RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The nation's oldest Latino civil rights organization said Friday it strongly supports Ethnic Studies programs in colleges and won't participate in the "glorification of historical figures" or defend monuments that eulogize violence like those around Spanish conquistadors.
The League of United Latin American Citizens said Ethnic Studies programs in universities across the U.S. should be defended and vowed to celebrate "Indo-Latinx-Afro history" after a member publicly called for some programs at the University of New Mexico to be censored.
"LULAC supports the growth and establishment of Ethnic Studies programs and departments especially those that address the hidden, suppressed and silenced voices of our Latinx, Chicanx and Indigenous ancestors, past and future," the group said in a statement. "A central component of Ethnic Studies is the story of survival and resistance against colonialism in the Americas...a story that includes the destruction, suppression, and marginalization of the original peoples of the Americas. "
The statement came after New Mexico LULAC Executive Director Ralph Arellanes wrote to the president of the state's largest university that the school should dismantle some Ethnic Studies programs and censor classes.
Arellanes, who signed that letter in his role of New Mexico LULAC executive director and chair of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, said he has collected stories of Hispanic students "leaving classrooms crying" after being told by professors that Spanish conquistadors participated in genocide against Indigenous populations.
"The Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, New Mexico LULAC and our many expert historians in New Mexico request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns," Arellanes wrote. "We will be calling for the removal of these courses and programs that are teaching our New Mexico students this kind of hate and complete propaganda."
Arellanes had been upset about the recent removals of Spanish conquistador monuments in New Mexico. After The Associated Press reported his demands, Arellanes denied on social media that he was referring to Chicano Studies and Native American Studies but declined to say what programs or classes he wanted dismantled.
Arellanes' letter drew strong condemnation from LULAC members around the country and from some University of New Mexico graduates.
"It is painfully obvious to anyone reading his letter that he is referencing Chicano Studies and Native American Studies classes," said alumnus Kurly Tlapoyawa, who now works as a senior archaeologist. "Or are we to believe he was talking about intro to landscaping?"
New Mexico LULAC, the civil rights group's state arm, said in a statement it regrets that the letter by Arellanes was interpreted as a stance by the organization. "Mr. Arellanes' opinions expressed in this letter are solely his own, and his writing as a LULAC representative was not an authorized action," the group said. "His letter is NOT endorsed by this organization."
LULAC officials said they are looking into possible disciplinary actions against Arellanes.
Chicano Studies programs around the U.S. have faced efforts to disband them. Arizona passed a bill in 2010 eliminating Mexican American Studies in schools over charges that "promote(d) the overthrow of the United States government."
In 2017, A federal judge in Arizona has ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of Mexican American students by eliminating a successful Mexican American studies program.