Establishing El Centro Chicano

The development of El Centro Chicano came at a time (early 1970s) when the Latino population in the United States had been identified by the U.S. Bureau of the Census as the second largest minority in the country, and the largest minority community in California and Texas. Dr. Leo Estrada was working with the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. and provided invaluable information to Raza academics across the country regarding the size and projected growth of our community. USC, therefore, was presented with some interesting challenges. It was sitting next to the largest concentration of people of Mexican origin outside of Mexico City. Chicano students were seeking admission to USC in numbers that surprised even the campus administration. Several large federal grants had been given to USC to study Raza in education, health services, and aging. Moreover, Roberto Haro, USC faculty member had written several grants that had been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to enrich the campus collections of materials on Chicanos and to purchase films and tapes that focused on literature and musical contributions. Meanwhile, several Chicano students had been elected to student body offices, and the co-chairs of MEChA had a significant impact on USC President John Hubbard.

preshubvisit1President Hubbard called a small group of Latinos from around the campus to meet with him, and several developments surfaced. First, a position for alumni relations was created, known as the Mexican American Alumni Programs. Second, as a faculty member in Chicano Studies, Roberto Haro stressed the need for tenured appointments, including joint appointments of Latino faculty. A recruitment program was established and in the following years (1972 through 1980) several Latinos were recruited to faculty positions with tenure at USC, such as David Lopez-Lee in Public Administration.

Finally, Latino students, faculty and staff insisted on establishing a Chicano student center on the USC campus that would provide a broad spectrum of services for Raza students. This led to the establishment of El Centro Chicano in 1972. Raul Vargas was appointed as the first director, serving in an interim position for the first year. The first permanent director, Sy Abrego, was hired shortly thereafter and Rafael Magallan came on as associate director.

Taken from memories of Roberto Haro and Raul Vargas

In the early 1970’s the university allowed all students organizations to submit a request for office space. MEChA, the only Chicano student organization at the time, did so.

centroprotes1The following academic year they learned that their request had been denied due to a lack of space. MEChA students did not feel it was a space issue and took action that caught the attention of the University Administration and President. President Hubbard met with student leaders and soon thereafter established a Chicano Taskforce.

– Taken from memory of Mary Ann Pacheco, MEChA Student Alum