Professor Erasmo Gamboa, who retired from AES at the end of Spring Quarter 2017, brought a nearly 50-year stay at the University of Washington to a dramatic close on May 17 as one of 18 award recipients at the first annual Latinx Faculty Recognition Event sponsored by the UW Latino Center for Health. At the event, Gamboa was recognized for his many accomplishments and contributions to the UW by President Ana Mari Cauce, Provost Jerry Baldasty, and Graduate School Dean Dave Eaton, among them his promotion to full professor in September 2016, the publication of a new scholarly book in October 2016 and his retirement at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year.
Gamboa first came to the UW from the Yakima Valley in 1968 and he enrolled as a Spanish major in what was then known as the Department of Romance Languages. Over the next several years, he was deeply involved in campus and community activism and contributed to the founding of el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), a student organization that still exists at the UW today. He was also an organizer in the grape boycott led by Cesar Chavez and participated in the founding of El Centro de la Raza, a community organization in Beacon Hill that provides an array of services for members of underserved communities in Seattle. After completing his BA degree in Spanish in 1970, he pursued MA and PhD degrees in History, which he earned respectively in 1974 and 1984. Gamboa also served as a lecturer in the Center for Chicano Studies from 1975 to 1984. In 1984, Gamboa and became one of the first tenure-track faculty members in what would become the Department of American Ethnic Studies the following year.
As an AES professor over the past 33 years, Gamboa was twice nominated for the UW Distinguished Teaching Award and developed a series of courses that served as the foundation for the Chicano Studies concentration in the AES curriculum. The courses—which include CHSTU 101 – The Chicano/Mexican Ethnic Experience in the United States, CHSTU 200 – Latinos in the United States: Patterns of Racial, Ethnic, and Socio-Economic and Political Inequality and CHSTU 354 – Unions, Labor, and Civil Rights in California and Pacific Northwest Agriculture, among others, reflect his scholarly interests in Chicano migrant and Mexican immigrant workers who labor in Washington state and the Pacific Northwest. Gamboa also has a long history of working with students in his courses interested in advanced research study under his supervision; many of them have presented their work at the annual McNair Undergraduate Symposium. More recently, students have worked with Gamboa to gather artifacts and personal narratives from residents of eastern Washington as part of his effort to build the artifact and documents collection at the Sea Mar Latino History and Cultural Museum in Seattle.
Gamboa’s public service and scholarly work also reflect his profound commitment to the many community organizations he has been affiliated with over the course of his professional career. For example, he has served on the Board of Directors or Trustees for the Ethnic Heritage Council, the Center for the Study of Pacific Northwest History, the Mexican Consulate in Seattle, the Washington Commission for the Humanities, and the Washington State Historical Society. In addition, he has served as director or in an advisory capacity on the Washington State Centennial Commission, the Idaho Hispanic Oral History Project, the Oregon Hispanic Oral History Project, the Treasure Valley Cultural Museum Project, the Washington State Arts Commission, and the Oregon Center for Hispanic Advancement. Not surprisingly, Gamboa’s public service has been officially acknowledged by the past governors of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. In 2005, the Yakima Herald Republic included Gamboa as one of the “Noteworthy Names from the Yakima Valley.”
For his outstanding service to the University of Washington and the larger community, the University selected Gamboa as the recipient of the 2007 Annual Outstanding Public Service Award. In 2011, the College of Arts and Science also honored Gamboa as one of “150 Distinguished Alumni” for their Timeless Achievement Award.
In addition to an array of essays published in edited collections and refereed journals, Gamboa has written two well-received books that have had a great impact on our understanding of immigrant laborers: Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947 (University of Texas Press, 1990) and Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West (University of Washington Press, 2016). He has also edited two other award winning books, Nosotros: The Hispanic People of Oregon and Voces Hispanas: Hispanic Voices of Idaho. As a recent reviewer of his scholarship noted, “Erasmo Gamboa is, without argument, the pre-eminent historian of the Chicano/a experience in the Pacific Northwest.”
AES faculty and staff are honored to have worked with Gamboa over the years and are thankful for his many contributions to the department, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the University of Washington. Asked what he plans to do now that he has retired, Gamboa fittingly noted that he will continue his multi-faceted involvement in community service, especially in terms of his “continued dedication to documenting and preserving the history of Latinos in the Pacific Northwest.”