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University of Northern Colorado’s shining star
Photo courtesy: UNC

By Ernest Gurulé

Sitting in one of the comfortable leather chairs in the spacious Colorado History Museum lobby, it’s not hard to envision the day when there might be an exhibit in this very building dedicated to the woman I’m speaking with today. Dr. Pricilla Falcon is a professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. But that is hardly the best description for someone who has enjoyed a crow’s nest view of contemporary Colorado history.

The Colorado native, born in the nearly forgotten hamlet of Los Valdeses in the San Luis Valley, has made the hour-long trip from Greeley to chat about a life spent in education. But also to speak about the near social and cultural earthquake Latinos have experienced in slightly more than a generation. It’s a seismic event whose aftershocks, she also predicts, will be felt all through the century.

Growing up in the truly unpopulated part of an unpopulated county could mean for Falcon and her family, literally, a day away from home for things as simple as a doctor’s visit, grocery shopping or a trip to the library. And while time moved at glacial speed at home, in Boulder, where she went for college, it was moving like a meteor.

“It was a time when people came together,” she recalled, and on many different fronts. The things uniting young Latinos back then---and continue to this day for Falcon---were segregation, equality, social justice and, certainly, war. Back then Vietnam was the metaphor for how young people saw the world. “The 1960’s were a very special time.”

Falcon did well enough in school to earn a scholarship to Adams State University and was all set to go. But things, back then, were moving quickly. Suddenly, she had a choice. A government program called VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, was recruiting bright young students from rural communities to places like Boulder and she jumped at the opportunity. There, amidst the social upheaval that found sanctuary on campuses all across the country, including the University of Colorado, she found her niche.

“When I went to Boulder, I began to see societal changes,” said the UNC professor. None of these changes were anything resembling life back home. At home, said Falcon, “We were segregated to the back of the classrooms because we entered school late.” The district, back then, provided a special dispensation for her, her sisters and the rest of the children of Los Valdeses, so they could remain with their families during the harvest. Still, she persisted and found her calling in Boulder.

UMAS, United Mexican American Students, was going strong. It rallied for causes that either neglected Latinos or provided only lip service. Demonstrations, rallies and strikes were the norm back then. But, as a result of these actions, change came, sometimes slowly and sometimes at great cost.

As she was getting acclimated to her new college and activist life, she was also falling in love. In Boulder, she met and married fellow student, Ricardo Falcon. Sadly, in 1972, he was killed in New Mexico as he and some friends were returning from Texas where they had attended a UMAS convention. As they returned, Falcon and his friends stopped at a gas station in Orogrande, New Mexico. They needed water to cool the car’s radiator.

A confrontation over the water or something else between Falcon and gas station owner, Perry Brunson, escalated. Brunson shot Falcon and before help could arrive, he bled to death. Brunson was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted by an all-white jury. “He got away with murder,” said Falcon, angry but in full control of this long-festering wound. “He never served a day in jail.”

Her husband’s death was devastating. It delayed but did not detour her. Heartbroken, as anyone in her situation would be, she soldiered on. She had a goal and, no matter the challenge, would somehow meet it. Because she had a young child, quitting was not an option.

She continued on, graduating from CU. Later she joined the faculty at Adams State University and after a five-year stay, moved on to the University of Northern Colorado where today she is a Professor of Mexican American Studies and Director of the Colorado Oral History and Migratory Labor Project, Bracero Project and Workplace raids. She also earned her Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Denver.

Her focus today is education and making certain that young Latinos as well as the diverse student groups entering her classroom learn the lessons of history...Mexican-American history. “Our story needs to be told,” she said with a gentle but no-nonsense tone in her voice. Her charge has never been more important with disciplines like hers under attack from critics who say Mexican-American or Chicano studies is more divisive than educational. Falcon could not disagree more.

While she is passionate about the MAS program, two years ago she and the rest of the department found themselves at odds with the school’s administration. It announced in September of 2015 that effective immediately the MAS program would end. Falcon along with her fellow department faculty fought the decision and prevailed. MAS is once again sailing along with a steady student enrollment.

The University’s Mexican-American Studies Program with University Libraries and in partnership with History Colorado presents “El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Northern Colorado” exhibit. It is a timeline of the Chicano movement along with some of its key participants in the sixties and seventies. It is open to the public at Michener Library at 14th Ave. and 20th St. The exhibit runs through September 27th. Falcon served as an advisor and was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to UNC.

It is interesting, said Falcon, despite time that is now measured in decades since first putting her foot in the water of higher education, there is not much difference between Chicano Studies students of the seventies and those of today. “One of the factors that crosses over both is the issue of identify.” Latino students coming into her class, she said, often “are lacking in identity, not understanding where their place is in society. They have the same questions we had.”

As she looks back over a career, one marked by extraordinary achievement in which she has traveled the country lecturing on the Chicano studies, visited places like post-revolution Nicaragua and authored academic standards, including “Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies and “Only Strong Women Stayed: Women Workers and the National Floral Workers Strike, 1968-69,” Falcon remains remarkably comfortable in her own skin. She may not have changed the world, but every day that she entered a classroom, she knows she did her best to make a positive difference.

Her immediate plans are to return to UNC when classes resume. And the son who was the only part of her world that crashed several decades ago, is now on the faculty at the University of New Mexico Medical School.





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