UCSB’s oldest professor celebrated his 100th birthday with two days of festivities earlier this week honoring his achievements in his field.
Chicana and Chicano studies professor Luis Leal spent the day in the company of fellow faculty members, former students and UCSB administrators this past Monday and Tuesday. Leal’s birthday celebration included a conference commemorating his work and the premiere of a film about his life, “Luis Leal: A Journey of 100 Years.”
Leal, an internationally renowned scholar in Mexican, Latin American and Chicano studies, has authored more than 45 books and 400 articles in a career spanning over 50 years.
Born in 1907 in Northern Mexico, Leal came to the United States in the late 1920s and began his undergraduate work at Northwestern University. He later received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1950 following his service in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Pacific Theater. He then joined the UCSB faculty in 1976 as a visiting professor and taught through 2004.
According to Chicana and Chicano studies professor Mario T. Garcia, Leal serves as not only a colleague, but as a mentor to many UCSB faculty members.
“Professor Leal is a major treasure, exemplary scholar and a great model for faculty and students,” Garcia said. “He is warm, generous and giving and we are blessed to have him in our department.”
Chancellor Henry T. Yang, who spoke during both days of the celebration, played a major role in putting together the event for the professor.
“Professor Leal … inspires us all,” Yang said. “We at UC Santa Barbara are honored and proud to have Don Luis as a sabio maestro, wise elder, of our campus community.”
Throughout his career Leal received numerous awards for his work in Chicano and Mexican literature, including the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Scholar of the Year and the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor granted to foreign citizens by the Mexican government. He was also one of the recipients of the National Humanities Medal, which honors individuals and groups who have expanded the nation’s understanding of the field, in 1997, the first year of its inception.
Professor Leal said he was pleased to see some of his old students in attendance at his birthday celebration.
“Some of my students who were last night at the reception I haven’t seen for some time and I was glad to see them,” Leal said. “There were even some people who studied with me who I was surprised to find are now retired.”