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Students at our Pop-up Pachanga in 2019.

Three Units. One Mission.  

Latino Studies is a powerhouse of Latino thought and advocacy at The University of Texas at Austin, fearlessly upholding the mission of ethnic studies by creating space to explore and understand the lives of Latinos in the U.S. while using our knowledge and resources to support Latino communities everywhere. Since 1970, we’ve grown from a student initiative calling for courses on Mexican American topics to a substantial organization of recognized stature encompassing three program units: as the oldest unit, the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) builds on its legacy of collective action by connecting our students to the Austin community through outreach and public events. The Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies (MALS) offers a full spectrum of interdisciplinary courses that challenge traditional narratives through emboldened scholarship. The newest of our units, the Latino Research Institute generates data and research that is vital to sustaining healthy, productive and just environments for Latinos, working closely with policy makers, activists, and other community partners to turn research on topics like immigration, women’s and mental health, and education into practice. Together as Latino Studies, all three units are fiercely committed to the empowerment of students, scholars, and communities for the purpose of realizing a just and affirmative future for all.

  • We consider it inherent to our purpose as an ethnic studies department to document our history, much of it long-silenced, thereby ensuring that every voice is heard and every story told. With this mission in mind, we present our story here in brief, though it must be said that the fight for the right to even tell it was long and hard-fought.

    Our oldest unit, The Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS), was established in 1970, but it was truly born in the years leading up to this, during which Chicano students, inspired by the action of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, demanded representation in the form of Mexican American topics added to the University’s curriculum. Thanks to their collective action, CMAS was established at The University of Texas, just as many other ethnic studies programs were being instituted around the country. Renowned writer and folklorist of border life, Américo Paredes, was named the Center’s first director, and to this day his portrait remains on the walls of our campus office. Today, CMAS builds on its legacy of collective action by connecting our students to the Austin Community through outreach and public events.

    For almost fifty years, we carried on as a Mexican American specialization within Ethnic Studies. It wasn’t until 2014 that the University granted us our very own major, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. In addition to both major and minor undergraduate degrees, the department is one of only a few in the country to offer a Latino Studies doctoral degree.The department continues to grow and distinguish itself through emboldened scholarship that challenges traditional narratives and embraces a dynamic understanding of the Latino experience.

    In 2016, a third unit was added to our department, the Latino Research Initiative, which, in 2019, was officially recognized by the University as an independent research organization and renamed the Latino Research Institute. This newest unit expands the breadth of our knowledge production by generating data and research that is vital to sustaining healthy, productive, and just environments for Latinos. Driven by the community-engaged ethos of implementation science, Latino Research Institute researchers and staff work closely with policy makers, activists, and other community partners to turn research on topics like immigration, women’s and mental health, and education into practice.

    Over the course of fifty years, Latino Studies has grown from a student initiative into a powerhouse of Latino thought and advocacy at The University of Texas at Austin, fearlessly upholding the mission of ethnic studies by creating space to explore and understand the lives of Latinos in the U.S. Together, all three units are fiercely committed to the empowerment of students, scholars, and communities for the purpose of realizing a just and affirmative future for all.

  • Latino vs Latin American

    What's the difference between Latino Studies and Latin American Studies?

    We get that question a lot. Together, we think of ourselves as two parts of the same story...

    One part exists south of the border, teeming with life, tradition, and challenges of its own. But our story, the Latino Studies story, begins en el otro lado. Central to our mission is the interdisciplinary study of what it means to be a Latino in the U.S. today, invoking policy and law, history and activism, and the social sciences and the arts in the production of knowledge about the great beauty and burden of the Latino experience. Our faculty and students engage in topics ranging from the environmental toll of the surveillance infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border, to the evolution of spiritual practice among Latinos and its parallels with 21st century American political and social change, considering each in the context of immigration, race, gender, sexuality, social class, and so on. Students' personal experiences are a vital part of the process by which, together with professors who also share in this collective history, our courses redress the omissions of textbooks and finally let communities of color be seen and heard.

    Even in today’s hostile climate, we boldly tell the stories of Latinos past and present. From the faculty we hire to the events we organize, from the conferences we hold to the new research we support and produce, we believe what distinguishes Latino Studies at UT most is our commitment to fearless scholarship. By being open to topics like sexual and mental health in Latino communities, and including those voices too often pushed outside the margins of our Latino pride, like queer and trans Latinos, we are doing the real, hard work of getting to know ourselves, for it is only with audacity that we can dare to imagine a better future for Latinos. So long as we exist, our students will always find a place to hear the stories never told, and leave with the nerve to go on and write new ones.

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