Category Archives: History

CMAS at 50: A Legacy of Scholarship, Teaching, and Service

Curated by Carla Alvarez, US Latina/o Archivist, Benson Latin American Collection

On Thursday, February 13, the Benson Latin American Collection and Latino Studies celebrated the opening of the archive of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) with a reception, exhibition, and a staged reading of some of the archive’s contents. The reading told the emotional and powerful story of the Center’s birth, in the voices of those who fought—sometimes at their own professional peril—for an institutional commitment to Mexican American Studies by the University of Texas.

The room was full, and emotions were palpable and visible. Audience and participants ranged from students to faculty to individuals whose history with CMAS extends back decades. Read an account of the event in the Daily Texan.


Portrait of Dr. Américo Paredes, beloved professor, folklorist, and CMAS director

Founded in 1970, the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at The University of Texas at Austin benefited from Chicano student activism of the 1960s. Members of the Mexican American Student Organization (MASO) and later the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) demanded equitable representation and resources be devoted to Mexican American studies on the UT campus. After years of activism, the Center was established. It stands as an institutional recognition of the importance of Mexican Americans and Latinos in the history, culture, and the politics of the United States.

Information about Dr. Américo Paredes from the CMAS 35th anniversary publication. “35 Years: The Center for Mexican American Studies” was compiled in 2005 by a group of J349T Oral History as Journalism students.

Since its founding, the Center has fostered Mexican American studies and Latino studies on campus and nationally through partnerships. A founding member of the Inter-UniversityProgram for Latino Research (IUPLR), CMAS has worked toward shaping Latino scholarship and to support the next generation of Latino studies scholars.

Entrance to the Center during the time when it was housed in the Gebauer Building, then known as the Speech Building. This is one of the earliest photographs of the Center, from the late 1970s.

For nearly thirty years, the Center operated an in-house publishing unit, CMAS Books, which began as a publisher of academic monographs, providing a means for affiliated faculty to share their research with other scholars, but blossomed into an imprint with a broader cultural and scholarly reach. CMAS Books published a series of monographs and several periodicals including journals and newsletters for the Center and sponsored entities like IUPLR.

“Noticias de CMAS” publicized the Center’s special events.

In addition to supporting Mexican American studies on campus and nationally, CMAS had another goal from the beginning—to establish a presence and engage with the larger community. This community engagement has evolved over the years and included partnerships with the Américo Paredes Middle School;La Peña, a community-based arts organization, the Serie Project and Sam Coronado Studio; and a Latino radio project, proudly launched in the early 1990s. That initial radio project eventually developed into the nationally syndicatedLatino USA. The Center has thus firmly established a legacy of expanding and enhancing knowledge of Mexican Americans’ and Latinos’ contributions to the history and culture of the United States.

Flyer promoting the CMAS 35th anniversary exhibit in the Office of the President.

The Center for Mexican American Studies will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020–2021 academic year.The Center now exists as one of three units under Latino Studies at UT, a powerhouse of Latino thought and advocacy that also includes the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and the Latino Research Institute. Visit liberalarts.utexas.edu/latinostudies for updates on all anniversary festivities, including special events, public conversations, digital retrospectives, and interactive campus installations.

The Survival Guide for new African American and Mexican American students, published in 1993, was a collaboration between CMAS and the Center for African and African American Studies (CAAS), now the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. The Guide was distributed on the UT campus and included articles by students, faculty profiles, information about CAAS and CMAS, a list of Mexican American/Latino and Black student organizations, as well as a directory of minority faculty and staff. Cover art by California artist Malaquías Montoya.

CMAS at 50 is on view through July 2, 2020, in the second-floor gallery of the Benson Latin American Collection, SRH Unit 1. To view the list of archival materials online, visit the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) CMAS.

Pastorelas: Past and Present

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.
Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many in the Latinx community are gearing up to celebrate both Christmas as well as Las Posadas. A lesser known celebratory act performed during the holiday season are the plays known as pastorelas. Pastorelas can be traced back to the 16th Century when Franciscan monks leveraged the strong artistic culture of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlan to evangelize them by incorporating Christian ideals into their performance tradition.

