Our Story


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.