It is simplistic to say that Mexican Americans and other Latinos have always studied themselves. Fray Angélico Chávez took a Hispano view of the history of New Mexico, George I. Sánchez analyzed sociological statistics pertaining to Mexican Americans, Américo Paredes compiled and rendered Mexican American folklore, Carey McWilliams documented the lives and struggles of Mexican Americans, Ernesto Galarza organized agricultural workers and migration; they were all pioneers in the field. But the study and teaching was not institutionalized until the late 1960s, although Julián Samora established the Mexican-American Studies Center at Notre Dame in the early 1960s.
The major thrust for Chicano Studies came within the context of the African-American civil rights struggle. During this period, Mexican American educators demanded that colleges and universities address the pedagogical needs of Mexican American students who the schools were failing. Major themes were bilingual education and the building of positive self-images. In 1967, a student collective at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) began publishing El Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican American Thought. About three years later, students and faculty at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) began publishing Aztlán: A Chicano Journal of the Social Sciences and the Arts. These publications define the interdisciplinary nature of Chicano Studies.
Chicano Studies programs and departments were born out of the struggle. The formation of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) in California and the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) were major catalysts. Exploratory programs were developed at California State College, Los Angeles (CSCLA) now California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in 1968 and at California State University, Fresno (Fresno State). At the height of the Chicano student movement that spawned the Chicano Blowouts, (a massive student boycott to protest unfair conditions in Los Angeles Unified School District schools). CSULA established the nation’s first Chicano Studies department in 1968. These formations were in response to the social circumstances of Mexican Americans throughout the country. Other programs followed, usually after intense battles between students and administration, at San Fernando Valley State College in 1969, today known as California State University, Northridge (CSUN), San Diego State University (SDSU) in 1970, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 1971, and the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP) in 1970 with Felipe de Ortego y Gasca as Founding Director.
By the mid-1970s, Chicana feminists challenged the masculine domination of the field, making gender issues central to the concerns of the academic community. After intense struggle at the National Association for Chicano Studies the name of the association was changed to Chicana/o Studies, underscoring that Chicanas were equal partners in the area of Chicana/o Studies.[ Through the persistence of scholars such as Dr. Yolanda Broyles González, Chicana Studies is said to not be a variable or a discipline within Chicano Studies but it claims ownership of an entire new area of study. California State University, Northridge had 28 tenure track professors, two-thirds are Chicanas; the department offers 166 sections a semester. Dr. Mary Pardo has played a major role in this development. Chicanas have a controlling interest in the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS). Traditionalist of both the common usage of Spanish and Calo (Spanish/English slang of Chicanos from which the term itself originated) have responded to the criticism of feminists by noting that the term Chicano already implies an inclusion of women. Thereby, any insistence on the need for a separation in the word, or a separate discipline altogether is divisive for “la comunidad” and also perpetuating of the stereotype that Mexican-American men are solely chauvinist and purely non-honoring of women. Many Chicanos are not in appreciation of the perpetuation of such gender specific stereotypes. While there may be some slight controversy over the splitting of the term in academia, the majority of people within the Chicano community itself are most accustomed to honoring the traditional and unified term of Chicano Studies.
The need for Chicano and Chicana Studies have increased since 1969. In 1970 there were about 9 million Latinos of which 5.5 million were of Mexican extraction. Today that number is around 45 million about 32 million of who are of Mexican origin. The resurgence of Chicano student activism in the early 1990s begot a major Chicano Studies Department. During the 1990s, UCLA’s MEChA Chapter took a leadership role in keeping the issue of the Chicana/o Studies Departmentalization alive, and protested attempts by the UCLA Administration to eliminate funding for the Chicano Studies Program. In 1993, the issue was heightened further when the UCLA administration issued a statement refusing to departmentalize the Chicana/o Studies Department on the eve of Cesar Chavez’s funeral. This proposal, combined with a plan to de-fund the Chicana/o Studies library to the point that it would be inoperational, galvanized the UCLA community, and a multi-racial group of UCLA students called the Conscious Students of Color planned and staged an occupation of the UCLA faculty center that ended in 99 arrests, with 16 people charged with misdemeanors, and 83 students (42 men and 41 women) being charged with felony counts of vandalism, before being sent to Los Angeles County Jail and the Sybil Brand Jail for their involvement in the protests. The day following the faculty center occupation, a series of rallies was held by MEChA, The United Community and Labor Alliance (a coalition of Mexican American activists and community leaders, labor union representatives, and immigration advocates in Los Angeles), and other students, culminating in a hunger strike on campus. Among the participants of the hunger strike were student activists, community supporters, and a UCLA faculty member. Due to the widespread community mobilization and support, and the intervention of Latina/o California congressmembers in holding up funds to UCLA unless departmentalization was approved, this struggle eventually resulted in the establishment of the Cesar Chavez Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction in Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, which represented a significant victory for the protesters in essentially gaining all the rights of departmentalization though without the name. The Center was named after United Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez, and transitioned into a full fledged campus department in 2004. UCLA is also home to a separate UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and Library.
Michigan State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara have doctoral programs in Chicano Studies. The University of California, Riverside has a doctorate program in Ethnic Studies. There are also centers and institutes of Mexican American Studies. These units are distinguished for promoting research on Mexican origin peoples. The Mexican American Studies Center at the University of Houston distinguishes itself by heavy involvement with students and the community.