Jaime E. Rodríguez likes to say he’s had three lives at UCI – “and they’ve all been good.”
The first began in 1973 when he joined the history department as a professor and research scholar, a role he continues today. His second is in administration, serving as dean of graduate studies and research from 1980 to 1986, and currently, as director of Latin American Studies. For his third life, he editsMexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, a journal he founded in 1985. No matter what his role, however, he remains focused on a single mission: fostering greater understanding of Latin America.
Rodríguez became founding director of Latin American studies in 1989. The program – which offers a minor to undergraduates – brings together 33 faculty members from 12 disciplines, including social sciences, humanities, social ecology and the arts. Through teaching and research, they explore the region from various perspectives.
“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Rodríguez says. “Our faculty members collaborate in various ways. We discuss our research informally; we organize conferences and cultural events, such as the annual Latin American Film Festival; and we bring in scholars from this country and abroad to share their knowledge with students and colleagues.”
Rodríguez also provides a forum for research relating to Mexico through the biannual Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, a collaborative venture of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. His own research – published in numerous articles and books – examines Spanish America’s failure to modernize in the early 19th century, the collapse of the Spanish monarchy and the formation of Spanish American nations. He’s invited to conferences around the world to share his revisionist ideas.
“The only bad thing about this is I’m destroying all of the national myths,” he jokes.
As for his personal history, it begins in Latin America: Rodríguez came to the United States from Ecuador when he was 8. His father had taught him to read when he was 5, and he developed a lifelong love of books. He got his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin in 1970. His wife, Linda Alexander Rodríguez, is a history professor at UCLA and also specializes in Latin America.
In the future, Rodríguez hopes UCI will establish a Latin American Studies Research Center that would further advance knowledge of the region. If that happens, he may find himself starting yet another life on campus.