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Finally! A Degree

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Students interested in Chicano Studies will finally be able to major in it at the University of New Mexico.

That was a long time coming for three Lobos who have spent the better part of their college careers active in the growing program at UNM.

The regents’ approval came in February, many months after program director Irene Vasquez started working with faculty to create a curriculum that would be approved by the Faculty Senate and eventually the regents.

While Chicana and Chicano Studies has been around at UNM for about 40 years, it’s been small in scope and lacked a degree program. Now, students can major in it, and Vasquez hopes to expand the program so that it eventually becomes a department. About 600 students are currently enrolled.

That expansion, which would include a master’s degree, may not be so far-fetched for a program that’s so revered. When Vasquez began surveying students and faculty about creating the bachelor’s degree, she found overwhelming support.

“Everywhere we went it was ‘yes, yes, yes,'” she said. “It would be pretty obvious that this is a critical program that can position UNM to help all students, not just Latino students.”

Some of those students include Senaida Garcia, Carolina Rodriguez and Andrea Valenzuela, who in the past had other degree plans but had been active in the program. All three are now majoring in Chicana and Chicano studies. Here are their stories:

Finally!After 40 years of Chicano Studies at UNM, students there can now earn a degree in it

Senaida Garcia

Garcia, a senior, is majoring in media arts but will add a degree in Chicana and Chicano studies. An aspiring filmmaker, Garcia joined the Chicano studies program about two years ago and has been taking courses for a minor in it since.

“It just has opened a lot of doors for me,” Garcia said.

The Albuquerque native says the program pushed her to get involved with various nonprofits, such as Basement Films, a program that supports experimental and independent film-making. Garcia has also volunteered with El Centro de La Raza, a civil rights organization, and Project for New Mexico Graduates of Color.

She said the values that the Chicana and Chicano studies program has taught – volunteering and community engagement are two examples – have given her a new purpose.

“My goal is to be a filmmaker and to work with the community. I also want to teach,” she said.

Carolina Rodriguez

Rodriguez doesn’t think she’d still be at UNM were it not for Vasquez and the program.

A native of northern California, Rodriguez came here on scholarship but got into trouble and wound up homeless, she said.

She enrolled in a Chicano studies class, and “it was amazing.”

She hasn’t stopped taking courses yet, and credits the guidance of the program and its director for keeping her in line.

Set to graduate in two years, Rodriguez hopes to go to law school and stay active in the community, a habit she learned through the program.

“There’s a big emphasis on activism and on helping your community,” she said.

Andrea Valenzuela

Valenzuela hopes to teach mathematics one day. Majoring in Chicana and Chicano studies will help her do that well, she said.

“I want to be an educator, and I always wanted to tell my kids of amazing stories…” she said.

“I grew up in Albuquerque and I didn’t really feel I had much schooling about New Mexico culture in public schools,” she said.

Valenzuela said she has loved learning the history of Chicanos in her home state and hopes to share that knowledge.