Juan Gómez Quiñones, the 'Pope' of Chicano studies
An activist and academic, Quiñones was a pioneer of Chicano studies and inspired thousands of students in his time at UCLA.
Those who attended Juan Gómez Quiñones' courses remember him as an institution in the history of the Chicano collective and someone able to awaken passion among his students and a curiosity to learn about his own cultural heritage, which is rarely visible in the media or secondary education.
LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano remembered attending his classes in 2002 and being excited when Professor Gómez Quiñones read the syllabus:
"His big glasses and thick mustache made the teacher look more like a kindly retiree than the very high intellectual his friends had talked about. He walked around the cavernous classroom at Knudsen Hall as the students entered, struggling to get a lapel microphone around his neck. In a low, monotonous voice, Gómez Quiñones read the syllabus with all the enthusiasm of a chair," Arellano wrote.
The journalist added that the professor was already famous among generations of Chicano students and that both he and his classmates realized what Gómez was "developing in us."
"He taught us to take pride in what Mexicans and Mexican Americans had achieved in the Americas. His copious use of movie clips — everything from The Twilight Zone to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to a Toy Story video game — showed how Americans had long demonized Mexicans," he concluded.
Gómez Quiñones was called "GQ" by his followers. He died at 80 years old on Nov. 11 of heart failure at his home in Pacific Palisades. His legacy in the field of ethnic studies and immense knowledge of Chicano history and culture managed to change the thought of many and expose them to the struggle for civil rights and community pride.
Juan Gómez Quiñones was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but immigrated with his family to Boyle Heights as a child. He graduated from Cantwell High School in Montebello, and then went to UCLA. Until he got his Ph.D, he worked as a truck driver to pay for his studies.
In his classes at UCLA, he encouraged students to lead the strikes that were taking place in East Los Angeles schools in 1968. He also contributed to the creation of the Santa Barbara Plan, a key to the development of Chicano studies and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).
He also helped alumni promote charter schools, served on the boards of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Cal State system.
A friend of workers and academics alike, in a 1974 essay, Gómez Quiñones wrote: "There is a potential for double alienation from the Chicano community and/or the university and society. However, the need for Chicano technical expertise and the need for more Chicano analysis are primary needs for the future of the Chicano community."
Even the non-Chicano students were influenced by his magnetic personality and enlightened classes. As Revel Sims, who is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told Arellano, GQ "had everything from people in its classes — soccer players, Chicano radicals, nerd people, and then a little bit of white people like me. And at first we all wondered, 'Who is this guy?' But we held on to his every word."