Our New Social Justice Degree in Chicanx/Latinx Studies

It’s an exciting year for the Ethnic Studies Department at San José City College. With four new Associate Degrees for Transfer to be finalized this fall, the department continues to gain momentum.

All four degrees are in Social Justice — one allows for more flexibility, while the others focus on African American, Asian American, and Chicanx/Latinx Studies in particular. Today we’ll be learning about the Social Justice: Chicanx/Latinx Studies Degree.

As a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Bay Area community college, SJCC is thrilled to introduce this new offering. It has immense potential to positively shape the futures of many students. Especially those who are looking to seek justice, healing, and give back to their communities.

What is Chicanx/Latinx Studies?

Before we can tackle this question, let’s review the basics.

Ethnic Studies was created in 1968 after the successful Third World Liberation strikes. These were largely led by student ethnic groups in San Francisco and Berkeley who wanted an education that went beyond the eurocentric view. They demanded to see their stories reflected in their curriculum, and they were successful. When Ethnic Studies was born, so was Chicanx/Latinx Studies. Learn more about Ethnic Studies here

In the past, some programs were called La Raza Studies but most have grown to be more inclusive, using Latina/o Studies or Chicana/o Studies for these specialized ethnic studies degrees. Through their curriculum all of these programs actively center the histories, cultures, and experiences of Mexican American and Latinx peoples.

Now, let’s explore why this is a critical precursor to any social justice efforts.

“I learned about my identity, my culture, and the true history of my people.”

SJCC graduate, Joaquin Covarrubias
Former Chicano Studies student, Joaquin Covarrubias performs in the musical group, the Jag-Tones at the Día de los Muertos celebration in 2019.
Former SJCC student Joaquin Covarrubias performs in the musical group, the Jag-Tones at the Día de los Muertos celebration in 2019.

Teaching Latinx History and Culture is Core to Social Justice

When you think of social justice, more public forms of activism like protests or landmark court cases. But most classrooms continue to function as colonized spaces — erasing important histories by excluding them.

Chicanx/Latinx Studies changes that.

“Chicanx Latinx Studies provides a historical context and critical racial lens to understand the contributions, diversity and experiences of Chicanx Latinx people that are rarely mentioned in schools,” said Juan Gamboa, a long-time SJCC faculty member. It helps us “to understand root causes of social inequality and injustice, while promoting democratic participation, leadership development and values of social justice, equity and inclusion.”

Reshaping our curriculum through degrees like Chicanx/Latinx Studies is crucial to social justice for all of these reasons and more.

Discover the Untold History

Chicanx/Latinx Studies is essential to shed light on histories that have been intentionally omitted or revised to favor a eurocentric perspective. It is an opportunity to learn the truth — and to use it for good.

“We get to learn how strong and advanced our ancestors were and how hard our people have fought to get us to where we are today,” said SJCC student, Yajaira Hernandez. “I learned about my identity, my culture, and the true history of my people,” said SJCC graduate, Joaquin Covarrubias

“My Chicanx/Latinx classes incorporated amazing guest speakers and empowered us through education. Starting with the land that once belonged to the Native Americans,” said another student, Starr Lopez.

“I have learned so much about my Mexican culture and background. I always have something new to share with my family, especially my mom who grew up in Mexico,” said Yolanda Mercado Soto, who took a Mexican American History class at SJCC. “Having taken this course gives me pride about my culture.”

So many students were eager to share their experiences, and it is this pride that in turn inspires students to achieve their academic goals.

Chicanx/Latinx Curriculum Inspires Latinx Students

BIPOC students face more systemic obstacles to higher-education. So when they see the stories of their ancestors and of themselves in the classroom, it can lead to a powerful shift in engagement and motivation. This translates to increased academic and personal success.

“It is important students take ownership of their education and taking Ethnic Studies courses is one of those outlets where students feel empowered,” said Ethnic studies faculty, Andrés Rodriguez.

“I have witnessed many students experience greater positive self-identity, greater sense of pride, sense of belonging, a greater feeling that they matter and are capable of academic success and making a difference in their communities to help those who are marginalized,” Gamboa said. “Through our reading, writing and critical thinking, students often talk about finding their voice after being silenced for so long in schools.”

SJCC’s students’ transformational stories are a testament to that.

“I realized that it wasn’t that I disliked studying American history that I couldn’t retain it. It was because those courses didn’t reflect my own culture and even negatively/falsely depicted the impact my ancestors had on the world,” Sofía Valenzuela said.

“After these lessons, I’ve been incredibly inspired to go to school and continue to fight for my family’s well-being. I believe these classes have influenced my perspective on school, my culture, and myself. Prior to these classes, I was less aware of my community and had little understanding of my Chicanx/Latinx identity,” said Yesenia Hernandez.

“It was my social justice classes that gave me words such as discrimination, hidden curriculum, school-to-prison pipeline, barriers, and obstacles to explain certain behaviors of authority.” Demi Yang said. “Before taking Chicanx Studies, I didn’t realize how much education can affect a person’s life from their early childhood and K-12 experiences.”

“The education of African American, Chicano, and Asian studies are not just a part of history, but make up a part of us. I believe teaching ethnic studies helps shape our thoughts of ourselves and gives us hope in what we can do,” said Mercado Soto.

“In order to help our community thrive, we must change the way others see us, and the way we see ourselves, and ethnic studies helps us do that,” Yajaira Hernandez said.

“In order to help our community thrive, we must change the way others see us, and the way we see ourselves, and ethnic studies helps us do that.”

