On December 3, 1971, two student organizations came together to bring the Chicano Movement sweeping the nation home to UTEP. La Mesa and MEChA (Movimento Estudantil Chicano deAztlán) presented a list of demands to then UTEP president Dr. Joseph Smiley. The demands included more Chicano faculty representation, relevant classes, and more student services. The situation was brought to a boiling point when President Smiley failed to respond by the given deadline. Frustrated, some 3000 students staged a takeover of the Administration Building. The demonstration focused attention on the tensions and needs of what had become a large part of the student demographic at UTEP. Rocks were thrown, police were called, students were forcibly removed and 34 people were arrested.
Although the events of that day were violent, positive changes resulted from the turmoil. The Chicano Studies Program has existed on campus for over 40 years and offers a variety of classes that focus on the study of Mexican history, culture, and social issues as they relate to the United States. The program has between 20 to 30 graduate students enrolled at any given time. He further states that the “spirit from the struggles of 1971 resonate through the students and faculty today”.
The idea to tell the story of this movement in relation to UTEP was first proposed by Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva , Chair of the Department of History. She feels it is an “important but untold story…the story of the Chicano Movement here on the UTEP campus.” Dr. Leyva approached her graduate students and asked for volunteers to research the movement. Three students stepped forward to volunteer their time and effort, and their research became the foundation for the exhibit.
The exhibit, hosted by the Centennial Museum as part of the Centennial Celebration for UTEP, chronicles the Chicano Movement in El Paso and highlights UTEP’s involvement. Some of what can be seen is artwork from national and local Chicano artists, historical photographs, and newspaper articles that explore various important turning points in the movement. There are firsthand accounts, flyers, letters, pamphlets, and other memorabilia. Another unique aspect of the exhibit is that there are three video interviews available. Dr. Leyva is excited about these interviews because the stories of three firsthand accounts can be viewed. “People will be able to hear their stories, and it adds a whole other dimension to the exhibit.”
Many of the items on display for the exhibit are on loan from the Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. For example, there are flyers, buttons, booklets and articles from the Chicano Services collection, MEChA Vertical file, and the MEChA collection. These collections are available to anyone wishing to research the Chicano movement on the UTEP campus and the surrounding area.
KTEP: STATE OF THE ARTS: VIVA LA CAUSA – FORGING UTEP’S 21ST CENTURY Interview with Dr. Yolanda Leyva and MA History Student, Gustavo Del Hierro
June 7, 2014
“Viva la Causa: Forging UTEP’s 21st Century Demographic” exhibit at the Centennial Museum
Special Collection Department
Interview with Dr. Leyva