The university is mourning the loss of Dr. Carlos Ornelas, one of the founders of its Chicano Studies Dept. and an activist for Santa Barbara’s Chicano community.
Ornelas, who was 70, died Saturday from complications with pneumonia. Although Ornelas had retired in June 2001, faculty members involved with the department that is his legacy – now renamed the Chicana and Chicano Studies Dept. – remember his presence as both powerful and positive.
“His kindness, his gentle steadfast courage, his vision for a better world never failed to inspire [the department’s] faculty, students and community members,” Chicana/o Studies Dept. Chair Chela Sandoval said. “His longtime vision was for an internationalist Chicana/o and Latina/o indigenous community that would change the world. His vision will continue to inspire and guide the department.”
Ornelas arrived at UCSB in 1969 after graduating with a degree in physical education from Cal State Los Angeles and earning a doctorate in political science from UC Irvine. During his tenure at UCSB, Ornelas helped organize La Casa de la Raza, a cultural center for Latinos and Chicanos living in downtown Santa Barbara, and Latinos for Better Government, which encourages local Latinos and Chicanos to assume a more active role in local politics.
Ornelas also taught classes in Latino Politics, and Immigration and the U.S. Border – the latter of which has since been taught by Prof. Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval.
“I used his syllabus for Immigration and the U.S. Border. He was the last one to teach it,” he said.
Armbruster-Sandoval, who called Ornelas “a very large part of the fight for economic justice,” said the community lost more than just a man through Sandoval’s death.
“The passing will be difficult. Every time somebody passes, he takes a lot with him. He was a walking warehouse of knowledge. He understood a big part of the Chicano community in Santa Barbara,” he said. “When Chicano studies was not perceived to be a real field of study, he helped make it legitimate.”
Raymond Huerta, the university’s affirmative action coordinator, met Ornelas upon his arrival at UCSB in 1974. He called Ornelas one of the key activists in the community.
“He was a man of great convictions,” Huerta said. “Although I did not always agree with him, I had great respect for him. He provided extraordinary service to Chicano studies at UCSB.”
“He challenged the system,” Huerta said, referring to Ornelas’ push for more Latino and Chicano representation on the Santa Barbara City Council and his advocacy of district-wide elections to do so – a controversial topic in the Santa Barbara community.
Prof. Francisco Lomeli, who teaches classes in UCSB’s Chicana and Chicano Studies, Spanish, and Portuguese departments, said such controversy was a necessary part of such dynamic political activism.
“You can’t do what he did without creating some controversy,” Lomeli said.
His goal though, was to bring about equality.
“He wanted a better world not just for Chicanos and Latinos, but for all people,” Armbruster-Sandoval said.
Ornelas leaves his wife, Lucy, and two children. Memorial services will be private, but a public memorial may yet be held.