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150W: Matriarchs of TWLF
Ethnic Studies

A look into the history of the matriarchs of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley

150W: The Third World Liberation Front*

October 3, 2020, marked the 150th anniversary of the UC Regents’ unanimous approval of a resolution by Regent Samuel F. Butterworth: “That young ladies be admitted into the University on equal terms in all respects with young men.” Although the first women were admitted to the university in 1872, the UC was still a long way from ensuring access and equity for all students. Students of color, in particular, ignited a movement for a relevant curriculum as a result of racism and inadequate education surrounding ethnic histories. Ninety-six years later, in 1968, a coalition of minority student groups banded together to fight for a Third World College; united as the Third World Liberation Front, Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color played a pivotal role. In 1969, the longest strike in student history birthed the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. 


In commemoration of the 150 years of women at UC Berkeley, I had the honor of interviewing some of the original women involved with the 1969 Third World Liberation Front at UC Berkeley, including LaNada War Jack, Clementina Duron, Estella Quintanilla, Nina Genera, Maria Elena Ramirez, Victoria Wong, Lea Ybarra, and Theresa Loya Asturias. Our zoom meeting was filled with joyous laughter, recollections of bonds shared, and the struggles that brought them together. It felt like sitting at brunch with a table of wise aunties. As a recent grad of the Ethnic Studies department, I learned the general history of the TWLF, but there was little information detailing the unique experiences of the women from the movement. Our long conversation touched on questions I have held for years. Did their struggles as women of color in the 60s look like the struggles we face today? What did their day-to-day routines during the strike look like? How have they carried this piece of history with them for the past 51 years? 


The TWLF of 1968-69 was assembled during a period of intense socio-political unrest. High political tension around the world reverberated back to the different racialized groups of the university and they used this energy to transform the landscape of academia for historically marginalized people. In 1968, minority enrollment was at 9%. This would increase to 20% by 1973. According to the Academic Senate, “a mere 2.8 and 1.3 percent of Berkeley undergraduates in 1968 were, respectively, Black and Hispanic.” Estella Quintanilla says there were somewhere around 60-100 Chicanos on campus at the time of the strikes and around 14 Asian students. Compassion and solidarity attracted thousands of students and community members of many backgrounds to the Third World Liberation Front, making it the longest student strike in history.


The TWLF was initiated by San Francisco State University in the Spring of 1968 and was heavily inspired by the Black Panther Party of which many Black Student Union Members were members. UC Berkeley’s Afro-American Student Union (AASU) released their statement demanding a Black Studies Program. Their proposal stated:


 “We demand a program of ‘BLACK STUDIES’,  a program which will be of, by, and for black people. We demand that we be educated realistically… If the university is not prepared to educate us in such a way that our education may be relative to our lives, then we ask that the university prepare itself to do so immediately.” (See the Black Studies Proposal in full here.) 


The university rejected the proposal. The regents of the university later approved a “watered-down version of the Black Studies Program; completely deleting any self-determination which was the guiding principle of our strike,” says Victoria Wong. Other minority groups on campus heard the demands of the AASU and showed their solidarity and support by going on strike united as the TWLF on January 21st, 1969. The student groups involved were the Asian American Political Alliance (APPA), Mexican American Student Confederation (MASC), and Native American Students United. Together they formed a multiethnic coalition united by a shared ideological goal of decolonizing their education to address the historical trauma and oppression perpetrated by the racism of western civilization. They strove to create a space for Third World People within the hegemonic terrain of higher education– the Third World College. After many months of striking and pushback from the administration, the TWLF compromised with the University to establish the Department of Ethnic Studies. It housed the programs of African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, and Native American Studies. Eventually, these programs expanded and African American Studies branched out into a separate department. Asian American Studies became Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies and Chicano Studies became Chicano/a and Latino Studies.


Below are the stories of some of the women that were at the vanguard of that historic struggle.

Click for a list of TWLF resources.

*Click here to view the interview materials via Calisphere

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