Mexican American and Latina/o Studies | College of Liberal Arts
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Mission Statement

In the 1960s, Mexican American student activists at the University of Texas at Austin agitated for the creation of an academic program that reflected their lives, experiences, and ways of knowing. From their efforts, in 1970, UT created the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS), with Américo Paredes named its first director. Over the past fifty years, UT has become an important scholarly center for Mexican American, Chicano/a/x, and Latino/a/x Studies. What was once a small center borne of struggle is now a center, a research institute, and department that offers bachelor’s and doctoral degrees.

The Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies (MALS) is comprised of faculty members whose teaching and research are at the forefront of innovation in areas of study including: immigration, borders, policing, race, language, gender, sexuality, class, public health, culture, indigeneity, performance, disability, digital humanities and more. Our interdisciplinary faculty earn fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the School for Advanced Research, win grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, run labs for conducting the most cutting edge social scientific research, and use their expertise to serve their local community. MALS faculty understand their work as continuing the liberatory struggle that created this space in the first place and seek to provide students with a rigorous education that acknowledges that history and prepares them to be smart, ethical, and politically-minded contributors to society.


Let's start with why ethnic studies programs exist at all.

"As an interdisciplinary scholarly field, ethnic studies is about self-respect and self-determination. It’s about racialized groups -- workers, students, scholars, organizers and others -- refusing to be viewed or gazed upon from a Eurocentric paradigm as inferior or less than. It’s about rejecting the scholarly practice of being objects of studies. Instead, we demand to be the subjects in this equation. As subjects, we don’t need outsiders writing our stories, narrating our histories and planning our futures.

As subjects, we, too, create knowledge!"

From “The Right to Ethnic Studies in Higher Education,” by Alvaro Huerta. 

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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 the 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.


Staged reading from CMAS archives

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We consider it inherent to the purpose of ethnic studies to document our history, much of it long-silenced. By doing this, we ensure that every voice is heard and every story is told. 

Here is our story in brief, but know 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 then, 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.

College of Liberal Arts

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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 an independent 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, 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.