Cinco de Mayo marked by memories

by Paul Concannon

On a historically important holiday for Mexican-Americans, one University department concentrated its efforts on the future of Chicano studies.
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the Chicano Studies Department, along with La Raza Student Cultural Center, hosted a series of events Tuesday to celebrate the holiday.
Cinco de Mayo — which means the fifth of May in Spanish — commemorates a Mexican victory in 1862 over the French army. The Chicano movement in the 1960s adopted the holiday as a symbol of overcoming oppression.
More than 20 people gathered in Coffman Union to listen to keynote speaker Raymond Paredes, chairman of the Center for Chicano Studies at University of California-Los Angeles, retrace the rocky road Chicano studies programs have traversed and the problems still confronting them.
Paredes, a professor of English and American Studies at UCLA, gave the keynote address, titled “Chicano Studies at the Cross Roads: Past, Present and Future,” as part of La Raza’s final day in a five-day series of Cinco de Mayo events.
Paredes said in the late 1960s and early ’70s most of the universities that set up Chicano studies programs did so in response to political pressure and without an appropriate academic structure in place.
“The predictable result was that many Chicano studies programs suffered an early death,” Paredes said. “Others, like the one at UCLA, languished for nearly twenty years.”
What these programs lacked were people qualified to teach Chicano studies, the research and literature with which to teach it and a large number of students who were interested in taking Chicano studies courses, Paredes said.
In 1993, UCLA students who thought the Chicano studies program was in danger of being cut staged a hunger strike and other protests which brought about the creation of the Center for Chicano Studies.
“He gave a wonderful summary of the history of Chicano studies,” said Guillermo Rojas, chairman of the Chicano Studies Department at the University.
However, the department, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, never suffered from the problems Paredes spoke about because it received support from the University and the community, Rojas said.
Along with Paredes’ speech, La Raza organized a number of other events to commemorate Cinco de Mayo.
La Raza board member Conrado Alvarez organized a Mexican cuisine workshop that featured his mother Dona Alvarez’s cooking. While Dona Alvarez did most of the cooking, Conrado Alvarez explained to about 30 people crammed into La Raza’s lounge the steps involved in the cooking.
They made flour tortillas and Chiles Rellenos, which are chiles stuffed with a variety of vegetables, meats and cheeses.
“There are different styles of cooking in Mexico,” said Conrado Alvarez. “In central Mexico you see lots of vegetable cooking.”
Dona Alvarez also cooked the food for a dinner La Raza held Tuesday evening to mark the end of Cinco de Mayo.