SJCC student, Yajaira Hernandez

Ethnic Studies is Key to Reimagining Our Future

Ethnic Studies is grounded in history and will play a critical role in reimagining our future. It was urgent before and it is urgent now. And as the birthplace of Ethnic Studies, California continues to lead the way with key education reform.

“We live in a diverse society and need to know the people in order to serve the people,” Gamboa said. Today, “there is a heightened awareness and urgency to address racial justice with the Black Lives Matter movement and the demands for families and children in concentration camps along the U.S.-Mexico border. Latinx and Ethnic studies is just as valuable and needed as Science and Mathematics.”

“Ethnic Studies and the Social Justice degrees serve as a reminder that these issues need to be at the center of how we understand the world around us,” Rodríguez said. It “was created because of students demanding a more equitable educational experience and it is important we listen to student voices on how to better serve them.” 

“Significant research is demonstrating the community cultural wealth that exists in Chicanx Latinx and Indigenous communities which reveals the deep and rich culture, knowledge, values, and ways of being that are needed to address the great challenges of our times such as climate change,” Gamboa said.

The United States is reconciling its complicated history now more than ever. And a more inclusive education system anchored in Ethnic Studies is essential to this restorative transformation.

SJCC MEChA and Chicana/o Studies faculty Juan and Jacqueline Gamboa (right) at Teatro Vision’s production of Macario in East Side San Jose, Mexican Heritage Plaza.
SJCC MEChA and Chicana/o Studies faculty Juan and Jacqueline Gamboa (right) at Teatro Vision’s production of Macario in East Side San José, Mexican Heritage Plaza.

“Chicanx Latinx and Ethnic studies is just as valuable and needed as Science and Mathematics.”

SJCC Ethnic Studies faculty, Juan Gamboa

Chicanx/Latinx Communities and Careers

Since Chicanx/Latinx Studies was born out of the Civil Rights era, it’s not surprising that the Ethnic Studies Department and its students are extremely active members of the community.

If you’re interested in Chicanx/Latinx Studies at SJCC, you’ll be able to choose from lots of student organizations that collaborate, grow, and heal together on campus. 

These connections and experiences, along with an Ethnic Studies education will surely inspire you to incorporate social justice principles into your professional life, no matter what your career is.

Get Involved with Latinx Community Groups

Here are some of the organizations that actively support and provide community for Chicanx/Latinx students at San José City College.

  • The Puente Project
  • The METAS Program
  • MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan)
  • EOPS (The Extended Opportunity Program & Services)
  • Xinachtli Women’s Healing Circles
  • El Joven Noble Men’s Circles
  • ALMASS (Advoca​cy Leadership for imMigrant Access Support and Services​​​​​​​)
  • Additional Student Services (student government, student ambassadors, writing tutors)

Gamboa said that these groups often share a common goal: “to advocate, celebrate and organize programs that center Chicanx and Latinx students and culture at a Hispanic Serving Institution.

The Chicanx/Latinx faculty members collaborate with all these groups and more to invite honored guest speakers, community elders, and alumni to events where they can discuss important topics like Chicana Latina Women’s Leadership, Afro-Latino History, the Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement and so much more.

A Degree with a Guarantee

Like all our Associate’s Degrees for Transfer (AD-T), the Social Justice: Chicanx/Latinx Studies Degree at SJCC is part of the Degree with A Guarantee Program. So when you finish this degree, you’re guaranteed a spot at a select number of California State Universities (CSUs). 

And if you choose to pursue a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in Chicanx/Latinx Studies, you’re sure to find a fulfilling career in social justice. “One of the biggest misconceptions about degrees like Social Justice Studies and other Ethnic Studies degrees is that there are no careers outside of teaching (which isn’t a bad career option!),” Rodriguez said.

“Employers are looking for innovative, creative and critical thinkers to solve the challenges we face today as well as communicate and connect to the Chicanx Latinx community,” Gamboa said. “Chicanx Latinx Studies trains students to think critically, creatively, to collaborate and work with a diverse population. 

Common career paths for students with social justice degrees include: law, counseling, social work, labor organizing, student services, non-profits, education, and journalism. And these are the professions where social justice can be an overt focus. No matter what your career, you can use your knowledge of Ethnic Studies to advocate for justice.

“It is also great to see students implement the concepts of Ethnic Studies into their respective fields of interest, whether that be social work, counseling, art, psychology. This is one of the many examples of how Ethnic Studies courses are truly interdisciplinary,” Rodriguez said.

“Ethnic Studies and the Social Justice degrees serve as a reminder that these issues need to be at the center of how we understand the world around us.”

SJCC Ethnic Studies faculty, Andrés Rodriguez
SJCC Ethnic Studies 31class invited Ernesto B. Vigil, author of The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent, to give a speech. (From left to right): Arturo Villarreal, Evergreen Ethnic Studies faculty; Demi Yang; Joaquin Covarrubias; Ernesto B. Vigil; Juan Gamboa and Jacqueline Gamboa, SJCC faculty.
SJCC’s Ethnic Studies 31 class invited Ernesto B. Vigil, author of The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent, to give a speech. (From left to right): Arturo Villarreal, Evergreen Ethnic Studies faculty; Demi Yang; Joaquin Covarrubias; Ernesto B. Vigil; Juan Gamboa and Jacqueline Gamboa, SJCC faculty.

Embrace Ethnic Studies with SJCC’s Vibrant Latinx Community

So if you’re interested in social justice issues, learning your own history, or making a difference in your community, check out our Ethnic Studies Department and the Associate Degree for Transfer in Social Justice: Chicanx/Latinx Studies today.

Or explore our other Social Justice degrees in African American Studies and Asian American Studies, and learn why Ethnic Studies is more urgent than ever.