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Cecilia Preciado Burciaga, advocate for Latino students, dead at 67

Burciaga, who worked at Stanford for 20 years, took the helm as assistant to the president and provost for Chicano affairs in 1974.

Chuck Painter Cecilia Burciaga portrait

Cecilia Burciaga, former assistant to the president and provost for Chicano affairs at Stanford, died recently at age 67.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 13, at San Carlos Borreméo de Carmelo Mission in Carmel for Cecilia Preciado Burciaga, who inspired generations of Latino students during a long career as a high-ranking administrator at Stanford and at California State University-Monterey Bay.

A reception will immediately follow at the Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel.

Tributes to Burciaga have been pouring into a website set up in her memory.

Burciaga, who was 67, died March 25 at Stanford Hospital. She was diagnosed with lung cancer last August.

Burciaga arrived at Stanford in the summer of 1974 to become assistant to the president and provost for Chicano affairs under the late Stanford President Richard W. Lyman.

Burciaga and her late husband, artist and writer José Antonio "Tony" Burciaga, served for 10 years as resident fellows at Casa Zapata, the Chicano-theme dorm. The couple lived with their two children in an apartment attached to the residence hall.

R. Vanessa Alvarado, '97, a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles, said the couple were an example of what it was like to be educated, professional, successful Chicanos.

"What is most meaningful about Cecilia and Tony's presence in my family life's is that they gave our mother, a woman with a third-grade education who grew up on a small farm on the outskirts of a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, and my father, who graduated from high school past the age of 60, the reassurance that their two daughters [Alvarado's sister, Tamara, graduated from Stanford in 1995] would not be lost amid the seemingly inaccessible walls of a university," she said.

"I remember when my mother came back to campus for Admit Weekend and talked on a panel for prospective students how amazed I was as she advocated to Latino parents to let their children go away for school. I mentored students as an undergraduate, as a law student and continue doing that today. That is how I will continue to honor their memory."

During a 20-year career at Stanford, Burciaga held many posts, including associate dean of graduate studies and research, director of summer session and assistant provost for faculty affairs. In 1994, when she was the associate dean and development officer for student resources, her position was eliminated due to budget cuts – an action that drew protests from students, faculty and staff.

"Cecilia played a vital and transformative role in creating the community that Stanford has become," said Jessica Rose, an associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine and a longtime friend of Burciaga's." As an invaluable mentor to students and faculty, Cecilia's warmth, intelligence and humor inspired confidence and provided encouragement to pursue aspirations."

In a March 28 obituary, the Los Angeles Times said of her tenure at Stanford:

"She taught hesitant young women and men, many the first in their families to attend college, that they belonged and could thrive at the elite private school, and later kept more than a few from dropping out.

"She soothed nervous parents, persuading them, in Spanish and English, that the university was a safe place for their children and that it would open their eyes to new worlds. At Stanford, she also successfully pushed university leaders to hire additional Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and women for faculty positions, and admit more to graduate programs."

The Los Angeles Times quoted two former Stanford students – one an attorney, another a university professor – who said Burciaga encouraged Latino students to use the tools of higher education to make a difference in their communities.

In 1983, Burciaga talked about her dreams for her children and Latinos in California as part of a panel discussion that included then-President Donald Kennedy and Sidney Drell, who was deputy director of Stanford's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at the time.

"I dream about my son and daughter not being  prejudged by any sexual stereotypes and, in their freedom, becoming all that they dream of becoming," she said. "All children of the future should be able to live that American dream, a dream that says that we feel empowered, that we have the right to have a family, that we have the right to security," Burciaga said during the discussion.

Referring to the projected increases in California's Latino population, Burciaga also shared her vision of the future for her native state: "I also have a dream about the future of California and how it has the potential – rather than the threat, as many people think of it – for being a great cultural milieu in this county. It can lead to the future in terms of our ability to blend together the many different cultures."

In 1994, Burciaga became a founding dean of California State University-Monterey Bay. She first worked in the Office of the President and later as the associate vice president of student affairs.

In a March 28 obituary, the Salinas Californian said Burciaga was instrumental in hiring the first wave of faculty. She remained close to the students and advocated for the resources they needed to succeed academically.

Christine Sleeter, a professor emerita at Cal State Monterey, told the Salinas Californian that Burciaga was always one of the strongest advocates for Latino students on campus.

"She knew the students, believed in them, encouraged them, and constantly spoke out on their behalf," Sleeter said. "She also knew what kinds of things they were going through – their struggles, their interests, their potential."

In 2002, Burciaga was one of three Latino plaintiffs who won a $1 million settlement from Cal State Monterey in a lawsuit filed over allegations of racial discrimination. Under a settlement reached in Monterey County Superior Court of California, the university also was required to create a scholarship fund for students from low-income families in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

According to a March 26 obituary in the Monterey Herald, Burciaga continued working at the university as a high-level administrator in student affairs until 2002.

"She was a person of leadership in the Latino community long before it became fashionable," professor emerita Amalia Mesa-Bains, former head of visual and public arts at Cal State Monterey and a 30 year-friend of Burciaga's, told the Monterey Herald. "If things were unjust, unfair, not right, Cecilia would take up the cause and she wouldn't back down until the problem was fixed. I would consider her one of the people who most embodied the movement toward justice."

Burciaga served on the White House Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans during the Clinton administration and on the National Advisory Committee on Women during the Carter administration.

Before arriving at Stanford, she was a social science research analyst for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. In that position, she conducted field investigations analyzing interactions between students and teachers in hundreds of classrooms in California, Texas and New Mexico.

Burciaga, who was born in Pomona, earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish, English and linguistics from California State University-Fullerton in 1967 and a secondary teaching credential in 1968. She earned a master's degree in policy studies in education from the University of California-Riverside in 1972.

Burciaga is survived by daughter Rebeca Burciaga, an assistant professor of educational leadership at San Jose State University; son Jose Antonio Burciaga Jr., who works with developmentally disabled students at Carmel High School in Carmel; two grandchildren; sister Rose Preciado of Upland, Calif.; and brother Ralph Preciado of Hemet, Calif.