Oral Histories

Interview of Irene Tovar

Chicano movement activist, member of the Los Angeles County Mexican American Education Committee. Founding member of the Latin American Civic Association. Involved in the creation of a Chicano studies department at California State University, Northridge.
"La Batalla Está Aquí": The Chicana/o Movement in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Latina and Latino History
Chicano Movement
Biographical Note:
Chicano movement activist, member of the Los Angeles County Mexican American Education Committee. Founding member of the Latin American Civic Association. Involved in the creation of a Chicano studies department at California State University, Northridge.
Espino, Virginia
Tovar, Irene
Persons Present:
Tovar and Espino.
Place Conducted:
Tovar's home in Mission Hills, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Virginia Espino, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., UC, Santa Cruz (Psychology); Ph.D., Arizona State University (History).Espino prepared for the interview by consulting numerous secondary sources on the history of the Chicana and Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, such as Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement by Carlos Muñoz, Chicano Politics Reality and Promise 1940-1990 by Juan Gomez Quinones, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America by Vicki L. Ruiz, and Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Lopez Haney. The Historical Los Angeles Times database was consulted along with primary resources from the Chicana/o Movement housed at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Tovar was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
11.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in this series document the ideological transformation of the Chicana and Chicano generation in Los Angeles. Dissatisfied with their position in U.S. society, Chicana and Chicano activists built a civil rights movement from the ground up. Interviewees were selected based on their experience as members or leaders of Chicana and Chicano Movement organizations from 1962 to 1978. Collectively the oral histories document a variety of social justice struggles that include, but are not limited to, educational improvement, union advocacy, voting and political rights, gender equality, and anti-war activism.
Early family history; Family's experience with forced conscription during the Mexican Revolution; Lessons about justice learned from father; Parents’ early married life; Mother's complicated birthing experiences; Childhood memories of the San Fernando Valley; Parents' "Ser Humano" concept; Democratic ideals learned from parents; Grandfather's ability to cure animals; Father's reflections on the Mexican Revolution; Abduction of father's sisters during the Mexican Revolution; Picket line ethics during the Chicano Movement; Father's rationale for supporting the Mexican Revolution and his critical view of the war; Lessons of United States citizenship entitlement; Growing up in a proud and loving family; Childhood experience living in poverty; Childhood experience with school segregation and tracking; Experience in the Pacoima school system and the punishment of Spanish-speaking children; Reflections on the need to develop policies that address educational inequities; The importance of preparing young people to "sit at the table" of policy makers; Excelling in high school with little recognition from teachers; The burden of supporting oneself through school; Work experiences in a factory to pay for college education; Home life experiences with Spanish and English; Childhood lessons of love and justice; Role of parents in nurturing independent, confident, and proud Mexican children; Lack of mentorship from teachers while in the public school system; Lack of support for Mexican culture in the Pacoima school district.
High School experiences in the San Fernando Valley during the mid-1950s; Ranking in the top ten percent in the nation on the Iowa Test; Race discrimination and segregation during the high school years; Limited clothing during high school; Challenges encountered while trying to obtain a higher education; Impact of mother's cancer on college years; Unsupportive treatment by college officials during mother's illness; Reflections on the importance of access to a free and low-cost education; Side effects of mother's cancer; Working to obtain and survive the experience of a university education; Experience working at a toy factory; Poor working conditions at the factory; The importance of education; Reflections on the future of education and the Latino community; Reflections on living at the end of one era and the beginning of another; Trauma after John F. Kennedy's assassination; Experience with the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission; Working for Congressman James C. Corman; Importance of parental influence; Desire to enter the Peace Corps; Father's overprotective nature with daughters; Forming the Human Relations Club at California State University, Northridge; Lessons from the African American civil rights struggle; Lessons from John F. Kennedy's presidency; Organizing for bilingual education; Experience with the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission under John Allen Buggs; Role and impact of the Mexican American Youth Leadership Conference; Importance of student family support for Mexican American female students; Role of patriarchy and alcoholism in the Mexican American family; Educational attainment and its impact on issues of poverty; Observations of parent/child needs from experience with Head Start program; Reflections on the current educational crisis in higher education and the need for continued activism; Experience at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' 2012 redistricting hearings.
