UC Riverside promotes research center on Latino community in Southern California
With a majority of Latino students in its university system, this center will focus on studying racism and language practices in the Inland Empire.
The University of California, Riverside is inaugurating this February a research center specializing in Latino issues, mainly focused on the Southern California region, as part of an effort within academia to shed new light on the community.
In many ways, leading the pioneering institution is UCR Department of Ethnic Studies associate professor Dr. Alfonso Gonzalez Toribio, who told The Press Enterprise that it is one of the few institutes of its kind in the UC system.
This is curious, considering that Latinos represent half of the Inland Empire's population and a growing part of the student body.
According to Juliet McMullin, interim dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, the new Latino and Latin American Studies Research Center will be dedicated to examining the linguistic diversity and peculiarities of Latinos in Southern California to reviewing the systemic racism they face.
Especially at a time when cities like Los Angeles, just a few miles from Riverside and San Bernardino, are garnering national attention as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the racism often masked by the glitz of the great metropolis.
"The goal of our new center is to study and preserve the Latino experience at IE because our experience matters," stated Gonzales Toribio, who added that "when I was a kid growing up in Mira Loma I didn't know anyone from my neighborhood who went to UCR. The first time I saw the campus, when I was in 9th grade, I thought it was a park. We want to change that."
The researcher, who along with his sister was the first in his family to graduate from High School and attend college, graduated with a degree in Latin American Studies in 2001 and recalled that "I was such a small-town guy from Mira Loma that I was afraid to go to UCLA," but ended up teaching at NYU after earning a master's degree and doctorate.
Returning to Riverside in 2015, Gonzalez found the region in the midst of a demographic transformation with Latinos becoming the largest ethnic group in the Inland Empire and a mestizo student body that has grown from just over a hundred in 1968 to more than 10,000 today at UCR.
In fact, 38.3% of UCR's student body is Latino, in contrast to 30.4% of Asian students and a scant 13% of whites.
González Toribio noted that four decades ago, this large percentage of racialized students would have been unthinkable since most Latino families were concentrated in neighborhoods like Casa Blanca and were treated as "a footnote."
For her part, Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics Claudia Holguín Mendoza will be the new research center's co-principal investigator.
The center will establish relationships with the communities, in turn opening a satellite office in one of them, the professor told The Press Enterprise.
"We want to hold up the mirror to these communities so they can see themselves and see the beauty, the complexity, the cultural richness and also their political, economic, and social importance to the Inland Empire," he concluded.
The center has been made possible by a $2.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which will fund the three-year research project.