This past academic year I took on the project of processing newly transferred addenda to El Centro Chicano y Latino’s extensive collection of archival materials with the assistance of Assistant University Archivist Hanna Ahn at the Stanford University Archives, housed in Green Library. The project, dubbed the “Centro Archives Project,” was a serendipitous supplement to the work I have been and was doing at the time as a History student entering my final year at Stanford. That previous quarter, Spring 2022, I pored over University Archives' digital exhibit of Centro-affiliated publications to write a paper about the evolution of Chicano organizing on campus. My 20-page paper for a History capstone course charted the socialist roots of the Chicano movement from the 1970s through the 1990s, situated in the milieu of multi-racial coalition building– the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) initiated across the Bay at Berkeley in 1968. Among the demands of such coalitions was the expansion of ethnic studies, admissions, and financial aid. Such demands were protesting against the Vietnam War and military presence on campus, calling for the disbandment of ROTC. Exploring the impact of TWLF through student life across the Bay Area and the nation at large, I found some compelling collections of Stanford newspapers: Venceremos, a Bay Area Maoist paper staffed largely by Stanford students, Miquiztli, a radical arts publication, El Aguila, a campus newspaper that focused its reporting on student protests and strikes. Such works that featured heavily in my paper became those that I would later process that fall.
The beginning of my work at the University Archives also coincided with that of my senior thesis. I was aiming to write about the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on community networks across Mexico and the United States– their formation, their social/ economic ties, etc. Through this research and my archival work at Green Library, the 1990s emerged as a central moment. It, in many ways, was the last, deep, breath of the Chicano movements that were so influenced by the work done in the 1970s. Boycotts and hunger strikes for farmworkers proliferated in the pages of the archive, and the organizing documents included some names familiar to Latinx life on campus today. The forces of global capitalism loomed here like never before, NAFTA in Mexico being only the beginning of the economic, political, and militaristic wars waged on the people of Mexico and Central America that spurred some of the highest waves of U.S. migration. Those migrants are the parents of students who make up the Latinx population on campus now.
Processing the Centro records in this way felt like a tremendous act of care, navigating the historical landscape making up this inter-generational history of Stanford Latinidad by holding each document, writing, picture. I used the same delicate hand I would handling when old family photos, considering the act of constituting one’s own archive– as a family, as a community. Many of the most valuable pieces charting student resistance in the 1970s are held by those organizations that worked against them, as tools of surveillance. In this way, we as collectors or historians are not objective parties but actors. This is key to the ethos of care I prioritize in my work; my thesis, the Centro Archives Project, are the stories of my heart, the histories of resistance and negotiation that so undergird the lives of my family, my peers, and myself. We make our own archives and stories. In this particular moment of Latinx life on Stanford’s campus, where a generational rupture brought on by students demands a shift for the better, for inclusion and transparency, my role as an actor in these fields feels as urgent as ever. The practice of handling the archives feels not like a mere observation of the past but a meditation on our present; what I can glean from the materials I dutifully processed is wisdom and mistake alike, which I hope to revere and grow from, which I hope to understand as I contribute to the efforts of a developing and radical vision of Latinx life on campus.
Written by Stephanie Castaneda Perez '23, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Art Practice.