Bakersfield College is set to celebrate art, education and activism with the Third Annual Jess Nieto Memorial Conference, which is set to kick off Monday.
The Jess Nieto Memorial Conference is an annual event honoring Professor Jesus “Jess” Gilberto Nieto. The Jess Nieto Conference will celebrate his legacy as the founder of the Chicano Studies program and Chicano Cultural Center at Bakersfield College. He was also the first advisor for the campus’ MEChA chapter.
“Hopefully, what (students) take away from (the conference) is an understanding of the significance of Latin X culture and history in the region and also its influence and its importance in the college’s community and culture,” said BC Professor Andrew Bond, who also organized the conference. “Hopefully they walk away with the understanding that ethnic studies is an important field, and it’s something that we should see more of in this region given the importance of this place, historically, in terms of the San Joaquin Valley being a destination for immigrants for for quite a long time.”
This year’s conference will feature student panels, past and present UFW leaders, discussions on public health and education, and a conversation with Dolores Huerta and Dr. Taina Caragol, Smithsonian Curator of Latino Art & History, about the traveling exhibition, Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields / Revolución en Los Campos, which is currently visiting the Bakersfield College Jones Art Gallery. All conference programming is free and open to the public.
Nieto was an educator, civil rights leader, noted internationalist, entrepreneur, scholar, community member, and promoter celebrant of the communities’ culture representative Bakersfield college students come from.
During the early 70s, college students called for Chicano Studies, and the administration recruited Nieto to meet this need.
Bakersfield College implemented a Chicano Studies program and the Chicano Cultural Center, initiated by students and supported by Dr. Jess Nieto. The Chicano studies program was a robust program within the international curriculum, offering courses and summer opportunities to study abroad in Mexico. Through this project, more than two dozen courses were offered at Bakersfield College, with Chicano studies descriptors course titles.
The conference is meant to tell these stories to students and the importance of having such a program on campus.
“If students feel seen, and if they feel that their background and their cultures are being represented, it’s a win-win situation because the college will see greater completion rates, and students will feel more empowered,” said Bond.
However, Bakersfield College does not offer as many ethnic studies classes as it once did in the past.
“I think this is a significant initiative that Bakersfield College should definitely reconsider trailblazing into demonstrating its institutional commitment into re-establishing a Chicano Studies program, but also an ethnic studies program that would center, the voices of the Mexican community just as this conference is doing, and also the voices of other minorities, and historically underrepresented communities in Kern County,” said Octavio Barajas, professor of Ethnic Studies at the College of Sequoias at the Visalia campus and former BC professor.
All conference programming is free and open to the public. ZOOM events require prior registration to attend. Those interested in attending can find a link to the scheduled events here. The conference runs from Monday, March 22 to Friday, March 26.