Many may now recognize LULAC, The League of United Latin American Citizens, as the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization.
But it was barely a blip on the local radar when Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard, a sociology professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, became a charter member of LULAC Council 750 after moving to central Arkansas in 1981.
Today, Trevino-Richard, who was recently elected state director of LULAC, continues to advocate for Latinos and Hispanics, among the fastest growing minority populations in the state.
LULAC has grown from one to two councils in central Arkansas and three in the northwest part of the state, with plans for more on the way.
In addition, student-based councils at area high schools have been added, including one at Little Rock’s Central High School and one at Hall High School in Little Rock, which formed this fall.
Trevino-Richard has worked for years to banish the ethnic stereotype that most Latinos are either “undocumented, criminal, or both,” and he hopes his new position provides a platform to continue advocating for changes to public policy.
“The basic values of most Latinos are actually quite conservative,” he said. “There is a belief in strong family connections and religious values, as well as hard work.”
Hard-working students with great academic potential tightly embraced Trevino-Richard at the recent LULAC Scholarship Banquet, where almost a record number of scholarships were awarded to UALR students.
Trevino-Richard said the scholarships are a huge draw for UALR to attract Latinos encompassing the region.
“Since 1981, LULAC has given around $500,000 in scholarship funding, the majority right here in central Arkansas,” he said.
He also has helped establish an award named for his parents that is given to a UALR student majoring in either sociology or anthropology.
Significant increases in the proportion of Hispanics and Latinos who are equipped with the benefits a higher education will not only help the student, but also the entire community, according to Trevino-Richard.
“If we invest in them, in their skills and in their talents, it will pay dividends down the road for our economy and for society as a whole,” he said.
Trevino-Richard, affectionately known as “El Guapo” (handsome), arrived in Arkansas to work with educationally challenged students. He won the distinction of being named 2012 Faculty of the Year by the UALR Student Government Association.
He has published a variety of articles related to issues of race and ethnic relations, and has taught sociology and third world development trends during his time at UALR.
He received his Ph.D. in sociology from North Texas University and his master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.
Although much progress has been made to demonstrate the value of Latino contributions to the region, Trevino-Richard said much work is yet to be done. He credits educational leadership, including that of UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson, with working to bridge the cultural divide among ethnic groups.
“Dr. Anderson has been incredibly supportive of the Latino community,” he said, adding that Dr. Dexter Suggs, Little Rock School District superintendent, has also helped reduce friction among Latinos and blacks in the district.
The best way forward in addressing issues that have plagued various ethnic groups through the ages is to tackle them head on, according to the professor.
“If you ignore it, you can’t address it,” he said.