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New Mexico Hispanic leader, civil rights group part ways over ethnic studies, monuments controversy

Ralph Arellanes had advocated for the removal of some Ethnic Studies classes, saying they instilled self-hatred among Latino students about their Spanish roots.
Ralph Arellanes speaks at a rally in Albuquerque, N.M., on March 8, 2012.
Ralph Arellanes speaks at a rally in Albuquerque, N.M., on March 8, 2012.Russell Contreras / AP file

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A New Mexico Hispanic activist upset about the removal of Spanish conquistador monuments and who demanded the state’s largest university remove some Ethnic Studies classes is no longer a leader in the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights group.

Fred Baca, the newly named League of United Latin American Citizens New Mexico Director, told The Associated Press that Ralph Arellanes was informed this week he won’t be returning as the group’s state executive director. Baca said Arellanes then resigned.

“In effect, he is no longer in that position,” Baca said.

Last week, Arellanes drew anger among LULAC members nationally after writing a letter to the president of the University of New Mexico and urging the school to remove any classes critical of Spanish conquistadors.

Arellanes, who signed that letter in his role of New Mexico LULAC executive director and chair of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, said he has collected stories of Hispanic students “leaving classrooms crying” after being told by professors that Spanish conquistadors participated in genocide against Indigenous populations.

“The Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, New Mexico LULAC and our many expert historians in New Mexico request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns,” Arellanes wrote. “We will be calling for the removal of these courses and programs that are teaching our New Mexico students this kind of hate and complete propaganda.”

However, LULAC said Arellanes did not get approval from the group to use its name in the letter, and removing Ethnic Studies classes was not the organization’s position.

Chicano Studies and Native American Studies professors around the country sharply criticized the letter as promoting censorship and attacking their programs.

“The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies values the varied work of Chicana/o/x and Indigenous scholars, writers, teachers, and artists in their pursuit of new and reconsidered research areas and the development of transformative pedagogies, including critical studies of colonization processes in the Americas,” the professional academic organization said in a statement in response to Arellanes.

Arellanes took to social media and said he was not talking about Chicano Studies or Native American Studies classes, but declined to say which programs he wanted to abolish.

Previously, Arellanes had attacked Chicano Studies professors at the University of New Mexico on Facebook and demanded they be fired over their views on Spanish conquistadors or because they were from California or Texas.

Baca also announced New Mexico LULAC was leaving the umbrella group, the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, which Arellanes leads. That group seeks to pull Latino groups from around the nation’s most Hispanic state into one coalition.

“I need to learn more about what the Roundtable does and what its goals are,” Baca said. “I do not know how active it is or even who composes this organization.”

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