CMAS director is leading a new era
Two months into the job the incoming Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies said her new position is a pleasure and a privilege.
The new director, Pamela Anne Quiroz, hopes to sustain what former director Tatcho Mindiola began, but she is candid about her goal: to promote national recognition of the center.
She wants to give Latinos a voice on the issues that impact Latinos through national recognition, and she wants people to pay attention.
“It’s not enough (to) speak, you must be heard,” Quiroz said. “Giving a voice, lending a voice is just one thing but we need to have people hear us and pay attention to that voice.”
She plans to obtain a voice through outreach, communication, research grants and policy among other strategies.
Kinesiology senior Jazheel Muller said Quiroz seems like she’s trying to better the advancement for the Latino community by raising awareness for higher education.
“They currently have been seeking sponsors to promote for more scholarships to get more Mexican American students to come out to the University and pursue a higher degree,” Muller said.
Quiroz’s short-term goal is to communicate and connect UH’s Hispanic Alumni Association and reconnect alumni from the program, expand the center’s networks and reach out to the community and keep people informed about plans.
She also is working on including Latinos of all ethnic groups and of any legal status on campus.
“(Quiroz) wants to bring some really good things, different input, different strategy to it, and I think it’s going to raise it more for the center,” human development and family studies senior Kimberly Belez said. “She has more of a youthful approach, so hopefully we’ll be able to bring in more students that aren’t in the Academic Achievers Program, and I see it growing.”
A long-term is to institutionalize the research that CMAS is going to, and have already, developed, to promote their work. She believes that what CMAS has accomplished thus far is a model for the city and country.
“Any time you have new leadership, you have the potential for a lot of new ideas,” said Lorenzo Cano, associate director for CMAS. “You have the potential for new programming, new programs, and it just gives, I think, the current staff the opportunity to regroup, re-energize and recommit to the goals and the objectives of what this center was established for.
Quiroz said she takes the role seriously and recognizes and thanks former director. Mindiola set a standard of leadership and accomplishment on behalf of the Mexican American and Latino community, Quiroz said.
“What brought me (to UH) was Tatcho Mindiola and the work that this center has done,” Quiroz said. “What better way to spend the rest of my career than trying to further this work. They are very large shoes to fill, but I have never found a position in my entire career more satisfying.”
Quiroz was born in Kansas but raised in Missouri. She lived in Missouri until she went away to school at Iowa State. From Iowa, she moved to Illinois to attend the University of Chicago. After she graduated in 1993, she taught for a year at Macalester College in Minnesota.
She considers her first genuine job one at the University of Massachusetts, where she spent seven years. She later went back to teach sociology at the University of Illinois—Chicago, where she was also an affiliate faculty member of the Latino studies program.
She remember asking her graduate students if she was an authentic Latina, and their response didn’t surprise her.
“No one’s hand went up and I laughed, (but) I sort of knew that by that point,” Quiroz said.
The students said that since she did not speak Spanish, she was not an authentic Latina. Everyone in the room was bilingual. This generated a discussion about what it means to be Latino which was part of her research — what makes a person authentic, in particular, what makes a Latino authentic.
Students argued it was speaking Spanish, or it was marrying within your Latino race, or eating the food and dancing. In her experience, many people believe that authenticity equals speaking Spanish, but she said it does not.
“I do not speak Spanish,” Quiroz said. “There’s a significant segment of Latinos who do not speak Spanish. I am third generation. Most of us are products of our context and my parents were severely treated in school for speaking Spanish. So, they brought us up not to speak Spanish.”
She took courses in Spanish, but said she would not call herself bilingual. She said that being bilingual is on a continuum.
“I think the obvious, first of all, is (that) I’m Mexican,” Quiroz said. “I may not speak Spanish, but there has never been a question, my identity in this world, my experience of the world is as a Mexican. I’m proud to be that, and I’m proud of what this center has accomplished.”