Historically, pastorelas have told the story of how Satan attempted to thwart the travels of the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. While pastorelas have maintained the general premise of good vs. evil, the roles of what constitutes both the good and the evil have changed to encompass contemporary issues that have faced the Latinx communities. Immigration, racism, politics, and a plethora of other topics have been incorporated into pastorelas to transmit opinions and ideas to audiences, both religious and secular.

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)
Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

While pastorelas have typically been an oral tradition, some have been transcribed to paper. A beautiful example of this is Manuel Antono Zayas’ “El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo: pastorela en cuatro actoswritten in 1853. This illustrated play, held in the Benson Rare Books and Manuscript Collection, includes multiple hand drawn illustrations of the costumes to be worn during performances, including those of the angel, San Miguel, and even Satan himself.

Please visit the digital exhibit to see the beautiful illustrations in “el Triunfo” as well as some of the other spectacular rare books available to view from the Benson Collection. Also, peruse Zayas’ entire book, which has been digitized and can be viewed at Texas ScholarWorks.

Gilbert Borrego is the Digital Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks, UT’s institutional repository (IR).

The Tomorrow Librarian: Harold Billings’s Legacy, 1978-2003

The cover of Billings' book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.
The cover of Billings’ book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.

Few can claim a career as long or legacy as lasting as Harold Billings. He began working for the University of Texas Libraries as a cataloger in 1954 while still pursuing his Master’s in Library Science and by 1978 was the director of the general libraries. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2003. Throughout his career Billings was able to navigate the immense changes in technology and constant challenge of keeping faith in value of libraries. Billings achieved this by inviting innovations that others of his time resisted. As a result of his leadership, UT Libraries thrived, growing its collections, introducing new digital services, and building its reputation as one if the highest ranking research libraries in the nation.

Today, technology and UT Libraries seem inextricably intertwined as students conduct research using their access to hundreds of online databases, use software in the computer labs, and create 3-D printed projects in the Foundry makerspace. When Billings first entered the field, libraries looked and functioned very differently. Throughout his career, Billings pushed UT libraries toward incorporating innovative technology from early searchable databases and the online card catalog to resource sharing and partnership with other libraries through TexShare.

Library staff member gestures to a poster titled "Searching the Database" that lists database queries.
Library staff member gestures to a poster titled “Searching the Database” that lists database queries.

While leading the general libraries forward in incorporating new technologies, Billings simultaneously continued to build the print and research collections at UT Libraries. A literary scholar himself, Billings’ love of research and books carried over into his many roles over his career at UTL. He maintained a close relationship with Harry Ransom, acquiring collections for the Center, and corresponded with several authors both regarding his own scholarship and to help bring literary collections to UT. The general libraries also saw tremendous growth of their collections over his career, from acquiring their 1 millionth volume while Billings was still a cataloger to holding over 7 million volumes by the end of his tenure as director.

A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing's book Texas Beast Fables.
A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing’s book Texas Beast Fables.

Billings’ love of books, research, and collecting extended beyond his role at UT. Inspired by his admiration for and friendships with writers and artists, Billings published literary works and criticism throughout his career and well after. Some of these publications include a biography of one of his favorite poets, Edward Dalhberg, and Texas Beast Fables, a bestiary of Texas folklore. Billings also built a personal collection of art favoring local artists as well as Newcomb pottery and Elvis memorabilia. From his early education through his retirement, two facts are undeniable: Harold Billings loved libraries and he loved Texas.

Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.
Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.

An exhibit highlighting these aspects of Billings’ career and life will be on display in the Scholars Commons beginning November 1st, and an online component can be viewed on Scalar. Borrowing the title of his 1995 essay on the future of libraries, we’ve given the exhibit a name that we think embodies Billings’ role as an innovative leader in the field: The Tomorrow Librarian.

Virginia Barnes and Rachael Zipperer are graduate research assistants from the university’s School of Information.

In Memoriam: Harold W. Billings