March in the Mid-Columbia and in the Yakima Valley, in particular, holds a lot of meaning for a retired history professor visiting Washington State University Tri-Cities this week.
“In my history, in my experience, the trucks would start coming in from Texas,” recalled Antonia Castañeda, adding that those trucks were full of migrant Mexican-American families who came for the agricultural work the season brought to the region.
It’s a culture Castañeda has a lot of familiarity with, being the child of migrants who settled in the Lower Yakima Valley immediately after World War II and growing up in a labor camp.
Now she’s returning to speak on “Righting Chicana History,” a look at the development of the field that’s the basis for her life and that of many others who’ve been largely marginalized in the U.S.
“This is U.S. history. This is the history of U.S. citizens,” Castañeda said.
Castañeda’s family lived close to Toppenish after they relocated to the region when she was 4.
They were Tejanos, or Mexican Americans from Texas, who were U.S. citizens as a result of the U.S. ceding what was once part of Mexico after the Mexican American War of the mid-1840s.
Over the years, Tejanos faced discrimination and became disenfranchised in everything from education to property ownership, resulting in many becoming migrant workers.
While Castañeda’s family lived in a labor camp and didn’t have much money, she and her siblings benefited from her father being a semi-skilled carpenter. It was a year-round job, so the family could stay in one place instead of move with the seasons.
Righting Chicana History When: From 3 to 5 p.m., March 24 Where: East Building auditorium, WSU Tri-Cities Cost: Free and open to the public
The family’s stability allowed Castañeda and her siblings to focus on their education. She graduated from Granger High School before earning degrees from Western Washington University, University of Washington and Stanford University.
She also participated in the Chicano Movement — part of the Civil Rights movement that transformed the country in the ’60s. Chicano, or Chicana in the feminine, was a term that came out of that movement as a self-identifier for Mexican-Americans in contrast to the terms used by the government, such as Hispanic.
The movement also was about making sure the history of Chicanos in the U.S. wasn’t glossed over as it had been in the past.
“Really, the civil rights movements were much broader than political suffrage,” she said. “It was also about access to other rights, such as education.”
Really, the civil rights movements were much broader than political suffrage. It was also about access to other rights, such as education.
Antonia Castañeda, history professor
WSU Tri-Cities is the most diverse campus in the WSU system, with about one-third of its students hailing from minority backgrounds. That was one of the drivers in bringing Castañeda to campus, said Eric Johnson, an associate professor and director of outreach for the university.
“(Chancellor H. Keith) Moo-Young is very dedicated to supporting campus events and programs that align with the mission of the (university’s) Diversity and Inclusion Council,” Johnson wrote in an email.
And while Castañeda has returned to her family’s roots in Texas, having most recently taught at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and the University of Texas at Austin, she views her visit as a homecoming, especially as she still has siblings and other relatives in the region.
“I consider myself a Tejana, but Washington and Yakima Valley is as much my home,” she said.