By Brent E. Beltrán
My dad is a second generation Mexican American who’s father was born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, México. His mom was born in El Paso, Texas to parents who escaped, like many of their generation, the violence of the Mexican Revolution. My mom was born in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Canada to parents of Irish and Scottish descent and later moved to a small town on a Native American reservation in Minnesota.
While my dad was serving in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky in the late 1960’s he met my mom. Shortly thereafter they married and my father brought my mom home to live San Diego.
I had my transformative Chicano experience while as a student at Mesa College in the early 1990’s. I went from someone who recognized that he was of Mexican descent, but didn’t really feel culturally Mexican, to someone who fully embraced his Chicanidad after taking a few Chicano Studies courses. It was professors like Mike Ornelas and Rita Sanchez who opened up my mind to a culture that I largely ignored (other than enjoying the delicious tortillas that my nana made).
Chicano Studies at Mesa led me to joining the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) which in turn led me to community politics and organizations like the Raza Rights Coalition, Unión del Barrio and the Chicano Park Steering Committee. I eventually co-founded Calaca Press, Voz Alta and the Red CalacArts Collective.
I have over 20 years of experience being involved with various Chicano groups. That experience has put me on my current path of being a writer for San Diego Free Press. But none of that would have happened without taking those Chicano Studies classes at Mesa College. I am forever in debt to that first bit knowledge that was taught to me by my former professors.
Mesa College is where my Chicano life began. And to this day I still maintain relations with the department. My compadre Manuel J. Vélez is a tenured professor there. And so is my good friend Dr. César López who is now the head of the department. I take joy in hearing about the positive things that are taking place there. The most recent news was announced on Friday, March 8, día de la mujer internacional, about longtime San Diego activist Gracia Molina de Pick donating $80,000 to the Mesa College Chicana/o Studies Endowment.
As the press release for this gift states it “is believed to be the largest of its kind awarded to support a Chicana/o Studies Department at a community college.” That’s a big deal considering that Chicana/o Studies and Ethnic Studies departments across the nation are under attack by right wing nutjobs and xenophobes.
This donation affirms the importance of teaching the discipline of Chicana/o Studies. Not only is it important for Chicano youth to take classes related to the historic contributions of Chicanos but it also exposes non-Chicanos to those same contributions. We have a long, important history that is just as valid as any other part of American history. And our history needs to be told.
The press release went on:
The gift will bolster the Mesa College Chicana/o Studies Department — which she helped to found in 1970 — by establishing the Gracia Molina de Pick/Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Endowment Fund. It will also create an annual student scholarship in her honor, and enable the creation of an annual lecture series that honors her legacy.
We are humbled and honored to receive this gift to establish an endowment honoring Gracia Molina de Pick,” said Dr. Pamela T. Luster, [Mesa College] President. “With it, we will be able to sustain her legacy of educational activism, and teach generations to come about the importance of social responsibility.
For more than 60 years, Gracia Molina Enriquez de Pick has been an educator, feminist, mentor of students and community activist for women’s equality, indigenous communities, labor and immigrants’ rights. As an early champion for bi-lingual education, Molina de Pick helped to develop an academic program at Mesa College that gave birth to one of the first Chicano Studies Department[s] in the nation.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, with Gracia’s leadership and vision, San Diego Mesa College planted the seed for Chicana/o Studies, and created one of the first academic program dedicated to its study,” said Chicano Studies Department Chair, Professor César López. This generous gift will enable the department to grow and to establish a place to honor and celebrate her legacy — to Mesa, San Diego, Mexico, and beyond.
In recognition of Mrs. de Pick’s contribution, Mesa College will name a glass gallery exhibit space dedicated to Gracia Molina de Pick. Located in the Humanities, Languages and Multicultural Studies Building Rotunda, the 6-panel display is host to rotating displays. In honor of this naming, the first display to be created will feature the history and contributions Molina de Pick made to Mesa College as a faculty member in the 1960s and 70s, and include historical civil rights events and moments throughout San Diego history.
The endowment will also enable the college to present an annual scholarship in her honor, to expand its Chicana/o Studies Department and activities, and to continue the Gracia Molina de Pick Feminist Lecture Series, which began in 2012.
