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Number One? Not for Long.


By Lilia Fernandez

Another debate has erupted on campus, Recently the issue of Latino faculty hiring and Latino studies has received much attention from administrators, students and faculty. It seems that many in the community believe that this is simply a phase in the Latino community--that soon enough, the students will drop the issue, stop bothering the deans and watch the storm die down.

This, however, is not the case.

The students involved with the fight of Latino professors and Latino studies won't drop the issue. What we seek is academic excellence. What we want is to improve out education. What is so terribly wrong with that? Harvard needs to understand that this is a just cause.

Our efforts aren't driven by some ephemeral obsession with self-glorification of ethnic pride. Our efforts come from the frustration of not seeing any brown faces lecturing in our class-rooms and from the earnest belief that Latino faculty can contribute a great deal to this campus.

Latino studies are as valuable a field as any other already taught in the curriculum. The study of Latino communities in the U.S. sheds much light on government, sociology, history, social studies and other fields.

Yet this multidisciplinary field of study isn't even recognized at Harvard. It is a shame that the top university in the nation doesn't have a Latino Studies Department or even related courses. Many other prestigious universities have surpassed this.

The reality is that Latinos are becoming an increasingly important part of American society in many ways. Latino professors and Latino studies courses at Harvard would educate the community about the fastest growing minority group in the country.

How many students of American history realize that at the same time the colonists were settling the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Mexican people were already in the present-day Southwest? How many Harvard students know exactly how Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the U.S.? How many students can actually cite when Puerto Ricans began immigrating to the mainland U.S. in large numbers?

The ignorance of Americans has led them to believe that Latinos are a very recent immigrant group in this country. This is simply not true. Mexican-Americans have been here long before colonists started to move West. Puerto Ricans have been here since the early part of the century.

How many Americans even realize that when the U.S. took the land in the Southwest, there was a large Mexican population there which was promised full citizenship under the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty? How many Harvard students know that in the 1930s, the U.S. government contracted Mexican laborers to build the railroads, to mine the coal mines and to work the fields of the Southwest? In 1954, Congress made this program a law.

Even today, as much as the American government may deny it, it is fully aware that illegal Mexican labor is an integral part of the Southwest's economy. Were it not for the cheap labor which Mexicans have historically provided, the Southwest would never be developed to the extent that it is today.

These facts have tremendous socio-economic implications for Mexican-Americans as a group. Yet Harvard fails to see the significance of this. This history isn't taught to elementary school students, and it isn't taught when they come to college. These facts are as much a part of the history of the United States as are the pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.

Latino studies is not an attempt to glorify Latinos and suddenly make them a part of American history. We have been a part of American history for as long as Europeans. The true collective history of this country lies in the study of all of the people who have contributed to the formation of the United States.

I know about the history of the pilgrims, the settlement of the 13 colonies and the American Revolution. Yet how many American students know about the history of expansion in the Southwest, the discrimination against Mexicans in public schools and the social, economic and political exclusion of this group when settlers took over their land? How can we study who we are and where we come from without looking at the complete picture?

Even more important, however, is not that we should study our true collective history but that we look around and see the people living with us.

Latinos today make up about 8 percent of the U.S. population, according to census data. This figure is projected to increase to 9.4 percent by the year 2000 and to 10.8 percent by 2010. By 2025, Latinos will be the largest group in the U.S. In California and Texas, Latinos already account for more than one-quarter of the populations. In five metropolitan areas, Latinos comprise more than half of the total population. This is reality. The study of Latino communities in the U.S. is going to be very important to the graduates Harvard turns out.

Harvard has too great a responsibility as the educator of the country's leaders not to have any Latino professors and not to have any Latino studies courses. Harvard must keep its promise of giving its students a solid education.

Have we forgotten why Harvard is number one? It's because of its top-rate professors, the depth and breadth of the curriculum and the 11-to-one student-faculty ratio--but Latinos are nowhere incorporated in that picture.

They aren't included in the pool of top-rate professors or in the curriculum. Harvard boasts that 8 percent of its undergraduates are Hispanic. Yet those numbers aren't paralleled in the Faculty, where Latinos are very poorly represented. There are currently four tenured Latino professors out of the 394 in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. That's 1 percent.

Three of them are in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department. And if you ask any Latino student active in Raza or La O, he or she could probably name only one of those professors (most likely because those professors aren't American Latinos but nationals from their own countries).

Our efforts to bring Latino faculty to Harvard are not selfish or self-interested. We aren't a small interest group trying to advance our own cause for the sole benefit of our community. On the contrary, we want to see Latino professors and Latino studies courses respected by the entire campus.

This won't simply benefit Latino students of Latino professors but it will benefit non-minority students to a greater extent. Average students who have never even been exposed to Latinos in the U.S. will be at a loss when they enter the workplace. But who will be to blame?

The fact that most Harvard students have never been educated by a Latino or Latina at all (much less by one at Harvard) makes quite a statement. We need to reconcile the disparity between that number and the number of Latinos in the United States.

Of course, the counter-argument here is that there aren't enough Latino Ph.D.s in the country. My question, then, is: What is Harvard doing to encourage Latinos to pursue Ph.D.s? Does Harvard actively recruit Latinos for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences?

If the University is going to argue that there's not a large enough pool, then they should be trying to target Latino undergrads and grad students to take on academic careers in order to increase the size of the that pool.

Another argument is that the only qualified professors are already at good schools and that Harvard doesn't want to steal them away from these schools. Why not? That's what Harvard usually does--take the best of the best from all the schools in the nation. That is presumably how it gets its outstanding faculty.

There are many first-rate Latino scholars at Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, the University of Texas, Northwestern, the University of Chicago and, yes, even Yale. Yet Harvard, the leader and example for others to follow, falls far behind.

When speaking about Latino faculty, there is a tendency to question their credentials and qualifications, What makes anyone think that simply because scholars are Latino, their research, work or methods will be anything less than their non-Latino counterparts?

So many times I hear, "Well, if we are going to bring Latino faculty here, we have to make sure that their work is of high quality, that they follow standard methodology in their fields..." Of course we do. This is Harvard, and it settles for only the best. But why do some people automatically assume that because a scholar is Latino, he or she is not as qualified?

Instead of questioning the value and the qualifications of Latino faculty and Latino studies, Harvard should be looking at itself with embarrassment and shame.

It has disregarded Latino professors for too long, and it hasn't recognized the dearth of Latino studies courses. Harvard is not number one in this area.

Harvard students deserve to be exposed to Latino scholars and to this field. One day Harvard might find that it's not number one anymore and that it has not offered its graduates as full an education as it should have.

Lilia Fernandez '94 is the president of Raza.

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