Flying Over Barriers in Aviation

Batting leadoff in this year's Provost Lecture Series: Dr. Robert Aceves, director of the CUNY Aviation Institute at York College. His subject: "Chicanas and Chicanos in Aviation: Overcoming Barriers." Monday September 20 at 1 p.m., Room 4M05. Here's a preview:


How did you come to the subject of Mexican Americans in the aviation industry?

Throughout my entire 33 year career in aviation, I have not met another Chicano aviator, especially in the flight deck.  In fact, I have known very few Latinos in aviation at all.  After I became a professor in Minnesota, the racial disparity in aviation became a challenge for me to overcome.  I began recruiting and mentoring students of color into my program and myself became actively involved in the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) to learn more about the history of my people in aviation.  My quest led me to a year-long sabbatical, with grants and research support from my university, the Alfred L. and Constance C. Wolf Aviation Foundation, the United States Air Force's Enlisted Heritage Museum, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Latino WWII Oral History Project at the University of Texas, Austin. During that time, I travelled around the country discovering the rich, historical impact that Chicanos and Chicanas have had on aviation in the U.S., and the barriers they had to overcome to fulfill their goals and dreams of flight.

What is the most surprising thing people will learn when they attend the Provost Lecture?

If I tell you that, it won't be a surprise!  Throughout my research, I have discovered many surprising and interesting facts. Did you know that Amelia Earhart's flight instructor was Mexican American?  Or that 110 years after General Santa Ana captured the Alamo in 1836,  his great, great nephew would become a decorated US WWII aviation hero?

Why is it important to study the history of a major American industry such as aviation?

Studying the history of aviation for any student in the major is important, but is particularly appropriate for York aviation students, many of whom have never met a pilot before, let alone one that looks like they do. Learning the impact that people of color, from the Tuskegee Airmen to the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force to the contribution of aviators from around the world helps our students connect how the sacrifices of others before them has helped to pave the way for their success in aviation today.  To this day, I credit the Tuskegee Airmen for making my career in the U.S. Air Force possible, and I am thankful for the contributions of the Chicanos and Chicanas to the rich tradition and history of my profession.

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