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Civil rights group rebuffs member, supports ethnic studies

The nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization said Friday that it strongly supports ethnic studies programs in colleges and won’t participate in the “glorification of historical figures” or defend monuments that eulogize violence like those around Spanish conquistadors.

The League of United Latin American Citizens said ethnic studies programs in universities across the U.S. should be defended and vowed to celebrate “Indo-Latinx-Afro history” after a member publicly called for some programs at the University of New Mexico to be censored.

“LULAC supports the growth and establishment of Ethnic Studies programs and departments especially those that address the hidden, suppressed and silenced voices of our Latinx, Chicanx and Indigenous ancestors, past and future,” the group said in a statement. “A central component of Ethnic Studies is the story of survival and resistance against colonialism in the Americas … a story that includes the destruction, suppression, and marginalization of the original peoples of the Americas.”

The statement came after New Mexico LULAC Executive Director Ralph Arellanes wrote to the president of the state’s largest university that the school should dismantle some ethnic studies programs and censor classes as they teach Latino students “self-hate” about their Spanish heritage.

Arellanes had been upset about the recent removals of Spanish conquistador monuments in New Mexico. After The Associated Press reported his demands, Arellanes denied on social media that he was referring to Chicano studies and Native American studies but declined to say what programs or classes he wanted dismantled.

Arellanes’ letter drew strong condemnation from LULAC members around the country and from some UNM graduates.

“It is painfully obvious to anyone reading his letter that he is referencing Chicano studies and Native American studies classes,” said alumnus Kurly Tlapoyawa, a senior archaeologist. “Or are we to believe he was talking about intro to landscaping?”

New Mexico LULAC, the civil rights group’s state arm, said in a statement it regrets that the letter by Arellanes was interpreted as a stance by the organization. “Mr. Arellanes’ opinions expressed in this letter are solely his own, and his writing as a LULAC representative was not an authorized action,” the group said. “His letter is NOT endorsed by this organization.”

LULAC officials said they are looking into possible disciplinary actions against Arellanes.

Chicano studies programs around the U.S. have faced efforts to disband them. Arizona enacted a law in 2010 eliminating Mexican American studies in schools over charges that they “promote(d) the overthrow of the United States government.”

In 2017, A federal judge in Arizona ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of Mexican American students by eliminating a Mexican American studies program.