South Texas College History and Mexican American Studies Instructor Trinidad Gonzales has made history himself by becoming only the second recipient of the John Lewis Award for History and Social Justice.
The award was established in 2021, named in memory of the late State House of Representative for Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District and one of the most renown leaders of the civil rights movement John Lewis, who died in 2020, and recognizes historians for leadership and sustained engagement in historical work.
Gonzales said when he first learned about receiving this award, he was stunned.
“I was in complete shock, speechless,” said Gonzales. “I didn’t know what to do, so I called my wife, in a panic because I couldn’t form the words to tell her what had just happened. I never expected anything like this.”
Nominations for the award are submitted by individuals or collaborative groups that highlight the works of professional historians whose accomplishments exemplify the value not only of historical work, but also public culture and social justice.
In the words of the late political icon, “Everyone must study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time.”
Gonzales said he doesn’t know who nominated him, but he is grateful to whomever did.
“I’m still processing it all, but this is a great honor,” he said. “And I’m thankful for this unique opportunity. This isn’t an award for only me though, it’s an award for everyone who does this work…it represents a large group of people, a coalition. It also highlights the type of faculty we have at STC and the great work they are doing.”
Gonzales takes his passion for inclusive and accurate history into his classroom, where he sets aside time specifically to focus on Lower Rio Grande Valley history.
A part of Gonzales’ work has been advocating for inclusiveness and educational equality; publishing op-eds and articles in an effort to undo the legacy of racism, especially for the Mexican American culture; working with legislature regarding how Mexican American history is taught in the classrooms and most recently was involved in the five-year fight to get state standards for high school Mexican American history classes.
As part of the five-year fight, Gonzales helped to reject a proposed racist textbook of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, working with about 15 other scholars. He led the way in assessing the book for factual errors. The group testified against the textbook in front of the Texas Board of Education.
Gonzales has also been recognized with national awards for his efforts, including the Herbert Feis Award for Public History from the American Historical Association for his work with Refusing to Forget (RTF), a nonprofit that tells the history of state-sanctioned killings of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the 1910s; and the Friends of History Award in 2021 from the Organization of American Historians also for his work with Refusing to Forget and for his outstanding support for historical research and public presentation of American history.
“As a historian, my job is to teach the truths of history, to illuminate an understanding of the issues,” he said. “Historians – we help policy makers understand and work to remove the silencing of history that sometimes occurs in curriculums. We are a group of people who represent and advocate…no one alone can make social changes.”
In January 2023, Gonzales will travel to Philadelphia to accept his John Lewis Award for History and Social Justice at the American Historical Association national conference, where he will also present on his advocacy, cultural and social justice efforts.
Founded in 1993, South Texas College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers more than 127 degree & certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing and allied health fields of study. Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the state of Texas to offer five baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve 28,000 students, on the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
Photo Caption: South Texas College History and Mexican American Studies Instructor Trinidad Gonzales has made history himself by becoming only the second recipient of the John Lewis Award for History and Social Justice.