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César Chávez Cultural Center 35th Anniversary: Interview with Mike Salazar (Served 1992-1995)

Marko Corona, Graduate Intern
November 01, 2020

"A Legacy of Paying it Forward"

Former Directors Series

Interview with Mike Salazar

MARKO: Please give us your name and tell us where are you from?

MIKE SALAZAR: My name is Joseph Michael Salazar. I go by Mike or Michael and I was born in southern Colorado in a town called Antonito, but I am in Greeley now.

MARKO: Are you an alumnus of UNC and if you are, what did you major/minor in? Do you have other degrees and what institutions are they from?

MIKE SALAZAR: I’m not alumni. I took several doctoral courses in Student Personnel Administration but I do have a Bachelor’s in Spanish and Sociology from CU Boulder. I graduated with those in December of 1972. Then I got a Master’s in Public Administration from DU Denver in June of 1982. I was just taking Doctoral courses in Student Personnel Administration while I worked at UNC here and there.

MARKO: How long did you serve as César Chávez Cultural Center Director?

MIKE SALAZAR: I think it was about four years and this was approximately 1992 to 1995. During my last year while I was there, my students requested that the name be changed from the Hispanic Cultural Center to the César Chávez Cultural Center.

MARKO: How would you describe your role and the challenges presented to you there?

MIKE SALAZAR: It was what I considered a rebuilding project because, from what I could tell that had happened, things were going to a bit of a disarray in terms of recruitment and retention. Also, the Center itself was in pretty bad shape, which needed some rebuilding. I got a hold of some of the students, also, they had a lot of Hispanics working the yards and maintenance and so forth. I defended them and invited them to come to the Center and stuff. We started tearing up carpet and painting, and at first there were only a few students helping but once others heard about what was going on and realized that we were serious about trying to get things moving, this started attracting more and more of the students.

With the recruitment and retention piece, I started realizing that for our female students, they did a good job at recruitment, but the retention rate was really low. I went out and did a survey of the female students who only stayed for a short time. What was happening is that they would come to school and then they would go back home. With all their friends that weren’t going to school, they had no ties to studying or anything. As a consequence, I think that they spent their time with their friends and didn't follow through on their homework etc. so in essence that kind of led to them leaving quite early. So, I met with the president and let him know what I found out from my own study. I made a recommendation to start to do housing for a lot of our Latino students, and it seemed like once we started doing that the retention of those students grew.

MARKO: What is the grounding value/belief that helped guide your work there?

MIKE SALAZAR: It’s funny because as I was reading these questions, I had probably been a part of one of the first programs like that, it was called the Migrant Action Program at CU Boulder, and I can’t remember another program like that prior. They had several students from Colorado come in and there was only a few of us who actually graduated within that four-year period. I was very, very grateful. When I was with the Social Security Administration, I used to get in touch with a lot of the Hispanic professors at the university and I started to hire a few students for summer jobs or student employment. As a result, when they lost the previous director, they asked if I was interested. In fact, at the time, I was thinking about making a change from the federal government to something else. So, they caught me at a good time. I decided I would come in and try to help. You know, I had been helped. So to me, it was a pay it forward type of thing. It was time to help out.

MARKO: What would you like to share regarding that period of time in your life?

MIKE SALAZAR: Well, it was one of my most rewarding experiences, but also one of my most challenging because we basically were starting from scratch. My philosophy was not to segregate the students but to include them and make them participate and get involved with both the school and the community. I wanted them to be a part of it so it felt like home. We fixed the Center up and I actually started talking and helping a lot of the students. We used to have a lot of African American and Asian students come to the Center, so I loaned out part of the basement to make a little space for student organizations. It was sort of a grassroots operation in terms of trying to find a place for each of those student organizations.

MARKO: What would you like others to know about the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center and its place at UNC?

MIKE SALAZAR: Again, in a nutshell, I was trying to build a place that they could identify with, build their self-esteem and confidence and to have them get involved. I wanted it to be a home away from home, sort of a clearinghouse, where if they needed something, they didn’t have to scramble all over to find where everything is at. We employed a good number of students. We had a computer lab, now this was just initially, and it provided a space for other organizations as I said earlier. So, kind of like a home away from home, not to segregate but to bring them in and get them to get involved in other areas within the university and the community.

MARKO: This year, on September 3, we celebrated the Center’s 35th Anniversary and the chosen theme was “A legacy of paying it forward” – what does this mean to you?

MIKE SALAZAR: It fits directly with why I went there. I figured if I could help a few of those students graduate that they in turn, down the road, would start helping out in areas and other aspects that they can help with.

MARKO: What was your proudest moment/accomplishment/memory of your time there?

MIKE SALAZAR: I think my proudest moment was when I could see students’ accomplishments and growth. Including going through graduation. I think that was my purpose: to help students complete the process. When I was able to see that in students I would look and say that that was exactly the reason I was there.

MARKO: Is there anything else you would like to share?

MIKE SALAZAR: When I left, I had a good friend, and his girlfriend at the time (they’re married now) was Trish Escobar. I hired her. We got to the point where she was selected as the director and we couldn’t have had a better choice. That was one of my greatest accomplishments as well. Getting someone who had the same goals and interests in the students. I knew that the Center was in good hands.

 Cesar Chavez Cultural Center 35 year anniversary

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the César Chávez Cultural Center