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Growing Hispanic population could lead to new major

Forty-two years after the creation of the Center for the Mexican American Studies, its students and leaders are looking to take the center into the future by offering a major in Mexican American Studies.

“I think it’s the time for us to do that,” said CMAS Associate Director and Mexican-American urban studies professor Lorenzo Cano. “We’ve been here a long time and there is an interest among (not only) the growing Mexican American students on campus, but also the non-Mexican American students.”

Though not being offered or proposed in the immediate future, Cano said the growing Mexican American population of the country — and more specifically Houston — would allow for the major.

Environmental science and teachHOUSTON junior Janet Rodriguez, a California native and transfer student, said she was disappointed to find out that a major in Mexican American Studies was not offered by the University. She declared the minor instead and became involved in its programs.

“As a Mexican American growing up in Orange County, California, I was always reminded of the struggle (of my) forefathers, (specifically concerning) education,” Rodriguez said. “I like to say I was born with (the history) engraved in my heart because my home state is where (much of that) history was made.”

Owing its creation to pressure from Mexican American students at the University CMAS was created in the fall of 1972 and originally included a certificate program, Cano said. That changed in the late 1980s when the certificate was transformed into a minor.

Today the minor has a 90-student enrollment, and he estimates that 90 percent of students both in the minor and the minor-oriented classes are of Mexican descent, of which 40 percent are native Mexicans. The remaining 10 percent he attributes to a combination of non-Mexican Hispanics as well as smaller portion of non-Hispanic students.

“We would love to see a greater diversity of students taking our courses, particularly because of the change in demographic – it will be important for the students graduating from the University of Houston to have a much better understanding of the Mexican American community and the Mexican American people,” Cano said. “I think this will help in minimizing stereotypes and make them better understand public policies and certain ones may work against or hinder Mexican Americans.”

Though Cano said he has seen an increase in programs such as the Academic Achievers Program, a recruiting and retention scholarship and program for Stephen F. Austin Senior High School students, he attributes a “level-off” of enrollment in the minor to less student freedom in the classes that they take.

“I wouldn’t advocate just taking whatever and never graduating, but I think students are being advised now-a-days to not to take anything they don’t need,” Cano said. “It keeps students from exploring a course that 10 or 20 years ago they would have taken because they found them interesting and then decided to minor in. I think the advisors are well-intended, (but) I really do think it limits the freedom of students to explore.”

Alumna Becky Williams Young, who took two Mexican American studies program in her UH career, said that despite being Anglo-American she had always been interested in the Hispanic culture and needed the classes for one of her minors.

“There’s a lot about history that you don’t know because you get the edited version of it,” Williams Young said. “There’s a lot I earned that that I couldn’t believe actually happened. It opened my eyes to a different culture, and I learned a lot of differences between what we are typically taught about history.”

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