Chicano Studies Pioneer Praised: Colleagues, Former Students Pay Tribute as Julian Samora Struggles with Terminal Illness

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Chicano Studies Pioneer Praised: Colleagues, Former Students Pay Tribute. as Julian Samora Struggles with Terminal Illness

At 75, scholar Julian Samora, one of the giants in Chicano history and academe, is suffering from progressive nuclear palsy -- a terminal illness that attacks the nervous system.

In tribute to a lifetime of scholarship, officials at the institute that bears his name, the Julian Samora Research Institute (JSRI) at Michigan State University (MSU), have sent a call out to his colleagues and former students to share their thoughts about one of America's first nationally recognized Chicano scholars.

Refugio Rochin, JSRI director, says the institute expects to compile those thoughts and include them as part of a book that Samora was working on before he took ill. The book, called "Mestizaje" -- which means racial and cultural mixture -- is a historical account of four families living in the Southwest from the 16th century to the present. Scheduled for publication next year, it will consist of three parts: an introduction by Rochin -- a background on the life and accomplishments by Samora; the letters from his students and colleagues; and Samora's work on mestizaje.

"Through this book, people will know who he is," says Rochin.

Pioneer Scholar-activist

Samora, born in Pagosa Springs, CO, is considered one of the earliest Chicano scholars and the first Chicano sociologist in the country. He received a doctorate in sociology and anthropology in 1953 from Washington University in St. Louis and is best known for his work at Notre Dame, where he taught from 1959 to 1985. Prior to this, he taught at Adams State College in Colorado and at MSU.

Richard Navarro, former JSRI director, says Samora is credited with being a pioneer in three fields: medical sociology, border studies and Chicano Studies. In developing the field of medical sociology, he analyzed the medical delivery systems in the Mexican-American communities of Colorado and New Mexico. He examined why some people rely on modern medicine, whereas others tend to utilize folk medicine. In border studies, he was one of the first group of scholars to view both sides of the border as one region -- as integrated communities -- not separate, says Navarro.

Barbara Driscoll, who studied with and was mentored by Samora under the Mexican American Graduate Studies Program, says Samora believed that to understand the border, you have to understand the people from the border region. "He was very intelligent and very practical....His vision was that the study of the border was important to the United States, not just the Southwest."

Navarro says that as far as Samora's scholarship is concerned, "His name is synonymous with leadership and Chicano studies in the Midwest. The values of the institute reflect his life's contributions."

Samora was one of the early scholars who broke the barrier of being able to study "our own people," says Navarro, but he did it not just in the field of Chicano Studies but in sociology and anthropology. Chicanos, says Driscoll, don't have the same tradition of African-American scholars who have long studied their own community.

Rather than create an interdisciplinary program, Samora brought in graduate students through a Ford Foundation grant into the disciplines of sociology, history, psychology, economics and law. Pointing out that it is easier to secure a job if a scholar specializes in one field, Driscoll says, "He was farsighted."

Under Samora, graduate students convened once a week for their Chicano seminar. There, students were exposed to the giants in the field of Chicano, border and immigration studies, including scholars Carey McWilliams, Paul Taylor, John Garcia and Ramon Ruiz.

Cordelia Candelaria, a professor in the English Department at Arizona State University who attended Notre Dame between 1970-1975, says that she was taken under Samora's "wing" even though she was not part of his project. …