For 34 of its 42 years, the University of Houston Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) has had Professor Tatcho Mindiola at the helm. Director since 1980, Mindiola will retire this fall. Pamela A. Quiroz, a professor of sociology most recently from the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), will succeed him.
“It has been quite a ride, and I have enjoyed every minute, but it’s time for me to move on to the next phase of my life,” Mindiola said. “I always knew I would know when it was time, and this is it.”
Mindiola’s association with CMAS began in the tumultuous days of the 1970s, when civil rights demands were heard on university campuses across the nation. The Center for Mexican American Studies was born into this climate in 1972, the year Mindiola became the first joint appointment at UH, hired as faculty in the sociology department and Mexican American studies.
“Members from the Mexican American Youth organization, a student group on campus, wrote the proposal, sat on the university committee and lobbied the administration to establish the Center for Mexican American Studies,” he said.
“Many doubted that it would survive, but the skeptics were proved wrong. More than 40 years later, we are not only still here but thriving.”
In his three decades of leadership, Mindiola has grown the center to become an academic unit with several major components: teaching, research and publications, recruitment and retention, leadership training, academic advising and community service.
“Houston is an important city for Latinos, and the future of the University must include a Center for Mexican American Studies that plays an important role in pursuing greater educational attainment, research about the Latino community and celebration of culture heritage,” he said.
CMAS now offers a broad spectrum of public and scholarly programs, such as the Visiting Scholars Program, the Graduate Fellowships and the Academic Achievers Program. To date, CMAS has recruited 39 visiting scholars from across the country to pursue research on the Latino experience, assisted more than 58 graduate fellows to hone their research and mentored hundreds of at-risk high school students to become the first in their families to graduate from college. CMAS also offers students the opportunity to minor in Mexican American studies.
“Although we’ve made important strides, we still have a ways to go before we achieve greatness,” Mindiola said. “Central to our long-term success is funding. Our established endowment begins to ensure our long-term viability to significantly raise the educational level of our community.”
Professor Quiroz began her tenure at the University of Houston and the Center for Mexican American Studies in fall 2015. She says two words attracted her to CMAS —Tatcho Mindiola.
“He is a personal hero of mine. I believe in today’s world we often lose sight of our heroes. We need them to inspire us. Tatcho inspires me, and I am honored to follow in his footsteps,” she said.
A sociologist, Quiroz’s research interests focus on identity development as it occurs in different social contexts: the impact of school organization on the development of student identities; how English speaking Latinos navigate ethnic identity and ethnic authenticity; the intersecting identities of people who engage in personal advertising and the identity development of transracially adopted children.
“Children are frequently touted as our future and as our most prized resource, yet as a collective, they represent another disempowered, marginalized and exploited group whose interests are rarely served,” she said. “Latino children are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population, and it is imperative we attend to their well-being.”
Quiroz has been a faculty affiliate for the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at UIC and a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for the Advancement of the Behavioral and Social Sciences. She has published extensively in various academic journals, including the Journal of Family Issues, the Journal of Research on Adolescence, Childhood and the Sociology of Education. Among the articles she has authored: “Adoption in a Color Blind Society” (Rowman and Littlefield), “School as Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Urban Place: Children’s Perceptions of Safety, Migration & Community” (Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research) and “The Silencing of Latino Student ‘Voice’: Puerto Rican and Mexican Narratives in eighth grade and high school.”
“I look forward to working with staff, colleagues and administrators to carry on the work of CMAS and to build on existing relationships (and develop new ones) to serve the Latino community,” she said. “Part of that effort involves broadening the center’s reach, promoting interdisciplinary collaborations and expanding its research component.”
Mindiola says he is most proud of laying the foundation for CMAS’ future, which includes a growing endowment. He’s hopeful the coming years will include a focused effort to establish a major in Mexican American studies, develop a more public research agenda and the construction of a physical facility for the center.
Mindiola says his future plans will include reading, writing and devoting time to his health and family. The University has conferred on him the title of Professor Emeritus.
“I have had the benefit of working with dedicated people, colleagues, staff, donors, legislators and partners, who have made CMAS what it is today, and to them I say ‘thank you,’” he said.