Rodolfo Acuña

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Rodolfo Acuña
Acuña in 2007
BornMay 18, 1932
Other names"Rudy" Acuña
OccupationHistorian, Educator, Professor
Known forOccupied America and Chicana/o Studies

Rod Francisco Acuña, Ph.D., (born May 18, 1932) is an American historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, which approaches the history of the Southwestern United States that includes Mexican Americans. It has been reprinted five times since its 1972 debut. The sixth edition was published Dec. 1, 2006.[1] He has also written for the Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Herald-Express, La Opinión, and numerous other newspapers. His work emphasizes the struggle of the Mexican American people. Acuña is also an activist and he has supported the numerous causes of the Chicano Movement.[2]

His mother Alicia Elías was from Sonora, and his father from Cocula, Jalisco.

Chicano historian[edit]

His academic counselor advised Acuña to teach "Spanish" or "Physical Education" because "Mexicans don't have a history". This infuriated him, an outrage that led him to pursue a doctorate in history. His specialty was northern Mexico and the Mexican origin of people in the United States. His study led to his participation in the movement to begin Chicano studies, giving a voice to Mexican Americans in education and history. Through research and action he evolved into a Mexican American historian.

In 1958 Acuña began teaching at San Fernando Junior High, transferring later to Cleveland High School where he taught social studies until 1965 when he received a tenured position at Los Angeles Pierce College. He also taught adult high school to pay for his doctoral studies at the University of Southern California during which time he was active with the Latin American Civic Association and the Mexican American Political Association. He was the founding chair of the California State University, Northridge's Chicano/a Studies department, and his teachings began there in 1969. The CSUN Chicana/o Studies Department at CSUN presently has 28 tenured professors and offers 166 sections of Chicana/o per semester.

In 1989, Acuña was a founding member of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, a civil rights advocacy group. Two years later he traveled to El Salvador as a correspondent for the Texas Observer covering its presidential elections. He has always sought to fulfill his lifelong query as to "how accurate were the interpretations of historians of the past", their reliability and objectivity. His books and lectures analyze and cross examine this query from his study of documents and life experiences.[3]

Acuña continues to call himself a Chicano because "Words have meanings, meanings that are supposed to be linked to reality. In creating a historical narrative the meanings should be clear and best describe the reality of the times. Meanings can be obscured for political purposes; we often call this doublespeak; we say one thing and mean another. The Chicana/o Public Scholar argues that the word Chicana/o best describes the area of studies called Chicana/o Studies and expresses the idealism that we as a community should be striving for.[4] Foremost Acuña prefers to be known as a teacher, having taught four to five classes per semester for most of his career. He is currently experimenting with online classes.

U.S. Latino issues[edit]

At a lecture celebrating the release of his book US Latinos: An Inquiry (Greenwood Press, 2003) in 2003, he critically addressed U.S. Latino Issues and the Latino label or identity. He delves deeply into what exactly defines a nation or culture; their similarities and differences; and what life experiences are necessary to differentiate one ethnocultural group from another.[5] In his book he clearly notes the mistaken trend of describing a large and heterogeneous group like people of Latin American descent in the US under labels like Latino. He acknowledges the fact that many people are actually opposed to the term and that the media has arbitrary and whimsically imposed Hispanic and Latino as absolute and monolithic ethnic groups:

When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella.

However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term Latino. They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term Latino slights the various national identities included under the umbrella.[6]

In 2008, Acuña and his wife Guadalupe Compeán edited a three volume anthology titled Voices of the U.S. Latino Experience (Greenwood Press). The work is the basis of his history of Chicana/o Studies at CSUN entitled In the Trenches of Academe where Acuña—based on his study of over 2000 documents on Latinos living in the United States—concludes that as yet there is no Latino History. He loosely builds on the points raised in Marx's National Question. His 2007, Corridors of Migration: Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933(Arizona 2007) breaks new ground in the transborder study of Chicano history, using documents on both sides of the border to document and explore the early urbanization and proletarianization of Mexican workers.[7]

"Is Antonio Banderas Latino?"[edit]

During a lecture titled "Is Antonio Banderas Latino?" at Swarthmore College, his studies of the race, age, history and class of the Chicano identity were compared and contrasted to the definition of the alleged Latino identity of U.S.A. His question "should a Spaniard get affirmative action for Latinos without the life experience?"—where life experience meant that one needed to suffer discrimination—was answered no.[8] This has been a recurring theme in his work: that civil rights entitlements are not automatic, but reserved for those who have historically experienced racial and class discrimination.[citation needed] No matter what people may think of Banderas as a person, he is European and not part of a class that has historically suffered discrimination.[citation needed] In 2002, Acuña opposed the nomination of Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant whose father owned a plantation in Honduras, to the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court.[9]