Memories of a quiet revolution experienced with the Los Angeles County Mexican American Education Committee; Educational needs of the Mexican American community; Marcos De Leon and the importance of bilingualism and biculturalism for Latinos; Formation of the Mexican American Education Commission; Differences between organizing in the early 1960s and the late 1960s; Importance of bilingualism and biculturalism for giving students dignity and self-respect; Consequences of anti-bilingual ideas; Female role models from the Mexican American Education Committee; Need for trade school and university access for Latinos; Importance of Latino and Latina representation on the Board of Education; Making parenting skills part of the education committee's goals; Marcos De Leon and his bilingual advocacy; Gender in the Mexican American Education Committee; Mother's advice; Importance of parental involvement in improving education for children.
Founding the Latin American Civic Association; The Mexican American versus the Latin American; Reflections on the “women’s auxiliary” of the Latin American Civic Association; Tackling issues of educational equality; Organizing the parents of pre-school children; Experience applying for federal grants through the Head Start program and combating stereotypes about the San Fernando Valley; Mainstream perceptions of bilingualism and fighting negative stereotypes; Role of women in the Latin American Civic Association; Gender conflict regarding appropriate role for women in the Latin American Civic Association; Registering voters with the Latin American Civic Association; The Latin American Civic Association’s creative work with multi-family programming; The “No on Proposition 14” campaign; The Latin American Civic Association's leadership in the Mexican American community during the War on Poverty; Mother's role in home health care in pre-1960 Pacoima; Parents' community service as a lesson for later activism; Role of the Latin American Civic Association in improving education for Latino children; Role as Latino community liaison at California State University, Northridge; Northridge students demand implementation of the Educational Opportunity Program; Role as the Chicano Community Center director; Enrollment of Latina students; Reflections on the current crisis in higher education and advice for continued activism.
Experience at California State University, Northridge establishing an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the burning of an administration building; Climate of resentment and misunderstanding between faculty of color and white faculty at Cal State, Northridge; Climate of protest and anger among students of color at Cal State, Northridge; Anger and the 1960s and 1970s Mexican American; Awakening to injustice and coming to terms with one's own power; Importance of education in breaking the chain of poverty; Crisis in the current public educational system; The need for a separate Chicano studies department and community center at Cal State, Northridge; Role of Mexican Americans in the formation of the United States; Relationship between African American and Mexican American students; Invitation to become director of the Chicano Community Center; Role in interviewing faculty for the new Chicano Studies department at Northridge.
Creating a Chicano studies department at California State University, Northridge; Community involvement in the hiring of faculty at Northridge; Unofficial community outreach and recruitment committee; Reflections on cultivating the “new” Chicana; Hiring Anna NietoGomez to the Chicano Studies Department; Impact of Anna NietoGomez on Chicana students; Era of openness in the hiring of minority faculty; Reflections on identity and the term Chicana; Growing up with a sense of entitlement to all the rights of a U.S. citizen regardless of gender; Role at California State University, Northridge in developing confidence in Latina students; Addressing male patriarchy in aiding Mexican American families in understanding college life; Issues of sexuality for female students; Retention issues for Latina and Latino students; Frank Del Olmo and the first Chicana and Chicano student graduation class at California State University, Northridge; Importance of Chicano studies and self-pride for Mexican American students.
Experience working with Opal Jones and the Neighborhood Adult Participation Program (NAPP); Developing leadership among the poor through the ideas of Saul Alinsky; Importance of community outreach in developing adult leadership; Addressing grassroots issues in the community; Mother's view of the education of women; Importance of the War on Poverty programs for Latinos; War on Poverty interethnic conflicts around program funding and staff appointments; Reflections on race, Opal Jones, and the War on Poverty; The impact of the Chicano Moratorium; Experience organizing the Chicano Moratorium; Remembering August 29, 1970; Experience with police harassment in the aftermath of August 29, 1970.