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An Enduring Legacy

Thursday, October 13, 2016

As he retires after 50 years in higher education, Trinity says nos vemos to the departing Norene R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Speaking in a soft, measured tone, Arturo Madrid chooses his words carefully and with intent. He makes eye contact, cocking his head to the side as though letting you in on a secret or joke that he has been enjoying all along. A wry smile cracks on his face.

Madrid contemplates his retirement after 23 years at Trinity University and a cumulative 50 years in higher education. He describes a rich and satisfying career, filled with prestigious positions, memberships on regional, local, and national boards, and a half-century of scholarship. He talks about the bittersweet transition to the next chapter of his life, letting go, and the need to make room for another scholar to fill his named professorship.

Yet, it is a career that almost never happened. As a young man growing up in northern New Mexico, Madrid once pursued a vocation as a Presbyterian minister. As he considered life as a minister, the Hispano protestant realized that he was more interested in “ambiguities than in verities,” and chose academia as his calling. Throughout his tenure, Madrid has cultivated the “intellectual resources” of the Latino community through mentorship, focusing not only on his own research but on higher education enrollment and completion. In fact, when he arrived at Trinity in 1993, president emeritus Ronald G. Calgaard recruited Madrid for that very reason.

“I dedicated myself to creating a Latino presence at Trinity and a Trinity presence in the city’s Latino community,” Madrid says. “It was my job to say that there is a space here at Trinity to be Mexican-American, to encourage students to say, ‘Yes. This is my institution. I belong here.’”

Over his tenure, Madrid has studied Latino artistic and cultural expression and the U.S. Latino experience. His own ancestors colonized New Mexico in the 17th century and his family has lived in the region since. Although Madrid has seen the ethnic landscape of higher education, both for students and for faculty alike, change dramatically since his days as an undergraduate at UCLA, he notes that there is plenty of progress to be made. Madrid, who once served on the Commission on the Future for Higher Education, says that Latinos today are still perceived as the “foreign other” in many ways. Time and again Madrid has fielded the question, ‘Where are you from?’ - an insinuation that he could not possibly call the U.S. his native home.

Madrid counters the construction of all Latinos as immigrants by advancing the message that Latinos have been central to U.S. society for generations. Latinos, he says, have been at the core of some of the most foundational moments in American history, from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish-American War. Madrid was featured in the 2013 three-part, six-hour documentary Latino Americans, produced by PBS, where he spoke about the impact of the Latino community on the U.S. In San Antonio, Madrid and his wife Antonia have made their Mistletoe home a casa de todos, or a “salon” for people of all backgrounds to mix and to enter into dialogue. At Trinity, Madrid helped found Latino Exchange, a student organization dedicated to exploration of Latino identity, as well as the Mexico, the Americas, and Spain (MAS) program.  

Although San Antonio is not his native home, Madrid has become deeply ingrained in the fabric of the city. He has served on the board of directors and as chair of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, as the vice chair on the board of directors at the San Antonio Museum of Art, and as a board member for Texas Public Radio. As he looks to the future, Madrid proudly points out that a former pupil, Sofía Bahena ’06, took his place on the board at the Guadalupe. Beaming, this is clearly the kind of legacy Madrid sees himself leaving.

“I am very proud to have encouraged more young people to take up academic careers, to assist them to succeed in those careers, and for them to exert leadership in various ways,” Madrid says, alluding to Bahena and her Ph.D. from Harvard as just one example of the effects of mentorship.

As he ponders his retirement, Madrid remains steadfast in that he will continue to be “deeply immersed in Trinity and San Antonio life.” Countless faculty, staff, and students relay stories of Madrid’s ability to execute a well-planned event and his commitment to a rich campus life of lectures, concerts, and more. It is fitting that Madrid will still maintain an office in Northrup Hall, just a step away from the campus where he has changed so many lives and become more than a professor, but a compañero always ready to share in the next joke.