Rudy and Me: Ode to a Living Legend, Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña

I first met Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña (“Rudy”) in Fall of 1986, as a UCLA undergraduate from East Los Angeles. It wasn’t in person. I met the famous author by reading his classic book, Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation (1972). The late and great Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (“JGQ”) assigned Rudy’s book in his course, History of Chicano People (HIST M119A), where I miraculously received a “B+.” Reading Rudy’s book changed my life! Never had I read a book by a Chicana/o scholar about my people. I felt the same way when I later read JGQ’s Sembradores: Ricardo Flores Magón y el Partido Liberal Mexicano: A Eulogy and Critique (1973) and Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987).

All brilliant!

I also felt robbed. Why didn’t I learn about my people — Mexicans on both sides of la frontera — during my K-12 public school education? Why did I have to travel from the Eastside to the Westide, like crossing an international border(!), to finally learn that we — Chicanas and Chicanos — also have a rich history to document and tell? A history that is worthy of scholarly study at elite colleges and universities (nationally) that weren’t designed for us to begin with.

Like other pioneers in Chicana and Chicano studies, I admire Rudy for his over 50 years of researching, publishing and teaching in this important field of study. This includes mentoring countless students, activists and leaders. I especially admire him for advocating for los de abajo without apologies or compromises! Since Rudy is a brilliant, kind and humble human being, he’s not one to boast about his life-long accomplishments, as he’ll reach 90 years of age on May 18, 1932.

Hence, I’ll do it for him. In my expert opinion, Rudy is a living legend.

The Rudy’s of the world are few and far between. It’s imperative for us to learn from them, which includes their successes and failures. As I don’t believe in idols or idolizing anyone (unless someone wants to nominate me!), I treat everyone whom I respect equally, whether they’re full professors (like Rudy and JGQ) or domésticas (like my late jefita Carmen and suegra Librada). Raised in a large Mexican household, I was taught to respect my elders. This is the way of our indigenous ancestors — something absent in White America.

As a scholar-activist, over the years I’ve had to privilege of collaborating with Rudy. We’ve been on scholarly panels together.

Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña and Dr. Álvaro Huerta, Plaza de La Raza, September 10, 2016

I’ve lectured on Chicana/o art (focusing on the great artist, Salomón Huerta) at his CSUN undergraduate class (April 25, 2018).

Dr. Álvaro Huerta and Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña, CSUN, April 25, 2018

I’ve reviewed and provided a blurb for one of his books, Assault on Mexican American Collective Memory, 2010–2015: Swimming with Sharks (2017). He did the same for my book, Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond (2019).

I am especially grateful to Rudy for attending the velorio of my late brother, Noel Huerta (“Nene”). On the saddest day of my life, when I delivered Nene’s eulogy (the most difficulty thing I had to do!), I noticed Rudy in attendance, along with family members (immediate, extended), friends and a few of Nene’s homies. For me, this is more important than faculty positions, degrees, books or awards.

This is personal.

Noel “Nene” Huerta (circa early 1990s at UCSB)

Rudy and Nene first met at UCSB when Rudy was fighting his discrimination case against the university. During this time, thousands of students, faculty members, activists and community members showed their support and love for him. This included engaging in rallies, protests, petitions, legal actions, etc. Nene, as a highly gifted student activist, was one of them. Rudy always had kind things to say about Nene, like everyone else who had the privilege of knowing and meeting him.

As Rudy eventually prevailed in the courts on October 30, 1995, with the settlement funds, he established a non-profit foundation, For Chicana Chicano Studies Foundation, to support other Chicana/o faculty against discrimination in higher education. This foundation also provides scholarships for students at his home campus, CSUN. This is just another fine example of his generosity.

Apart from his generosity, teaching, scholarship and activism, as a public figure, Rudy has always been very vocal against injustices in higher education (e.g., neoliberalism) and society (e.g., systemic racism). While many tenured faculty members shy away from criticizing their own administration due to careerism, Rudy has never been shy in this area, where he has experienced retaliation. Rudy has always prioritized students, especially first-generation, immigrant and working-class. To the present, Rudy has no problems reminding the lords of universities that they are not corporate leaders serving shareholders. They are public servants and should conduct themselves according.

In short, when it comes down to defending la Raza, like was the case with JGQ and Anzaldúa, Rudy is fearless. He represents a model for us all.

For everything he’s done — in good and bad times — Rudy will always be familia to me!

Dr. Álvaro Huerta is a Religion and Public Life Organizing Fellow at Harvard University and an Assoc. Professor at Cal State Polytechnic University, Pomona.