UCI Needs Expanded Chicanx/Latinx Studies

I am disappointed in my prestigious university.  With its renowned faculty, wealth of knowledge, and connections, I expect there to be more resources on Latin American cultures.  As a first-generation American, I want to take classes on my father’s country of origin, Guatemala, at UCI, a world-known research university.  However, I am severely let down by the lack of classes, not only on that specific country, but also on the region the country resides in. The University of California, Irvine primarily focuses on the experience of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans when a quarter of their students identify as Hispanic - a term encompassing multiple nations and cultures. UCI needs to expand their Chicano/Latino Studies Department to have regional focuses in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

I became aware of this issue while taking classes in my major, Political Science. Latinos are often brought up in statistics and introduced as a singular group. Hearing statistics on Latinos is odd as Latinos embrace various experiences. My family’s experience as Guatemalans differs from Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, or other Latinx groups. When asked about the research sample, it is often oversaturated with Mexican participants to represent the entire Latinx population. This problem is not confined to Political Science. An existing major focuses on Mexico and the Mexican-American experience which is inadequate for someone looking to study a different topic in Latinx studies. This existing major is called Chicano/Latino Studies; the word, Chicano, meaning “Someone who is native of, or descends from, Mexico and who lives in the United States.” In the Chicano/Latino studies major, nine classes explicitly cover topics ranging from pre-colonial Mexican history to Chicanx experiences, which is more representation than other Latin countries receive at UCI. Pedro Lastra Pedro Lastra / Unsplash

As the current Latinx major focuses on the experience of Mexicans, it underserves the many other Latin countries. Looking at the descriptions of offered courses in the five majors of Chicano/Latino studies, History, International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish, only two classes explicitly mention Guatemala - (1) U.S. Intervention in Latin America and (2) Revolution and Reaction in Cold War Latin America. Many courses claim to cover several Latin cultures, however given the breadth within the quarter-system time constraints, it limits the depth of information. I am looking to specifically study pre-1950s Guatemala but I understand that creating curricula on the broader region is more feasible. I know I can’t be alone in this yearning.  If I am advocating for Guatemalan or Central American studies courses, I must also advocate for other Latin countries and regions.

Adding regional focuses will benefit everyone, even those not immediately affected. This change will incentivize future Latinx students to choose UCI. As UCI becomes more diverse, it helps prompt further diversity as admitted students will look at the numbers and know they will not be alone. For current Latinx students, it will foster pride as they will learn more about their heritage. For others, it provides more class options for their general education and to learn about the history-rich regions. This solution is feasible as it doesn’t require the structural changes that come with creating a new major.   group of diverse people holding hands Photo by Wylly Suhendra from Unsplash

I want to learn more about my ancestors and our history. I need adequate classes at UCI about Guatemala in order to do so. UCI should expand the Chicano/Latino Studies Department to have a regional focus on the often neglected Central America but we can go beyond that. Together, we can proactively advocate for other Latin American regions - to include classes centered on South America and the Caribbean with corresponding representative faculty. This request is built on the precipice of community building and lifting voices of the marginalized.  

UCI isn’t doing enough. The Undergraduate Central American club and the Graduate Collective have been organizing for Central American spaces since their inception. When UCI planned a Central American Studies Conference, they excluded the students they aimed to include. Central Americans continue to be marginalized and excluded from the narrative.

How can you help?  Sign this petition to support Central American students at UC Irvine.  Here, the Central Americans For Empowerment (CAFE) and the Central American GSC outline four inclusive steps.

This op-ed was written for CHCI’s Public Policy GWU course and edited for Her Campus publication.