California State University, Northridge Chicana/o Studies professor Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña has received a long list of awards throughout his career, but there was something special that resonated within him in receiving the John Hope Franklin Award on March 14.
This prestigious award was created in 2004 by Diverse Issues in Higher Education to honor the memory of Franklin, a historian, author and educator who was a leading voice in the civil rights movement.
Acuña recalled with admiration what it meant to hear Franklin talk during the mid-1960s, when he was studying for his doctorate. “He was a giant,” Acuña said. “At the time, he was the best-known black historian in the country. The way he came in and carried himself, he was such a figure.”
Even at 83, Acuña is still very much an active scholar, writing books and teaching classes in Chicana/o Studies, a department he founded in 1969. His 1972 book Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle Toward Liberation is one of the seminal works for the Latino movement, inspiring the likes of actress Eva Longoria ’13 (Chicana/o Studies), who enrolled at CSUN for her master’s degree after reading the book.
“As the founding faculty of CSUN’s Chicana/o Studies Department, Dr. Acuña is deserving of the John Hope Franklin Award,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. “We are proud of the growth of this department, and the difference it makes in the lives of so many young people, the University and our communities. CSUN’s ethnic studies departments collectively play a vital role in elevating the overall student academic experience.”
“He has mentored thousands of students and faculty who today have become significant contributors to U.S. society and the hemisphere for that matter,” said Chicana/o Studies Department Chair Gabriel Gutierrez.
Gutierrez pointed out that Acuña wrote more than 40 course proposals to establish a wide range of curricula for the Chicana/o Studies Department in the early days. And it is that staunch dedication to the department that has only continued to grow throughout the years.
“In getting the John Hope Franklin Award, I’m not looking at it as a recognition of me. I’m looking at it as a recognition of the department,” Acuña said. “That is very important because it put this school on the map in the Mexican community and the Latino communities.”
As he is well into his ninth decade, it is the students who keep bringing him back.
“You become like a grandfather and look at the kids, and you take pride in them,” Acuña said. “Life has been good to me, and I have to give back. That’s about it.”