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Retired Professor Honored for Latino-American History Work

November 09, 2015

For Dr. Arnoldo De León, a member of Angelo State University’s history faculty for 42 years until his retirement in June, his proudest career moment came in 1987. 

“Out of all the faculty, then ASU President Lloyd Vincent chose me to be the first holder of the C.J. ‘Red’ Davidson Professorship,” De León said. “It was quite an honor and one I strived to fulfill.”

On Friday, Nov. 13, friends and colleagues, including Dr. Neil Foley of Southern Methodist University and Dr. José Angel Hernández of the University of Houston, gathered at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts to honor De León for his pioneering work in the field of Latino-American history. 

“I always said I was never going to retire. There are so many things that I’m doing that I haven’t had time to miss the job.”

Dr. Arnoldo De León

A specialist in Chicano history, De León also published widely in the field, having authored or co-authored 21 books, 62 essays (in addition to numerous other minor publications), and 76 book reviews.

“In my prime, I would be researching one book, writing another and one would be out there to be reviewed and so on,” he said.

His first book, “They Called Them Greasers,” published by The University of Texas Press in 1983 and based on his doctoral dissertation, is today regarded as a classic in Tejano history.

“I still get royalties,” De León said. “You never get royalties from books after about two years, much less from a 30-year-old book. It’s such an honor that my first scholarship would be the one I am remembered for.”

“Wish I was able to make it. He was such a great professor!”

Kayla Hullum via LinkedIn

Foley and Hernández were both graduate students when they first encountered De León and his work. 

“We didn’t have a whole lot of role models writing about Mexican American history,” said Foley, author of the award-winning “The White Scourge.” “Arnoldo De León blazed a trail that had not been there before.”

In addition to holding the Davidson Professorship for 28 years, De León has earned many other honors. He was a visiting scholar for a year at the University of Houston, attained election as Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association in 1987 and of the West Texas Historical Association in 2008; received induction into the Texas Institute of Letters in 1996; won the Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Research Award for 2008–09; and in 2013 was honored by the National Association of Chicana/Chicano Studies (NACCS) Texas with the “Premio Estrella de Aztlán Life Time Achievement Award” for his contributions to Tejano history.

“One of my favorite professors.”

Lisa Highsmith via LinkedIn

A native of Robstown in South Texas, De León was introduced to San Angelo as an airman at Goodfellow Air Force Base. He served in the Air Force from 1963–67, then transferred to Angelo State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1970.

He was offered a fellowship to further his education at Texas Christian University, where he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in history. He returned to ASU to join the history faculty in 1973.

“There was an opening in the history department,” De León said. “Since they knew me, they called me. My wife Dolores was from here and I liked it here.”

“How incredible! Dr. De León made a pround impact on my colleague, Dr. George Diaz, whose book ‘Border Contraband,’ actually was reviewed by him. Salud!”

Elaine Dispo, Ph.D. candidate, via LinkedIn

Retirement has not slowed the prolific scholar.

He is working on updating “The History of Texas,” co-authored with Robert Calvert and Gregg Cantrell. Originally published in 1990, it is the most widely used collegiate textbook on the state’s past.

“It’s been through five editions,” De León said. “Updating takes a long time because what you have to do is read the scholarship, the literature that has been published since the last edition. It needs to be incorporated because scholarship changes all the time.”

He is also reviewing book chapters and manuscripts other historians send him for feedback and writing letters of recommendation.

“I always said I was never going to retire,” De León said. “There are so many things that I’m doing that I haven’t had time to miss the job.”