The press release went on to describe the life of, and contributions made by, Gracia Molina de Pick:
Gracia Molina de Pick was born in Mexico City into a family of political reformers. At age 13, she went with her aunt on Sunday visits to Frida Kalho’s home (where she also met Diego Rivera) and learned from Frida that “great people are never only for themselves, but always fight for those who cannot defend themselves.” This lesson helped shape her future.
Gracia attended the Feminist University in Mexico City. She met Richard A. Pick, an American visiting Mexico City on business. In 1957 they married and moved to San Diego. Gracia worked as a teacher and mentor to Mexican American students in National City, co-founded IMPACT, a grassroots organization fighting for the civil rights of Mexican-Americans, and taught Peace Corps recruits at San Diego State College. As a San Diego Mesa College tenured professor, Molina de Pick developed a program that gave birth to the first Chicano Studies Department in a community college. She was also founding faculty member of what is now Thurgood Marshall College at UCSD.
Gracia’s work has earned awards from numerous organizations, including the California Legislature, the California and San Diego Democratic Party, California Rural Legal Assistance and the Centro Cultural de la Raza. In addition to the endowment made to San Diego Mesa College, she has also established an endowment fund supporting the Logan Heights Branch Library, and its education and literacy program.
Via email I asked professors Lopez and Vélez what Gracia Molina de Pick’s donation to the endowment meant to the department, themselves as professors and to the students taking Chicano Studies at Mesa.
Professor López said:
The Gracia Molina de Pick/Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Endowment Fund represents Gracia’s wisdom to re-invest her money into the on-going work of Chicana and Chicano Studies at our community college, as a tool for community education and community empowerment.
This gift will directly support the educational advancement of students through scholarships and support the Gracia Molina de Pick Feminist Lecture series for years to come at San Diego Mesa College. As a professor of Chicana/o Studies, the creation of this endowment by such a respected community member is inspiring and uplifting at a time when Ethnic Studies programs continue to be challenged at home and in places like Arizona. The endowment sends a clear message of hope for the future that may encourage other members of the community to give back and reinvest in the power of education.
And professor Vélez responded at length, saying:
This donation will enable us to establish a stronger sense of place and representation on the campus for Chicana and Chicano students. Such a sense is crucial not only to their success in the classroom but perhaps more importantly in developing a sense of belonging to the larger society. Through this generous donation we will continue our annual ‘Gracia Molina de Pick Feminist Lecture Series’, dedicated to honoring and celebrating the important role of Chicanas in the struggle for Chicana/o Civil Rights.
This series will expose our students to mujeres who have shown a commitment to their communities through their activism and who can serve as positive role-models that they can emulate and relate to. This donation will also allow us to honor Gracia by naming our Glass Gallery after her. By doing so, we hope to establish a stronger sense of representation on the campus itself for Chicana/o students at Mesa College. I believe that these perhaps are the most significant contributions that this donation will provide to our students. Chicano Studies has always strived to be a place where Chicana/o students can feel comfortable and accepted. This donation will certainly help us to achieve that goal.
This donation comes at a very important time for the continued evolution of Chicana/o Studies as a discipline. Certainly, during an era of drastic budget cuts to community colleges smaller, inter-disciplinary departments such as ours tend to suffer more from budget cuts, class down-sizing, and even at times, become targets for elimination. This donation offers us a stronger sense of stability and allows us to be able to continue to offer our students comprehensive and relevant instruction and programming despite any decrease in funding.
Aside from this, however, I believe this donation does something far more important for our department: In many ways this donation helps to validate our discipline on campus. Such donations certainly catch the attention of our administration and sends them a clear and powerful message: This is an investment, not only in our department as an academic discipline, but more importantly it’s an investment in the future of our children and grandchildren. This donation sends a strong message that the future of our children and our culture is invaluable and necessary.
I am honored to have taken Chicano Studies courses at Mesa. It was an important part of my life that pushed me into giving back to my community. Writing this column is but a small part of that. I am equally honored to know that Chicana/o Studies at Mesa College will continue far into the future with this generous gift by Señora Molina de Pick.
I am a Chicano because of Mesa College Chicano Studies. There are many others just like me who have taken those courses, or will in the future, because of people like Gracia Molina de Pick and the professors who struggle to maintain an important part of our community. As attacks upon those of Mexican descent continue across the not-so-United States, Chicana/o Studies is as important now as it was 40 or so years ago when departments like this were founded. Gracias a Gracia and professors like López and Vélez who help keep Chicana/o Studies alive for future generations of Chicanos.