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Cecilia Burciaga, Chicano/Latino student advocate, dies at 67, leaving extensive legacy

Cecilia Preciado Burciaga, an advocate, mentor and friend to generations of Chicano and Latino students at Stanford, passed away at age 67 last week at Stanford Hospital, having battled lung cancer since August.

Burciaga held various positions through more than 20 years on the Farm, initially arriving in 1974 as assistant to the president and provost for Chicano affairs under President Richard W. Lyman.

Throughout her time at Stanford, Burciaga made a name for herself as a conduit for the voice of Chicano and Latino faculty, staff and students.  She played a role in the hiring of early Chicano and Latino faculty members, the expansion of graduate student programming, and the integration of Chicano and Latino undergraduates into the Stanford community.

“She was really the center of our community,” said Albert Camarillo, professor of history, who arrived at Stanford shortly after Burciaga.

Burciaga impacted campus life up to and after a tumultuous firing from her position as associate dean and development officer for student resources in early 1994 by then-Provost Condoleezza Rice, as administrative positions were cut as part of University budget cuts.chic

Alma Medina ’92 J.D. ’95, who said that she looked up to Burciaga as a mentor and close friend, described her firing as devastating to Stanford’s Chicano and Latino community.

“It came at a time when we felt as a community that we were under attack,” Medina said.

Burciaga’s firing resulted in a four-or-five-day hunger strike during Cinco de Mayo that year by Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) students demanding her reinstatement.

Medina, who served as a negotiator for the hunger strike, said that Burciaga did not want the students to suffer for her but instead encouraged them to advance the creation of a Chicano studies major.

As Casa Zapata resident fellows (RFs) Chris Gonzalez Clarke ’85 M.A. ’06 M.A. ’10 PH.D. ’13 and Gina Hernandez ’88 recall, Burciaga strongly supported an influential student voice, prompting students to take actions on issues they cared about but only after critically assessing what they believed in and considering the broader impact of their actions.

“I really thought of her as an activist who was an administrator,” Gonzalez Clarke said.

The hunger strike ultimately proved fruitful, prompting the University’s formation of a committee that eventually created the department of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

Though Burciaga’s legacy at Stanford revolves around her advocacy for the rights of the Chicano and Latino community — a passion she continued to pursue after she left Stanford to become a founding dean of California State University-Monterey Bay — she also left behind a more personal legacy, serving with her husband Tony as Casa Zapata resident fellow for 10 years.

Camarillo described her in this role as the “absent parent and family for literally hundreds of Latino students that went through the corridors of Casa Zapata.”

Donnovan Somera Yisrael ’89 M.A. ’90, manager of relationship and sexual health programs at Vaden Health Center, lived in the Chicano and Latino-themed dorm his freshman year the first year the Burciagas served as RFs and worked as a resident assistant while co-terming. Yisrael spoke of the Burciagas’ transformation of the dorm from a preconceived notion of militant Chicanos to an inclusive community.

For instance, although Hernandez did not live in Casa Zapata while a student at Stanford, Burciaga knew of her family. When Hernandez’s parents arrived to visit her, Burciaga allowed them to stay at her house in Menlo Park, taking them in as family.

“I didn’t expect that from anyone else at Stanford and hadn’t been offered that from anybody else at Stanford before or since,” Hernandez said.

Medina, who lived in Casa Zapata throughout her undergraduate career, said that Burciaga played a significant role in guiding Medina’s contributions back to her community, encouraging her to make the most of Stanford rather than returning prematurely to a neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles plagued by gang violence.

Medina also noted that several other students — and even faculty — would have left Stanford prematurely had it not been for Burciaga’s attentiveness and ability to induce a sense of belonging.

“The retention, the inspiration and the love that she gave to the students, I think that’s her biggest legacy,” Medina said.

In an effort coordinated by Victor Madrigal ’95, co-chair of La Raza Staff Association, alumni and staff members hope to meet in the next few weeks to discuss a memorial to Burciaga beyond an official service scheduled for April 13 at the San Carlos Borreméo de Carmelo Mission in Carmelo.

Burciaga is survived by her children, Rebeca Burciaga and Jose Antonio Burciaga Jr.; two grandchildren; sister Rose Preciado; and brother Ralph Preciado.

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