Art, Education, Community Access Are Highlights of the Annual Tomás Rivera Symposium 

This year UCR welcomes comedian, actor, and Chicano art collector Cheech Marín as keynote speaker for the March 14-15 event

The late UC Riverside Chancellor Tomás Rivera left a resounding legacy. Tomás Rivera papers (UA 253), section 5, box 1, folder 9. Special Collections & University Archives, University of California, Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Late Chancellor Tomás Rivera never shied away from his humble beginnings, nor from his commitment to supporting higher education access.

For the past 30 years, the University of California, Riverside, has been celebrating his life and his successes, both on and off campus. UCR will host the annual Tomás Rivera Symposium dinner on March 14-15, which will feature comedian, actor, and Chicano art collector Cheech Marín as keynote speaker on March 14. This year’s theme focuses on cultural appropriation, and the events are open to the community.

Marín expects to open The Cheech Marín Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry of the Riverside Art Museum in downtown Riverside in 2020. Marín’s vision to highlight Chicano art and make it accessible to the Inland Empire aligns with Rivera’s mission of establishing a UCR presence in the community, said Milagros Peña, dean of UCR’s College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

The late chancellor, who was known for supporting UCR scholarships with personal funds, always visited local schools and regularly traveled to the Coachella Valley during his free time to teach migrant farm workers about writing and poetry. Marín mirrors this type of dedication, Peña said.

“That engagement was not only inspiring for students, but for community members who saw Tomás Rivera’s commitment and interest. This opportunity to have Chicano art come to the community is part of that engagement as well,” Peña said. “The medium: writing, art, humanities, social sciences that focus on Latino/Latina issues, Chicano/a experiences, this is where writing and the arts brings this kind of articulation, that to me, Tomás Rivera was very aware of.”

Marín said he is also aware of the importance of getting involved in the community. Through his forthcoming museum, known affectionately as “The Cheech,” Marín is hoping to make art accessible to everyone in order to foster knowledge and appreciation of different cultures.

“I want to be part of the community and join forces with institutions such as UC Riverside, which are already part of the fabric of the Inland Empire,” Marín said. “My art collection supports up-and-coming artists, as well as well-established ones. I love art because it’s a reflection of our society, of the artists’ personal experience, and because it allows us to see life through someone else’s perspective.”

The intent to provide pathways and access to higher education was something of a personal feat for Tomás Rivera. The son of migrant farm workers, Rivera and his family constantly traveled from their home base in Texas to follow crop harvesting seasons in other states. That circuit proved to be Rivera’s greatest motivation to seek a college education and become a devoted proponent of college access for all. His contributions can be seen in the widespread naming of awards and buildings in his honor, including an elementary school in Riverside, said Carlos Cortés, a professor emeritus of history at UCR.

“Tomás Rivera was completely dedicated to helping each and every person reach full potential,” said Cortés. “He exemplified this whether working with staff and faculty, increasing opportunities for college students, or speaking to elementary school classrooms.”

The late Chancellor Tomás Rivera as a toddler. Tomás Rivera papers (UA 253), section 5, box 1, folder 1. Special Collections & University Archives, University of California, Riverside

Rivera always talked about “following your dreams and working hard and believing in what you want to do, and never give up,” said Concha Rivera, Tomás Rivera’s widow, who created this annual event as a tribute to her husband’s life. The late chancellor was a role model on and off campus, and he never took that lightly, she added.

“He rose from a migrant worker to becoming the chancellor of one of the most important institutions in the country. If he did it, many of us can do it too, as long as we stick to the plan and work hard. That’s what this conference was created for, to remind people,” said Concha Rivera.

Guests attending the dinner with Cheech Marín can either sponsor a table or purchase an individual ticket for $125. If the person is unable to participate, their ticket purchase can sponsor a UCR student who wants to attend.

The second day of the symposium, March 15, is completely free. The 2:30 p.m. panel will feature a discussion by UCR faculty members including Xóchitl Chávez, assistant professor of music; Tara Yosso, a professor in the Graduate School of Education; and Richard “Ricky” Rodríguez, associate professor of Media and Cultural Studies and English.

Following the discussion, UCR’s Latina/o Play Project will present “Stand and Deliver,” a live performance at 7 p.m. at the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts in downtown Riverside. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

If You Go: 
March 14: 6 p.m. dinner featuring Cheech Marín as keynote speaker in HUB 302. Deadline to purchase tickets is March 6. For ticket information click here.

March 15: 2:30 p.m. panel discussion in HUB 269 moderated by Carlos Cortés on the topic of cultural appropriation. The event is free.

March 15: 7 p.m. “Stand and Deliver” performance by UCR’s Latina/o Play Project. This will take place at the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts, which is located at 3834 Main St. in Riverside. The event is free.

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