Unidos Podemos, 2020 and 1972

I was walking on campus yesterday and saw a banner celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which I hadn’t known about before. It turns out that Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t a single calendar month but actually crosses  from September 15 to October 15, so today is the last day. I’m happy I can squeak this in!

There has been a significant Hispanic presence at Rice dating all the way back to before the opening. We have payroll records in the Woodson that make it clear that much of the hard manual labor of site preparation and landscaping was carried out by crews of Hispanic workers, the kind of hard work that they have continued to do here over the decades. (Go here for one remarkable example and here for another.) There have also been Hispanic students at Rice almost from its very beginning, although in very small numbers and for many years nearly always from quite high socio-economic backgrounds, often the children of diplomats. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the numbers began to grow, slowly at first, and Hispanic students from a broader variety of backgrounds were granted admission in more significant numbers.

This article from the September 20, 1972 Houston Post marks what I believe is the formation of the first organization for Hispanic students at Rice:

And a glorious picture of a very young Professor Richard Tapia meeting near Lovett Hall with the officers of the group. Beautiful 1970s hair all the way around:


Bonus: Unidos podemos, y’all.

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6 Responses to Unidos Podemos, 2020 and 1972

  1. Lynne Hsu Xavier (WRC '88) says:

    It’s interesting that the initial organization was specifically for Mexican-American students. I guess there wasn’t any student or faculty representation from other South American Spanish-speaking countries?

    • Richard Tapia says:

      Lynne: In 1972 all domestic Latino students were Mexican-Americans. Also there where few Latinas at major universities. Ruth Gonzalez was the first Latina PhD in mathematics in the country and this was around 1972. Her degree was from my department, the Rice Department of Mathematical Sciences. The original RAMAS had 15 males and Linda Flores. In those times pretty much all Latino student groups at universities in the Southwest had some reference to Mexican-Americans in the title. The more hard core groups would use the term Chicano
      instead of Mexican-American. Think of the current national organization SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science ) of which I was a founding father, ironically also in 1972. In the times predating the 1970s the Latino population in the Southwest was probably better than 95% of Mexican heritage. Prior to 1950,I would say 99%.The flavor of Mexico lives in Texas, and in the Southwest.
      Richard Tapia

  2. Tomas F Molina says:

    As a Tejano/Mexican/American, I was one of few at Rice, 1964-1968. Additionally, on basketball scholarship, there were none others on team, and, just 1-2 that I recall on Football team and Track team. The running “joke” was that I was Italian!! Even the basketball coach, Don Knodel, my Junior/senior years didnt realize I was Mex/Am until many years later.
    Tomas (Tommy) Molina, Rice 1968

  3. Tomas, I remember you. Yes, there were few at Rice back then. I grew up in Puebla, but I was a Gringo. I loved Puebla, and still do.

  4. Matthew Noall says:

    Nice picture of Dr Tapia. I took one class from him, probably around 1977. One of the best instructors I have ever had, anywhere. Thank you.

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