UCSB Professors Otis Madison and Horacio Roque-Ramirez were honored in a small candlelight vigil on Thursday, hosted at the Associated Students Pardall Center by students in association with Black Student Union.
Madison was a lecturer in the Black Studies Department for over 30 years, and passed away on December 29. During his time at UCSB he taught several courses regarding Blacks in sports and media and the Civil Rights Movement, and had a penchant for ruffling feathers with his unapologetic teaching style. Roque-Ramirez was an associate professor of Chican@ studies at UCSB until last year, teaching courses about LGBTQ and Chican@ narratives before passing away on December 25. Roque-Ramirez was born in Santa Ana, Salvador and in 1981 immigrated to the United States to escape the Salvadorian Civil War. He co-founded the Latin American Students Association at UCLA as an undergraduate and is remembered for his passion and resilience in academia.
Faviana Hirsch-Dubin, former UCSB professor in the Chican@ Studies and education departments, knew both Madison and Roque-Ramirez during her time at UCSB.
“From the very first that I met Professor Roque-Ramirez, we had a magic connection … which I think a lot of people felt with him because he emanated that,” Hirsch-Dubin said. “[Madison] was the voice of reason when it came to race. His understandings were profound and he shared them and inspired many students over so many years.”
Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, professor of Chican@ Studies, said both Madison and Roque-Ramirez were extremely influential during their time at UCSB.
“Horacio was a brilliant man, not only in the regard of being a scholar,” Armbruster-Sandoval said. “He used to say … ‘I’m a triple threat. I’m gay, I’m Salvadorian and I’m a historian and I’m really gonna … blow boundaries away,’ and that’s what he did. He was able to resonate with many people because he survived so much himself.”
Armbruster-Sandoval said Madison played an irreplaceable role in students’ lives, one that was made apparent by how much students cared for him as a professor.
“They loved him in terms of what he passed on, he spoke truth to power — unflinchingly,” Armbruster-Sandoval said. “He was just about standing up for life. Otis stood up for justice, for people that were hurting.”
Sonya Baker, Feminist Studies Business Officer, said Madison and Roque-Ramirez were two “wonderful strong warriors” who influenced UCSB.
“There was a teach-in about four years ago … and Otis was in that particular presentation. When he started talking, it was such a relief to hear someone talking without filters or without fear about the problems we face as people of color in this country,” Baker said. “It was fearsome and it was beautiful, and I loved it.”
Lola Mondragón, sixth-year graduate student in the Chican@ Studies department, said Roque-Ramirez as an educator and peer had an unspoken understanding of students’ needs.
“I had gotten out of the military and was a survivor of trauma … we didn’t have a lot of words that we needed to share. He understood that,” Mondragón said. “He validated my experiences that I was having as a graduate student in the academy, a place that is very violent, especially against people of color and queer people like myself. We stand on the shoulders of great people and he will be one of those that I lean on.”
Jamelia Harris, fourth-year Black Studies and sociology double major and co-chair of BSU, took BL ST 50: Blacks in the Media her second year and said students who weren’t in Madison’s class would often attend his lectures.
“He definitely was intimidating to me initially. I can remember my first time entering his classroom and the first words he said to me were, ‘Do you think Barack Obama gives a fuck about you?’ and that was an interlude to his personality,” Harris said. “He was so unapologetic and so comfortable in who he was. He didn’t aim to please anyone … he made sure that black students’ voices were centered in his classroom.”
Rosie Bermudez, fourth-year Chican@ Studies major, said she applied to the Chican@ Studies major because of Roque-Ramirez and his work recovering the stories of marginalized peoples’ lives.
“I feel blessed that I was able to talk to him … enjoy his humor, his smile, and even though I only had a brief amount of time to know him, I feel he has truly impacted my life. It is really painful to know that their stories were not shared with more people,” Bermudez said.
Oral historian at the UC Santa Cruz library Irene Reti first met Roque-Ramirez in Buffalo, New York at an oral history conference in 1998. Reti said Roque-Ramirez quickly became a visionary leader in the Oral History Association, doing “cutting-edge” work on queer oral history.
“Horacio Roque Ramirez and I were among the first out queer oral historians in the Oral History Association. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Oral History Executive Council,” Reti said in an email. “He did … inspirational work … especially co-editing Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History with Nan Boyd. I will miss Horacio and am very sad at his passing.”
Joanne Yansen Madison, wife of Otis Madison, briefly attended the vigil and was joined by her sister, Madison’s daughter and two sons in thanking attendees for their stories.
“You know how [Otis] was … he would say, ‘Sure I’m great, I’m the greatest teacher they got!’ but it would always touch him when students would come back and say ‘I took your class and it changed my life,’” Joanne Madison said. “Thank you for standing out here tonight and for honoring your teachers, for learning more about your world and your society and for changing things.”