By Brenda De La Cruz
East Los Angeles College has been around for 75 years and Ray Mireles, 92, has lived through most of the college’s time open as a professor and alum.
Mireles attended ELAC where he majored in life science and graduated in 1956. During his time as a student, Mireles noticed the many differences in opportunities allotted to students of color, particularly Chicano students. Mireles said he managed to turn his anger about these disparities into passion. This mindset enabled him to pursue his bachelors and master’s degrees, along with his doctorate. He began his teaching career at ELAC in 1962, becoming the first Chicano faculty member. He was a professor for almost 40 years.
Mireles remembers starting groups at ELAC such as the Mexican-American Business and Professional Men’s Scholarship Association in order to help motivate and finance young Chicanos’ futures.
This group helped raise thousands of dollars from many avenues.
This gave him valuable experience.
It also lead to the beginnings of another program which still stands today, Project USTED (United Students and Teachers for Educational Development). Project USTED helps raise Chicano students’ self-esteem and views on attending college. USTED provides the help Chicano students need in order to thrive in college.
Mireles said he was chosen to lead a Title III program in 1968 to help colleges assist Chicano graduates. Mireles was affected by typical barriers and setbacks while creating and managing these helpful programs, but it was his time in the Air Force that he credits with teaching him how to deal with bureaucracy. This helped him deal with these barriers and the push- back he got on campus.
Mireles taught at ELAC full-time from 1962-1995, then transitioned to part-time until 2001. He was also appointed dean at ELAC. He recalls witnessing the first ethnic/Mexican-American studies program signed into existence at ELAC.
All of his thoughts and memories will be available in his personal memoirs.
He is currently working on his book titled “My journey: Si Se Puede.”
What Mireles accomplished helped not only him and his fellow classmates, but it helped shape future programs to continue helping students of color at ELAC.
This was especially needed in the late ‘60s when the Civil Rights and Chicano movement were on the rise in Los Angeles.
“I wasn’t leading the marches or speeches, but I was still helping Chicano students,” Mireles said.