The journeys of many societal leaders are remarkable. Embedded in those journeys are a purpose, struggle, a calling, a question, and often, a chip on a shoulder that has driven these leaders to endure what they have. Consider the journeys of Rosie Castro, Gloria Zamora, Gil Coronado, Belle Ortiz, Jessie Treviño and Antonio Rigual.
Castro is an activist and educator who has advocated for removing racial and economic boundaries from communities. She has raised two national leaders in former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.
As a schoolteacher in the 1950s, Zamora sparked the beginning of early childhood bilingual education when she closed the door to her classroom and spoke to Spanish-speaking first graders in their native tongue when speaking Spanish was against the law in Texas.
A retired Air Force colonel, Coronado worked with President Ronald Reagan to persuade Congress to extend a week-long celebration of the contributions of Hispanics to 30 days, now known as Hispanic Heritage Month.
A gifted musician, Ortiz became the godmother of mariachi music education. She started the first high school mariachi program in San Antonio in 1970 and the first at San Antonio College in 1974. Today, mariachi is taught in more than 500 schools in the U.S.
An emerging artist, Treviño returned from Vietnam wounded and lost his right painting hand. He later became renowned for art that depicted stories about the Mexican American community, all produced with his left hand.
Rigual was a Spanish professor who founded the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities (HACU) at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) in San Antonio. OLLU became one of the 18 original Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) through his leadership.
If we were to design “The Hispanic University of America” from scratch, it would start with Castro, Zamora, Coronado, Ortiz, Treviño and Rigual, the first five being OLLU alumni and the latter a former OLLU provost and professor. Each has moved society forward by calling attention to issues of great importance. Advocacy, bilingual education, music, art, Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Serving Institutions have impacted my life and millions more.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic and largest minority group in the U.S., increasing by 23% over the last decade to 62.1 million. This represents incredible opportunity and enormous obligation.
Hispanics have a median household income of $57,981 compared to $70,784 for the general population. The U.S. has more than 56 million learners in K-12 and another 16.9 million in higher education; Hispanics represent 28% of K-12 learners and nearly 20% of college students. Alas, the postsecondary educational attainment of U.S. Hispanics 25-29 years old is 34% compared to 49% for the general population. What an enormous obligation to ensure that our country’s largest minority group is educated and achieving continued success.
The Hispanic University of America is where movements are born and titans are groomed. It is where transformation occurs. OLLU launched the nation’s first bilingual education training program for teachers in 1967. In 1968, OLLU held the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Hearings for Mexican Americans to address education, employment and economic security concerns. In 1969, state Sen. Joe Bernal, an alumnus, authored the first bilingual education act in Texas. In 1992, HACU persuaded Congress to recognize campuses with high Hispanic enrollment as federally designated HSIs. In 2022, more than 500 HSIs received more than $240 million in federal funding. You see, the impacts of The Hispanic University of America are felt today, every day, throughout our country.
Founded by the Sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence, OLLU is located in 78207, one of our country’s most economically impoverished zip codes. Our zip code trails in many national sociodemographic indicators, including educational attainment. These realities and our founding virtues remind us of OLLU’s incredible opportunity and enormous obligation to lead by example, again, at a time when our communities are yearning for leadership. The leaders I introduced above — Castro, Zamora, Coronado, Ortiz, Treviño and Rigual — have all shaped The Hispanic University of America, seeding our legacy.
We at this university understand it is our turn to take bold steps and embrace our obligation to serve as the national model. The Hispanic University of America is the plaza of San Antonio’s West Side, serving as an agent of providence and love for its neighbors. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us and ask our neighbors to stand on ours.
It is a given that every learner who wishes to will have access to OLLU with an opportunity to complete their credential in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost. The Hispanic University of America owns its obligation to reimagine inside and outside the classroom while using our 55 acres as our laboratory for community transformation.
We are redefining the standard, not stopping at calling out the decades-old cross-infrastructure challenges of our neighborhood. The Hispanic University of America is innovating multi- and trans-disciplinary methods that tackle our neighbors’ and region’s most complex, community-based infrastructure problems while placing our human-centered faculty, staff, and students at the problem-solving center. Our 55 acres provide spaces for all forms of health — physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. Like the giants who came before us, The Hispanic University of America will continue being a testbed for community innovation, conversation and love.