An Open Letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom on Ethnic Studies

Dear Governor Gavin Newsom,

As one of the few tenured Latina/o faculty members at the California State University (CSU)—the largest public university system in the country—I’m requesting that you sign Assembly Bill 1460 or AB 1460 (ethnic studies bill), once it reaches your desk. As a son of Mexican immigrants who was born in the State Capital, I’m neither asking nor begging. This is not a “mother may I” or “pretty please” ask. As part of a racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists, this is a formal request for you to do the right thing. While I don’t believe in settling for crumbs—where all CSU’s should have a College of Ethnic Studies!—AB 1460 represents a small, yet important first start to diversify CSU’s curricula with a 3-unit ethnic studies course for graduation. It usually takes 120 units to graduate, as I documented in my recent essay, “The Right to Ethnic Studies in Higher Education” (Inside Higher Ed, 05/15/20).

In a time when the curtains of white supremacy are being torn down by the masses on the streets and countless others in divergent spaces, this is not the time to oppose a bill aimed at teaching tomorrow’s leaders about the history and plight of the racialized, marginalized and otherized. Given that you represent the most powerful person in California, if anything, do it for your legacy. You don’t want to follow in the disgraceful steps of former Governor Pete Wilson with his support in 1994 of Proposition 187—a failed, racist proposition aimed at immigrants. Too often, politicians talk a good game about racial justice and equity, but when it comes to action, they hide behind the same rules, regulations and protocols that brutalize and dehumanize racialized groups and others.

At the end of the day, a 3-unit ethnic studies course is a minor request. This formal request doesn’t include the abolition of police forces, prisons and immigration detention centers in California, representing racist institutions that beat, murder and cage mostly brown and black bodies. Hence, given that AB 1460 doesn’t threaten the status quo in a radical or transformative manner, I’m not sure why you haven’t already committed to signing it?

While I’m aware that the predominately white CSU leadership, including Chancellor Timothy P. White, opposes AB 1460, you should consider the fact that the majority of CSU students are non-white. For example, 21 out of 23 campuses consist of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). Don’t be fooled by the CSU’s diluted “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” graduation requirement, which includes and goes beyond AB 1460’s four designated groups: Latinas/os, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. By going beyond these four groups to include all types of “hierarchy and oppression” under the sun, this nonsense seeks to appease everyone, like the racist “All Lives Matter.” To counter this diluted measure, I’m compelled to borrow from Dr. Aaron Wildavsky’s 1973 article on urban planning: If “ethnic studies and social justice” is everything, maybe it’s nothing.

This open letter is not simply an individual request, as noted above. This is part of a racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists. This also includes the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies, the California Faculty Association and others who seek to transform higher education to reflect the changing demographics of this nation.

As a member of the Academic Senate at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (or Cal Poly Pomona), I’m happy to report that we recently approved an anti-racist resolution which includes support for an ethnic studies graduation requirement (06/17/20), following the examples of San Diego State University (SDSU) and California State University, Stanislaus. It’s also great that California State University, Northridge’s (CSUN’s) Academic Senate explicitly includes AB 1460 in their resolution (02/20/20).

Finally, like Bob Dylan’s famous song, “The Times They Are a-Changin,” I hope that you, as governor of the great state of California (formerly part of Mexico!), “…heed the call” to what we—the racialized, marginalized and otherized—are demanding during these dark times: to be listened to; to be treated with dignity and respect.


Álvaro Huerta, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Academic Senate Member
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


More articles by:

Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).

July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber