The Legacy of Julian Samora

The Legacy

I have never doubted that our history, our heritage, was important, nor that we had something to contribute to society. But many people have had serious doubts about this, and have hastened to tell us about them. For example, our native language has not always been held in high regard, and even after we have suppressed it or forgotten it and mastered the dominant language we may be told: ‘But you speak with an accent!’ Of course everyone speaks with an accent. But ludicrous as these statements are many of us are persuaded to learn unaccented English by imitating the speech patterns of some of our untarnished leaders, such as Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Jimmy Carter or Henry Kissinger…

– Julian Samora

Julian Samora 1920 – 1996

The late Julian Samora was a Mexican American renaissance scholar who focused on immigration, civil rights, public health and rural poverty. In 1953 he completed his studies at Washington University in St. Louis becoming the first Mexican American to earn a doctorate in sociology and anthropology in the United States. He taught at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (1954-1956) and Michigan State University (1957-58) before being hired by the University of Notre Dame (1959-1985). His innovative work included being among the first to conduct research about the people living on the U.S. – Mexico border and research on Latinos living in the Midwest. Samora was the editor of the first book-length study of Mexican Americans, La Raza: Forgotten Americans, published in 1966 by the University of Notre Dame Press.  Samora wrote numerous journal articles and five books.

The reoccurring themes in Samora’s life and life’s work are the twin concepts of leadership: development and mentoring. Samora investigated leadership within the Latino community and its relationship to the dominant society. He studied how one became a leader and he influenced the training and mentoring of countless people.  Samora modeled leadership and mentoring beginning his freshman year in college and throughout his long career.

Julian Samora was a scholar. Samora’s groundbreaking ideas opened the way for Latinos to understand and study themselves intellectually and politically, to analyze the complex relationships between Mexicans and Mexican Americans, to study Mexican immigration, and to ready the United States for the reality of Latinos as the fastest growing minority in the nation. Through leadership, mentorship, scholarly research, teaching, and boots-on-the-ground activism, Samora seeded the minds of a generation of Latino scholars and community leaders. Samora viewed education as the cornerstone for changing one’s circumstances. Indeed, that was the method he had used and he employed it throughout his professional life. Active from the early 1940s to the 1990s, Samora’s commitment to training Mexican American academics and professionals was responsible for the largest and most significant cadre of Latino scholars produced by any individual. Begun in 1969 at the University of Notre Dame, the Mexican American Graduate Studies Program trained more than fifty academics and professionals in economics, government, history, law, psychology, and sociology before its close when Samora retired in 1985.  Those men and women earned advanced degrees and today are engaged in professional pursuits that allow them to mentor another generation of scholars, researchers, and policy makers.

In addition to his scholarly and pedagogical impact, his leadership in the struggle for civil rights was a testament to the power of community action and perseverance.  Samora’s impact can be felt not only through the written word, but also through the many people he mentored and influenced.  Samora’s impact is truly a living legacy.

The Project

The accomplishments of the Legacy Project include:

  1. Development of to post the research of the Samora Legacy project.
  2. Mining the Samora Archive to include access of key papers on
  3. Publication of an intellectual biography about Samora: Moving Beyond Borders, a book about Samora’s leadership methods and his role in the development of Latino Studies was published in 2009 by the University of Illinois Press.
  4. Leadership Oral Histories series: Narrativas de Nuevo Mexico was presented as an event in June 2011.  The oral histories of five Mexican American activists who played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement can be found on the website along with the filmed public event and timeline.  Shorter interviews are published on our YouTube Channel.

Ongoing Project

  • Development of educational materials including a K-20 curriculum for students of all ages and an accompanying teacher summer institute.

Consortium Members

The following institutions have generously contributed expertise, advice, and in-kind services to the project:

  • The University of Texas at Austin’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin, has housed the Samora papers since 1985.
  • The Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University and the JSLP have enjoyed a long and friendly relationship, with the JSRI contributing the original seed money for the JSLP to begin work.  Further, Michigan State University’s Matrix has provided the JSLP with KORA, an open-source tool for creating digital repositories.  Matrix has helped JSLP prepare the scanned Samora archival papers for viewing on the JSLP website.  Clips of JSRI’s first documentary about Julian Samora can also be found on our website.
  • The University of Notre Dame contributed seed monies early in the development of the project and facilitated the book project at the institution where Dr. Samora did the majority of his work.
  • The National Council of La Raza has historical and personal ties to Dr. Samora and has assisted in fundraising.
  • The University of New Mexico supported JSLP in the form of student fellowships and scholarships.
  • The New Mexico State Legislature supported JSLP through three state appropriations.


The JSLP is a non-profit organization.  Donations are tax deductible and always welcome.