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Obituary: Guillermo Hernandez, UCLA Professor of Spanish, Director Emeritus of Chicano Studies Research Center and Leading Expert on Corridos

Guillermo E. Hernández, UCLA professor of Spanish, director emeritus of the university's Chicano Studies Research Center and a leading expert on corridos, died Sunday, July 16, in Mexico City. He was 66.

Date: July 18, 2006
Contact: Letisia Marquez ( lmarquez@support.ucla.edu )
Phone: 310-206-3986

[Hernández was also co-chair of the UCLA Latin American Center's Program on Mexico.]

Hernández, a leading scholar on corridos, or Mexican ballads, and Chicano literature, was best known for his leadership efforts on the Arhoolie Foundation's Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings at UCLA. With more than 30,000 digitized recordings, the Frontera Collection is the largest and most diverse collection of Mexican and Mexican American music. The archive, housed in the UCLA Music Library, includes the earliest recordings of corridos and many other popular genres.

"Professor Guillermo Hernández was an impassioned and committed teacher and scholar at UCLA, with the keenest interest in educating and improving the lives of his students," said Jonathan Post, former interim humanities dean in UCLA's College of Letters and Science and a professor of English. "He was a valued member of the Humanities faculty; his sudden passing is a shock to the campus and his friends, and the many contributions that he made over his years at UCLA will be sorely missed."

Hernández was leading a four-week summer session program in Puebla, Mexico, for students studying Spanish and also those majoring in Spanish. He was in Mexico City on a field trip with 26 students when he died of a heart attack in his hotel room, his family said.

Hernández earned a bachelor's, master's and doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. He had taught at UCLA since 1982. From 1993 to 2002, Hernández was director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, which is at the forefront of interdisciplinary and collaborative research that analyzes issues critical to Latino communities. He is credited with reviving "Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies," the premier journal in the field, founded in 1969.

Hernández's area of specialization was medieval Spanish literature, but he also contributed greatly to the field of Chicano studies. He wrote "Chicano Satire: A Study in Literary Culture" (1991), for which he won an Outstanding Academic Book award from Choice magazine, a publication of the American Library Association.

"His book on satire was an important literary contribution in that it traced Chicano satire back hundreds of years," said Chon Noriega, current director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.

Corridos were Hernández's true passion. Hernández spoke eloquently about the Mexican ballad, saying, "corridos are part of a most significant historic and artistic heritage . . . [and] represent a rich poetic and musical tradition that preserves the voice of common people."

Under Hernández's direction in 2000, the award-winning Mexican norteño band Los Tigres del Norte donated $500,000 to establish the Los Tigres del Norte Fund at UCLA. The fund supports research, teaching and preservation efforts related to Spanish-language music in the United States and provided major support to digitize and provide public access to the Frontera Collection.

In 1998, the Chicano Studies Research Center, the Arhoolie Foundation and the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History also developed the world's first comprehensive museum exhibition on the corrido. The Smithsonian Institution sponsored a national tour of the exhibition.

"Guillermo was pivotal in bringing the Arhoolie and Los Tigres del Norte foundations together through the Chicano Studies Research Center in order to preserve and make accessible Spanish-language music in the United States," Noriega said.

Since the singers and musicians featured in the Frontera Collection helped define and propagate a wide range of Mexican regional styles, it has been credited with providing an overview of the foundations for today's Latino popular music. Mexican regional music continues to draw a wide following today among Latinos in the United States and abroad, and it still features many corridos.

In addition, the collection includes many spoken performances, such as patriotic speeches and vernacular comedy skits. Many of the recordings are one-of-a-kind because the companies that recorded them no longer exist or, if they do exist, have lost or melted their master recordings.

Hernández also traveled throughout Mexico to conduct research on early corridos and recently had traced the origin of one song to a small town in Mexico, Noriega said. One of the songs Hernández had conducted research on—"Gregorio Cortez" —was included in the Library of Congress' 2005 National Recording Registry, which each year recognizes recordings that best reflect the American experience.

"Guillermo's death is a tremendous loss to the field of Chicano studies, not only for all he accomplished but for all the work he still had ahead of him," Noriega said.

Since 1992, Hernández also was the coordinator of the International Corrido Conference. He organized conferences at UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as at Mexican universities in Monterrey, Mexico City and Culiacan. He traveled throughout the United States, Mexico and Spain to speak about corridos.

Hernández is survived by his wife, Yolanda Zepeda; his first wife, Lucha Corpi; and his children Arturo, Luciano, Guillermo M. and Gabriel, as well as his grandchildren Kiara, Nikolas and Kamille. He is also survived by two sisters, Frieda and Nora, and two brothers, Arturo and Hector.

A viewing will be held on Friday, July 21, from 3 to 8 p.m. at Holy Cross Mortuary, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City. Mass and burial services are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Saturday at the mortuary.

In lieu of flowers, the Hernández family has requested that donations be made to the Guillermo E. Hernández Memorial Scholarship Fund at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Checks should be made out to the UCLA Foundation/The Guillermo E. Hernández Memorial Scholarship and mailed to UCLA, 1309 Murphy Hall, Los Angeles, California 90095.

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