By Estevan Flores
Who is Julian Samora?
To those who learn about U.S. Hispanic leadership from newspapers, he is no doubt a total stranger.
Even Hispanics beyond the fringes of academia won’t recognize the name with the alacrity that they will a name like Henry Cisneros or Cesar Chavez, or even Lee Trevino.
And that’s a shame.
Julian Samora is a man worth knowing. In these days of the Hispanic Upwardly-mobile Professionals (HUPIES), he is a throwback. He represents the best of the traditional Hispanic qualities.
Foremost, he is a teacher and a humanitarian. He is also 65.
This Saturday (April 13), students like me who learned through his teachings — and even more through his example — will gather in South Bend, Indiana. We will spend a full day praising him on his retirement, after 25 years of service, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame.
We will come from all over the country to embarrass him with our praise.
We will recall that in 1953, he became the first Mexican American to earn a doctorate in sociology, and immediately blazed a trail of research and writing and community concern that we are still trying to follow.
At a time when there was no “Chicano movement,” he battled through the institutional and often blatant discrimination of that era not only to make a place for himself, but for others.
For more than 15 years, he was the only Mexican American faculty member at Notre Dame. He was seen as a “crazy.” Who else would try to educate Mexicans in that bastion of white Anglo Catholicism?
He lured us away from the security of our barrios across the southwest to the isolation of Midwestern academia. For Chicano students on that alien campus, his home became a home-away-from-home. Regularly, he and his wife would invite students for breakfast or brunch.
He paved the way for so many Chicano sociologists. Through his work with the Ford Foundation and the U.S. Office of Education, he secured the necessary funding — more than $700,000 — to open up graduate school opportunities at Notre Dame for individuals (not just Mexican Americans) interested in graduate study of the Mexican American or Chicano experience.
He helped more than 50 student earn their master’s or Ph.D.’s or law degrees.
He wrote or edited seven books himself. He also opened the door for the publication of at least three books by the late Ernest Galarza by working through the Notre Dame Press. Almost all of us know Dr. Galarza’s monumental contribution to the cause of the migrant farm laborer. But who acknowledges the behind-the-scene work?
A colleague likes to refer to Dr. Samora as “the silent warrior.” It fits him so well. As another example, with others, he worked diligently and effectively to help the groundkeepers at Notre Dame in their struggle to form a union.
Born in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, he conducted research in his native state, in New Mexico, in Illinois, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in Colombia.
In the 1950s, he was writing on minority leadership, language usage and acculturation, and on social change. He served on editorial boards of magazines, on foundation boards and on presidential commission. His research focus on the undocumented immigrant stimulated a generation of scholarship by such authorities as Dr. Jorge Bustamante Mexico’s foremost expert, and U.S. scholars such as Dr. Gilbert Cardenas, University of Texas, Austin; Dr. Juan Garcia, University of Arizona; Dr. Jose Hinojosa, Pan American University; and Dr. Victor Rios, University of Redlands.
In the long day and night when Dr. Samora’s friends and former students collect to honor him this week, fittingly there will be learning sessions interspersed with the tributes and reminiscences. Culture issues and public policy will be discussed by experts whom Julian Samora helped create and mold. His day of tribute will not really be a day off for the Doctor. It will be one more opportunity to inspire others to follow in his path.[In 1985, Dr. Estevan Flores was the director of Mexican American Studies at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, and an organizer of the retirement tribute to his former teacher, Julian Samora.]