Raquel Rubio Goldsmith

If there is a “mother” of ethnic studies, her name would be Raquel Rubio Goldsmith. A Douglas, Arizona, native who earned her collegiate degrees from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México in Mexico City, Raquel played a key role in establishing ethnic studies at Pima Community College in 1969 and beyond.  Raquel came to Tucson to join the initial faculty of the new Pima Community College as a history teacher.Raquel still teaches at Pima and, since 1983, also at the University of Arizona.Raquel Rubio Goldsmith

The late 1960s were a time of ferment in the United States, when the anti-war, black power and civil rights movements still were in full stride. “People here were demanding that we teach Chicano Studies (at the new Pima Community College),” Raquel recalls. “I thought we could have courses in African-American, Chicano, Yaqui and Tohono O’odham studies.”

With Raquel’s help, Pima became the first area college to offer ethnic studies courses, although the “Chicano” studies courses had to be labeled “Mexican-American” to garner administrative approval.

Beginning with a Humanities course, Mexican-American Studies evolved into seven or eight different offerings under Raquel’s guidance. Although Ron Soltero taught the first Mexican-American Studies classes at Pima, local activist and scholar Guadalupe Castillo soon took up the leading mantle in this field at Pima and kept the classes alive and well over the decades. Lupe retired in 2011.

 Raquel said most of her students and those in Lupe’s and other ethnic studies classes “loved the courses. When people are taught about their own experiences, are taught about history and culture they relate to – that’s what education and learning are all  about. The students realize their experiences are part of a bigger thing and it changes their lives.”

When students do not relate well to their classes “things often don’t make sense to them,” she said. “They feel they are up against walls and they freak out.” But many ethnic studies students find that these courses make sense to them and they begin to feel they can fit into the educational system and stay in school to complete degrees and go on to professional success, she said. “It opens their minds and gives them many more possibilities for what they can do with their lives,” Raquel said. “The impact is huge.”

In the 1970s, there was growing community pressure for the UA to embrace ethnic studies, particularly Mexican-American Studies. Mecha and other student organizations were part of this push as were community leaders such as Raúl Aguirre, Lorraine Lee, Raquel and Lupe. Another pressure point came from Ray Chavez, who had launched a Mexican-American Studies class in the Sunnyside School District.

In 1975, the UA created a Mexican-American Studies Committee with Alberto Guerrero as its chair. With Macario Saldate at the helm,In 1981, the UA established a Mexican-American Studies and Research Center. Two years later, it received state funding and was dubbed officially an interdisciplinary program at the UA. But it was not until 2009 that it was madea department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “The programs always were under attack,” Raquel said. 

Raquel joined the UA faculty in 1983 as a full-time professor of Mexican-American Studies and helped bring money to the program and helped create a master’s degree offering with a public-health connection.

Also over these years, the community activists who were working to establish the UA program also were striving to get ethnic studies into the Tucson Unified School District. The district hired Ray Chavez and later, in1998, Augustine Romero, a local product, was able to get a formal Ethnic Studies Program and curriculum established in TUSD. It had a remarkable record of success in inspiring Latino students to stay in school, graduate, and go onto enroll in higher education, but the TUSD program came under attack from Arizona legislators in Phoenix who eventually passed a law banning it as “subversive.”

Not surprisingly, Raquel works with Lupe, Augustine, Raú lAguirre, Richard Elías and others toward getting ethnic studies re-established in some form at TUSD. A favorable U.S. District Court ruling in early 2013appears to have opened a door and Augustine is designing an ethnic studies replacement curriculum to meet the court’s criteria. About 65 percent of TUSD’s student population consists of ethnic minorities, and the district has a long history of racial discrimination that lead to the court ruling.

In addition to her teaching and community activism,Raquel also speaks at numerous academic seminars, is a prolific author of academic papers, and is a co-founder and the coordinator of the UA’s Binational Migration Institute, which conducts scholarly research on the impacts of U.S.and Mexican immigration policies on migrants, and the borderlands and its residents.

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Supervisor Richard Elías

Pima County, Arizona
District 5

130 W. Congress St. 11th Fl.
Tucson, AZ 85701

Phone: (520) 724-8126
Fax: (520) 884-1152


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