RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A New Mexico Hispanic leader upset about the removal of Spanish conquistador monuments is pushing for the state to end its support for Chicano and Native American Studies.
In a letter to University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes, New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens executive director Ralph Arellanes wrote that the state’s largest university should dismantle both programs because they teach Latino students “self-hate” about their Spanish heritage.
Arellanes, who signed that letter in his role of New Mexico LULAC executive director and chair of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, said he has collected stories of Hispanic students “leaving classrooms crying” after being told by professors that Spanish conquistadors participated in genocide against Indigenous populations.
“The Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, New Mexico LULAC and our many expert historians in New Mexico request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns,” Arellanes wrote. “We will be calling for the removal of these courses and programs that are teaching our New Mexico students this kind of hate and complete propaganda.”
Irene Vasquez, the director of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department, said she has heard of no reports of students complaining about courses taught nor crying after classes.
“It’s incredulous,” Vasquez said. “This is not a serious criticism. But we must be doing something right because we are growing.” According to university numbers, enrollment in Chicano studies classes on campus has jumped from 96 in 2011 to 707 last fall.
University of New Mexico spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said the school supports an environment of free and open inquiry and academic freedom for faculty and students.
“If we ignore pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial history and if we reject what careful peer-reviewed historical research tells us about the past, we abandon our opportunity to build better communities in the present,” Blair said in a statement.
Arellanes has previously called for the firing of Vasquez for overseeing a department that has taught courses looking at New Mexico’s history critically. He also has attacked her for being from California.
The demand comes as Albuquerque and the small community of Alcalde removed statues of Spanish conquistadors following racial injustice protests. Some Native Americans in New Mexico have long objected to the public glorification of Spanish conquistadors like Don Juan de Oñate, who they blamed for violence and enslavement of some Indigenous populations during the region’s Spanish colonial period.
But some Hispanic activists, like Arellanes, who trace their family lineage to early Spanish settlers, regularly celebrate Oñate and other similar figures.
Arellanes’ suggestion drew sharp reactions from civil rights advocates. New Mexico LULAC State Director Juan Garcia said Arellanes’ demand was not the stand of the civil rights group in the state.
“Our desire is to have factual discussions, not (to) dismantle (programs) or fire individuals,” Garcia said.
State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, a former national LULAC board member, also said Arellanes did not represent the views of many civil rights advocates who pushed for the creation of Chicano and Native studies classes.
“Why would anyone who purports to support and be a member of a national civil rights Latino organization, LULAC, want to abolish this over 50-year effort?” asked Roybal Caballero, who also has worked as an adjunct instructor.
National LULAC Treasurer Pablo Martinez said Wednesday that Arellanes' positions don't represent the opinions or position of NM LULAC or the National LULAC organizations. “National LULAC supports promoting positive race relations at all levels within our American society,” Martinez said.
Ernesto Todd Mireles, a Rocky Mountain regional representative for the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, called the demand an attack on academic freedom.
“That’s just stupid,” said Mireles, a Chicano Studies professor at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. “Not being able to learn to think critically and ask questions is more self-hating.”