Gilbert G. Gonzalez
A pioneer in the discipline of Chicano Latino Studies and one of UC Irvine’s inaugural faculty members, Professor Gilbert Gonzalez began his decades-long association with UCI in 1971. His career is distinguished both by his prolific, ground-breaking scholarship and by his unceasing commitment to developing academic programs and curriculum in the areas of Chicano Latino Studies and labor studies.
The son of Mexican migrant agricultural workers and the first person in his family to complete elementary school, Professor Gonzalez began his college education at East Los Angeles Community College. He transferred to California State University, Los Angeles, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in 1964. After graduation, he joined the Peace Corps, hoping to serve in Mexico. Instead, Gonzales was sent to Caracas, Venezuela, where he worked for two years and then traveled extensively throughout Latin America. Returning to the U.S., he began graduate studies at Cal State Los Angeles and completed a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies.
During his studies at CSULA, Gonzalez was active in the burgeoning nationwide Chicano movement. He served as chair of the newly-created CSULA Chicano Studies Department, the first of its kind in the U.S. As a founding member of the student activist organization, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), he co-wrote the education section of the organization’s Plan de Santa Barbara, the foundational document of the Chicano movement which articulated demands for the development of college-level curriculum on Chicano history and studies in American universities.
Gonzalez entered the doctoral program in History at UCLA, completing the Ph.D. in 1974. While a graduate student, he participated in the 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam War and was hired as an Acting Assistant Professor at UCI. In 1971 he joined the Comparative Culture Program, UCI’s first programmatic venture into the emerging interdisciplinary field of Ethnic Studies. When the Comparative Culture program was dissolved in 1990, Professor Gonzalez collaborated for the next two years with a group of faculty, staff and students to develop a Program in Chicano Studies, serving as director of the new program from 1990-92. Under his visionary leadership, the program expanded and launched an undergraduate major in 2001. It has since grown into UCI’s current department of Chicano Latino Studies, which is consistently ranked among the nation’s top programs in terms of its research productivity and scholarly impact. In the mid-1990s, Professor Gonzalez founded and directed a Labor Studies Program at UC Irvine. Over the next eight years, the Program organized several conferences, awarded graduate student fellowships, and produced an edited anthology on labor and migration.
During the course of his four decades-long career, Gilbert Gonzalez published seven books and sixty-one scholarly essays examining the topics of Mexican migration, education, and labor from a transnational perspective. His articles have appeared in major academic journals including the Western Historical Quarterly, Journal of Ethnic Studies, Labor History, Pacific Historical Review, California History, Aztlán, History of Education, Radical History, The Insurgent Sociologist, Comparative Education, Race and Class, Journal of Education and Latin American Perspectives. His books Progressive Education: A Marxist Interpretation (Marxist Educationa Press, 1982) and Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation ( Balch Institute Press 1990; University of North Texas Press, 2013, Reprint) uncovered the strategies employed by segregated schools to produce Mexican children as a source of cheap labor. Mexican Consuls and Labor Organizing: Imperial Politics in the American Southwest, 1920-1940 (University of Texas, 1999) examined the union politics of the ethnic Mexican community buffeted by political factors in Mexico and the United States.
In A Century of Chicano History: Empire, Nations and Migration, (Routledge, 2003), which he co-authored with Professor Raul Fernandez, Gonzalez examined the roots of Chicano history and the central role of U.S. economic imperialism in catalyzing U.S.-Mexico migration for over a century. The work was a respected and popular textbook for Chicano Studies courses for over a decade. Following that book, he published Culture of Empire: American Writers, Mexico and Mexican Immigrants, 1880-1930 (University of Texas Press, 2004), in which he examined the impact of asymmetrical economic relations between the U.S. and Mexico on the historical evolution of the Mexican American people. That same year, Gonzalez served as lead co-editor of Labor Versus Empire: Race, Gender and Migration (Routledge, June 2004), a major anthology that shed critical new light on the imperial origins and social and political repercussions of globalization. His most recent book, Guest Workers or Colonized Labor: Mexican Labor Migration to the United States (Paradigm, 2006), explored the history of guest worker agreements between Mexico and the United States, uncovering previously unexplored parallels between Mexican contract labor regimes in the U.S. and British and French colonial labor procurement systems in India and Algeria.
Professor Gonzalez ventured into the realm of documentary filmmaking, working for four years to produce Harvest of Loneliness: The Bracero Program, a labor of love which was completed shortly after his transition to Emeritus. Harvest of Loneliness was broadcast on forty PBS stations across the United States during Hispanic Heritage Month 2013, and screened in more than fifty venues in its first year, including UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz; UT Austin and the Universities of Kansas, Washington, Cornell, Utah, Missouri, and Pomona College; conferences at the Smithsonian, Los Angeles and New York, and internationally in Innsbruck and Mexico City; as well as seventeen film festivals in Europe and Latin America. Among its many recognitions, Harvest of Loneliness was awarded the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2010 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival; Best Educational Film, 2010 Amsterdam Film Festival; and Best Film, 2012 Popular Culture/American Culture Association.
Even as he maintained this extraordinary level of scholarly production, Professor Gonzalez participated actively in the UCI community, exercising leadership at all levels. He served on the Chancellor’s 1971 Minority Affairs Committee; as Faculty Advisor for The Blade (a minority students newspaper) between 1977-79; on the Academic Senate Committee on Student Affirmative Action from 1989-90; and on the Search Committee for a Director of Teacher Education in 1990. He was Chair of the Program in Comparative Culture from 1981-83; Faculty in Residence at the Cross Cultural Center in 1989; and Chair of the Academic Senate Affirmative Action Committee in 1993 and again in 1996. He was Chair of the Council on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools from 2014-15 and a member of the UCI Academic Cabinet in 2015; during the same year, he also served as a member of the UCI Enrollment Council and as UCI Representative to the UCOP Board of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools.
In the words of Chicana historian and National Humanities Medal recipient Professor Emeritus Vicki Ruiz, “Gil Gonzalez is one of the most well-known and productive Chicano historians in the nation. He has a sterling reputation for the rigor of his scholarship.” Professor Gonzalez is also widely recognized for his service to the discipline of Chicano Latino Studies and to the University of California; for his courtesy, humility and collegiality, and for his unfailing advocacy for URM, first generation, and especially Chicano/Latinx students.
To honor Professor Gonzalez’s contribution to the field of Chicano history and his leading role in the development of academic programs in the field, the Arizona State University Library created the Gilbert G. Gonzalez Collection archive in 1995.
In 2011, UCI’s Department of Chicano Latino Studies created the Gilbert G. Gonzalez Graduate Student Paper Prize, which is awarded every spring to the best paper by a graduate student enrolled in the Graduate Emphasis or the CHC/LAT 200A graduate seminar.