Mexican American Studies Programs in Texas

By: Thomas Woods

Type: General Entry

Published: June 20, 2022

Updated: June 20, 2022

Mexican American studies programs in Texas universities are an increasingly growing field of research and education that grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Mexican American studies programs are generally interdisciplinary in nature and most often draw upon history, political science, sociology, and economics, as well as literature and education. The intended goal of Mexican American studies programs is to prepare students for professional careers serving one of Texas’s fastest-growing demographics and strengthen the presence of Mexican Americans in professional and intellectual fields. The programs also show an institutional recognition of the importance of Mexican American people in the history of the United States.

The civil rights movement, and more specifically the Chicano movement of the late 1960s, were instrumental in the adoption of Mexican American studies as a formal field. Although early adoption of these programs took place in California, the nexus for second generation Mexican American civil rights organizations, Mexican American studies programs also found support in Texas. The Mexican-American Youth Organization (MAYO) worked closely with local students to force the adoption of Mexican American studies in universities in Texas and supported the formation of the Mexican-American Studies Institute for the State of Texas. In 1969 the students at the University of Texas at El Paso, many of whom were attuned to the reforms in California, also successfully influenced the university to create one of the first degrees in Mexican American studies, albeit as a minor instead of a major. The University of Texas at Austin first attempted to create an “ethnic studies” program, but activists were not satisfied, and in 1970 the university created the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS), founded by Américo Paredes and George I. Sánchez. Paredes served as the first director. Other universities, such as the University of Houston, quickly followed this example.

By 1990 thirteen or more Mexican American studies programs existed in Texas, at the University of Texas, the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at El Paso, Austin Community College, Sam Houston State University, Trinity University, Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), Texas Southmost College, and the University of Texas at Arlington. These programs generally focused on border studies and remained under the umbrella of “Chicano” studies. In 2003 the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved Mexican American studies as its own field, thereby allowing community colleges to offer associate of arts degrees. By the early twenty-first century many more universities and colleges adopted Mexican American studies programs, including Baylor University, Texas A&M University, the University of North Texas,  the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Tech University, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in addition to reforms to the earlier programs. However, few of these were wholly independent fields of study. Some programs grouped Mexican American studies alongside other ethnic groups in Texas, while others offered minors in this field alongside a more established discipline, such as sociology or history, with the intent to supplement other professional degrees. Others grouped Mexican American studies in a broader field of Latin American studies.

In 2014 the University of Texas at Austin created the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, which built on the CMAS and was the first of its kind in the U.S. academy. As of 2022 the university was still just one of a handful of institutions nationwide to offer a doctoral degree in Latino studies.  In 2016 the University of Texas launched its Latino Research Initiative, a “research-focused entity” designed to “provide the infrastructure for the creation and dissemination of quality information about issues affecting Latino populations in the region, state, and nation.” Officially recognized by UT as an independent research organization and renamed the Latino Research Institute in 2019, the institute focuses on five areas: health and social equity, immigration, politics and public policy, the arts, and the archiving of related data and materials.

By the 2020s advocates pushed for inclusion of Mexican American studies courses in Texas public schools from the elementary through high school level. Regardless of the particular form that Mexican American studies programs took in higher education, such as supplements to older fields of study or entirely new programs, they have continued to expand since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and have produced a growing number of prominent scholars of the Mexican American experience in Texas and the United States.

Rodolfo F. Acuña, The Making of Chicana/o Studies: In the Trenches of Academe (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2011). Center for Mexican American Studies, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin (, accessed June 9, 2022. “A Compilation of Chicano and Related Ethnic Studies Programs and Research Centers,” Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe 15 (January–December 1989/1990). Latino Research Institute, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin (, accessed June 9, 2022.

  • Education
  • Education Disciplines
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas Woods, “Mexican American Studies Programs in Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 20, 2022
June 20, 2022

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