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Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Retiring Mexican-American Studies director helped cultivate cultural conversations


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Tatcho Minidiola served as the director of CMAS for 43 years and helped both students and faculty supported by his involvement in the League of Mexican American Students while in school himself. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

Empty bookshelves frame the small office while boxes, filled with old videocassette tapes, lie on the floor next to a desk, covered with scattered newspapers on top. This is it, the last moments Tatcho Mindiola sits in his office as the Director of Mexican-American Studies.

As the director of the CMAS for 43 years, his determination overcame obstacles in order to make the center successful for future students.

“With his leadership, focus, and vision (and) the support of faculty and the community, he has been able to develop, one of the most important centers for the study of Mexican American Studies in Texas,” history professor Guadalupe San Miguel said.

Mindiola first came to UH as a student after serving seven years in the Army. In 1962, days before the new semester started, he was given his discharge papers and spent the next six and a half years finishing his degree in business.

Unsatisfied, he returned to school to complete a masters in Sociology at UH and a doctorate in Sociology at Brown University.

In 1974, he returned to Houston to accept a joint appointment in Sociology and Mexican American Studies. Six years later, he accepted the position as Director of the Center of Mexican American Studies— not knowing the impact he would leave behind years later.

“Very early on, the department pursued an effort to get funding from the state which lead to provide fellowships, money for our College Career Day, and helped encourage more Latino students to attend UH,” said CMAS Associate Director Lorenzo Cano. “Our efforts have been a valuable catalyzed of making the campus a Hispanic serving constitution.”

Mindiola’s efforts for improving the CMAS was influenced by his involvement as a student in the League of Mexican American Students (LMAS), which was later changed to Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) and the Racia Unida political party during the Chicano movement.

“I think his motivation came from that Chicano movement in the late 60’s when (he was part of) the first group of Mexican Americans who attended the University throughout the country,” San Miguel said. “They began to realize that that the University could be utilized to promote an understanding of Mexicans in the U.S. by using the knowledge and skills you obtain in the program.”

Mindiola’s persistent determination and hard work lead the center to develop a minor in Mexican American Studies, a visiting scholar’s program, research and graduate fellowships, leadership training, community services and a recruitment and retention component.

“One of his greatest accomplishments is that CMAS is still a strong and vital center after 40 years,” said Associate Professor and Director of History Monica Perales. “Of course, many students have passed through its programs. These many individual’s success stories will be his greatest legacy.”

Mindiola’s retirement announcement was a surprise to both faculty and students who have seen him change the center over the years.

“I never wanted him to retire and it saddens me to see him step down because he has always supported my research efforts,” San Miguel said. “He’s been a good mentor and provided me with guidance, but I know he will be around,”

Mindiola’s struggles and success with the CMAS has greatly changed UH, but his influence on the community, faculty and students will live on through his work.

Mindiola’s plans are to read, write, and rest as he begins his journey of completing his book, “Race Talk in Mexican American Cantina,” and  completing other projects.

“I wish I was just now taking over,” Mindiola said. “I would’ve moved aggressively to get Mexican American Studies as a major, but the new director has the capacity to take the (center) into a new level. I think the university has just begin to scratch its greatest (success).”

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