In 1992 Acuña sued the University of California, Santa Barbara for discrimination; the judge dropped the race discrimination cause of action; the political cause of action had previously been dropped because it missed the statute of limitations filing. A jury found that Acuña had been discriminated on the basis of his age, but Federal Judge Audrey Collins refused to compel the University to hire him, instead awarding him a monetary compensation of $325,000, which Acuña used to establish a foundation that he, his wife and his supporters started to help the victims of employment discrimination in higher education. The For Chicana Chicano Studies Foundation recently launched a web site. Aside from awarding tens of thousands of awards for court costs the foundation gives an average of $7,500 annually in scholarships.[10]


Acuña's archives are held in the Special Collections and Archives section of CSUN's Oviatt Library.[11]



  1. ^
  2. ^ "National Portrait Gallery adds 28 famous faces". WTOP. October 29, 2018.
  3. ^ American Historical Association Why Become a Historian? Rodolfo F. Acuña URL accessed January 15, 2007
  4. ^
  5. ^ News Release Rodolfo Acuna's Book Focuses on Issues Facing Today's Latinos -California State University, Northridge URL accessed January 15, 2007
  6. ^ Acuña, Rodolfo, U.S. Latino issues, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 ISBN 0-313-32211-2
  7. ^ Fitzgerald, David. (2009) "Review: Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933." Bulletin of Latin American Research 28(2), 321.
  8. ^ The Daily Gazette Swarthmore College Friday, September 19, 2003 Volume 8, Number 15 URL accessed January 15, 2007
  9. ^ "Nominacion de Estrada: Un latino contra los latinos," La Opinion, 10 de mayo de 2002. Also published in Miami Herald, San Diego La Prensa, Los Angeles Daily News, and various other newspapers.
  10. ^ Quiñones, Ben (2006-04-19). "A Liberated Chicano". L.A. Weekly. Archived from the original on 2006-04-25. Retrieved 2006-04-20.
  11. ^ "Rodolfo F. Acuna Collection, 1857-2006". Retrieved December 27, 2018.


  • 2017 Assault on Mexican American Collective Memory, 2010–2015: Swimming with Sharks. Lexington Books.
  • 2008 Voices of the U.S. Latino Experience [Three Volumes]. Greenwood Press.
  • 2007 Corridors of Migration: Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933. University of Arizona Press.
  • 2007 Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 6th edition. New York: Longman . ISBN 0-321-42738-6
  • 2004 US Latinos Issues. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-32211-2
  • 2004 Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 5th edition. New York: Longman. ISBN 0-321-10330-0
  • 2000 Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 4th edition. New York: Addison, Wesley & Longman.
  • 1998 Sometimes There is No Other Side: Essays on Truth and Objectivity. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 291 pp. Honorable Mention for Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America. ISBN 0-268-01763-8
  • 1997 Truth and Objectivity and Chicano history. East Lansing: Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University. ISBN 0-8165-0370-2
  • 1996 Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles. London: Verso Press, 1996. 320 pp. Recipient of the Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America. ISBN 1-85984-936-9
  • 1988 Occupied America: A History of Chicano. 3d Edition. New York: Harper and Row. 475 pp. Recipient of the Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America.
  • 1988 Sound Recording: Occupied America a history of Chicanos. Publication: Salt Lake City, Utah : Utah State Library Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Cassette tape.
  • 1984 Community Under Siege: A Chronicle of Chicanos East of the Los Angeles River, 1945-1975. UCLA. 560pp. ISBN 0-89551-066-9
  • 1981 El Caudillo Sonorense: Ignacio Pesqueira y sus tiempos. Mexico D.F.: ERA. 191 pp.
  • 1980 Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 2nd Edition. New York: Harper & Row. 437 pp.
  • 1976 America Ocupada. Ediciones ERA. 342 pp.
  • 1974 Sonoran Strongman: The Times of Ignacio Pesqueira. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 179 pp. ISBN 0-8165-0370-2
  • 1972 Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle Toward Liberation. New York: Harper & Ro., 282 pp.
  • 1971 The story of the Mexican Americans; the men and the land. Sacramento: California State Dept. of Education. ISBN 0-8165-0370-2
  • 1970 Cultures in Conflict: Case Studies of the Mexican American. Los Angeles: Charter Books. 140 pp.
  • 1970 A Mexican American Chronicle. New York: American Book Co. 210 pp.
  • 1969 The Story of the Mexican American. New York: American Book Co. 140 pp.

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