our field, we are sure they would be happy to hear from you. Thank you.

Albert Camarillo

When I received word I was selected for the 2020 NACCS “Scholar Award” and knowing this award recognizes lifetime contributions to Chicana/o Studies, the news set off an avalanche of memories about the organization as well as reflections on my career in helping to develop the field of Chicana/o history and Latina/o Studies. I was part of that small group of graduate students, and even fewer faculty, in 1973-74 to participate in launching the National Association of Chicano Studies (originally the National Association of Chicano Social Scientists) when we held our first conference at the University of California, Irvine. Most of us were scholars-in-training, the first cohort of Chicana and Chicano graduates to enter graduate school, and we were excited about creating an organization that would facilitate our intellectual development and serve as a platform for our social activist agendas. We were few in number but great in spirit.

What made us different from mainstream emerging scholars was our commitment to racial justice and social change and to applying skills learned as scholars, whenever we could, to highlight historical and contemporary problems that defined the Mexican experience in the United States. The legacies of “Jaime Crow” –the generations of discrimination and racial oppression of Chicanas/os and other people of color—haunted us, yet propelled us to make a difference as we came of age and began careers as faculty in colleges and universities across the land. NACCS played a critical role for all of us as we took steps to broaden the reach of Chicana/o Studies on our respective campuses and to recruit more students and faculty through regional Focos and annual meetings. The early years of NACSS provided the camaraderie and intellectual exchange that didn’t exist, for the most part, on our respective campuses. As the first generation of Chicana/o faculty, we were swimming in the waters of traditional white institutions that were adjusting for the first time to people of color on campus, sometimes making it very difficult for us to stay afloat and sometimes throwing us a lifeline as we learned to navigate new environments.

Looking back on a career that spans over forty years in higher education, many of the relationships I formed with NACCS colleagues in the early decades of the organization played an important role in the development of interdisciplinary centers and program I helped found both at Stanford and nationally. The founding of the Stanford Center for Chicano Research in 1980 was inspired, in part, by several Chicana/o students and faculty who, like me, cut their intellectual teeth through participation in NACCS conferences. Similarly, when we established the Inter-University Program for Latino Research in 1983, we realized a consortium of Chicana/o, Puerto Rican, and other Latino university centers (the founding centers were at Stanford, UCLA, Hunter College-City University of New York, and University of Texas at Austin; IUPLR now has 24 member centers) needed to join forces to attract support from major national foundations to fund basic and public policy research to advance knowledge about Latinx communities. And, when the Stanford Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity formed in 1996, the lessons of multidisciplinary study and collaborative work which I learned early on as a NACCS member helped me steer this center in many productive ways.

Although the status of Chicana/o and Latinx representation in our nation’s colleges and universities is far greater than when a small group of us entered graduate schools in the early 1970s, our numbers are still far too few. The struggle to maintain our collective presence in higher education institutions cannot be taken for granted and, as current events demonstrate so well, the progress we have achieved will be contested. The critical issues of social justice that inspired so many of us long ago to enter higher education as a means to an end to fight against racial inequality loom over us in seemingly more profound ways in the contemporary period.

As NACCS played a key role in promoting scholarly connections and social activism in my generation, I am sure it will continue to do so for younger Chicanas and Chicanos in the future. As a recipient of the organization’s 2020 “Scholar Award,” I am humbled to join the pantheon of former awardees, many of whom were comaradas when we launched the Chicana/o Movement in higher education decades ago. Muchísimas gracias a todos.

Fall 2020, No. 46 No. 1

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