Jess Nieto — pioneer of Chicano Studies curriculum — celebrated at BC conference

April 22, 2019 /


Last year the Jess Nieto Memorial Conference inaugurated a formal reflection on Nieto’s legacy, one of Bakersfield’s finest internationalists, entrepreneurs, civil rights and educational leaders in context of the 50th anniversary of the Chicano student blowouts, a youthful 1968 movement demanding improvement for their community and to the educational system. This year the conference engages the significance of the half century existence of MEChA Philosophy.

MEChA Philosophy was fundamentally put into words in April 1969 not so far from Bakersfield — at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The outcome was a 155-page document known as the “El Plan de Santa Barbara” that served as the incipient blueprint for Chicano Studies programs in colleges and universities throughout the United States. The document’s tenor emphasizes a vital and reciprocal link between Chicano Studies programs in higher education and the Chicano community.

Another major result of the 1969 Santa Barbara convening called on Mexican-American school clubs to unify as M.E.Ch.A., or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a Spanish acronym meaning the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan. Consequently, MEChA, for many past, and current members, has served as a formidable experience of civic engagement for ameliorating community disparities.

The public is invited to learn more about this conference theme at the second annual Jess Nieto Memorial Conference. The Nieto Memorial conference will be taking place April 23-25. The majority of conference activity, with the exception of Wednesday’s film screening, takes place in the Levan Center for the Humanities at Bakersfield College’s Panorama campus from 3 to 8 p.m.

The conference features a great variety of panel discussions. A BC student panel will discuss its extracurricular work through a new project called Conexiones that brings together students from various BC organizations, MEChA, LUPE, Latinas Unidas, the Spanish Club and the Pre-Law Club, to focus on leadership development and making BC a more supportive and welcoming place for DREAMERS.

Another panel will focus on Ray Gonzales, who taught and mentored Nieto at BC and Cal State Long Beach. The two later collaborated on various projects including a civil suit concerning the underrepresentation of minorities in the news that had national consequence. Gonzales’ accomplishments are impressive for this Bakersfield native: veteran, college educator, state legislator, U.S. diplomat, BCSD Trustee, just to name a few. His daughter, Emily Gonzales, will serve as one of the panelists.

This year’s conference will also expand in the bounty of artistic expression by linking the Bakersfield community with our campus. Jorge Guillen, who led the Rexland Acres Park mural project in south Bakersfield, will be giving an art talk. A Chicano art exhibit by community artists and advanced BC art majors, and live-music by BC’s Jazz Ensemble featuring Louie Cruz Beltran, a BC alumnus and accomplished Latin Jazz musician, will all be part of Tuesday’s cultural banquet.

This year’s keynote address will be given by Sean Arce, co-founder and former director of Tucson’s nationally renowned K-12 Mexican American Studies Department, and recipient of the first Myles Horton Award for Teachings People’s History from the Zinn Education Project in 2012. His talk is titled “The Moral and Demographic Imperative of XicanaX Studies.”

There also will be a film screening of “The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo,” and the producer and director, Phillip Rodriguez, will join us to discuss after the significance of his documentary based on the life of Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, a controversial Chicano Movement attorney, who Benicio Del Toro portrayed as Dr. Gonzo in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Yet, there’s more, such as panels by 1970s BC MEChA members and UCSB and UCSC graduate students, and student prize-winning presentations of the Levan Center’s Hispanic and Native American Interest Award.

None of this would be possible without the following sponsors: BC Student Government Association’s CCA Grant, Levan Center for the Humanities, Immigrants Rising, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Law Office of David J. Rivera, and the Law Offices of David A. Torres.

Registration is free, and more information is available on BC’s website. If you wish to donate to next year’s Nieto Memorial conference, contact the BC Foundation at (661) 395-4885.

Octavio Barajas is an adjunct history instructor at Bakersfield College. He can be reached at