Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Interdisciplinary Studies in Critical Race Studies

First Advisor

Carrillo Rowe, Aimee

First Committee Member

Portman, Tarrell Awe Agahe

Second Committee Member

Pesantubbee, Michelene

Third Committee Member

Coulter, Joe D

Fourth Committee Member

Barcelo, Nancy "Rusty"


The 1960s and 1970s represent a pivotal period in US history and there is a growing body of critical research into how the massive changes of the era (re)shaped institutions and individuals. This dissertation furthers that research by focusing its attention on the creation of the Chicano Indian American Student Union (CIASU) at The University of Iowa in 1971 from an Interdisciplinary perspective. CIASU as the subject of study offers a site that is rich in context and content; this dissertation examines the ways in which a small group of minority students was able to create an ethnically defined cultural center in the Midwest where none had existed prior and does this by looking at the intersection of ethnic identity and student activism. Covering the years 1968-1972, this work provides a "before" and "after" snapshot of life for Chicano/a and American Indian students at Iowa and does so utilizing only historical documents as a way of better understanding how much more research needs to be done.

I explore the way in which various social movements such as the Anti-War Movement, the Chicano Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Women's Movement and the cause of the United Farm Workers influenced founding members Nancy V. "Rusty" Barceló, Ruth Pushetonequa and Antonio Zavala within their Midwestern situatedness as ethnic beings. My dissertation draws from and builds upon the work of Gloria Anzaldua in Borderlands/La Frontera by interrogating the ways in which CIASU and its "House" acted as a self-defined "borderlands" for the Chicano/a and American Indian students. I examine the ways in which the idea of "borderlands" is not limited to any one geographical area but is one defined by context and necessity. Also interrogated is how performativity of ethnic identity worked as both cultural comfort and challenge to the students themselves as well as to the larger University community through the use of dress and language, especially "Spanglish".

This dissertation examines the activism of CIASU within the University context and out in the Chicano/a and American Indian communities as liberatory practice and working to affect change. Specifically, presenting alternatives for minority communities through actions such as Pre-School classes and performances of El Teatro Zapata and Los Bailadores Zapatista and recruitment of Chicano/a and American Indian high school students. On campus, activism through publication is examined; El Laberinto as the in-house newsletter provides insight into the day-to-day concerns of the students and Nahuatzen, a literary magazine with a wider audience that focused on the larger political questions of the day, taking a broader view of the challenges of ethnic identity as a way to educate and inform. This dissertation views CIASU as a "bridge"; the students worked to create alliances between themselves and the larger University population as well as Chicano/a and American Indian communities. With the recent fortieth anniversary of CIASU it is evident the founding members' wish "to preserve our heritage and our identity" (Daily Iowan, November, 1970) continues and the organization they founded, now known as the Latino Native American Cultural Center, still serves the needs of Latino and American Indian students at Iowa.


American Indian, Borderlands/La Frontera, Chicano/a, Cultural Centers, Feminism, Social Movements


vi, 207 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 199-207).


Copyright 2011 Sandra E. Solis