Dr. Julian Nava (1927-2022)
The CSUSM Department of History mourns the loss of Dr. Julian Nava, Emeritus Professor of History at California State University Northridge, who passed away in the summer of 2022. Dr. Nava was a passionate teacher, a pioneering scholar, and a dedicated activist who devoted his career to fighting for equal rights.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Boyle Heights, Dr. Nava was educated in the city’s public schools where he excelled despite encountering pervasive discrimination from teachers and school counselors who discouraged Mexican American youth from pursuing education. In the early 1930s, his parents, who had migrated from Zacatecas during the Mexican Revolution, were targeted under the repatriation policies of the U.S. federal government during the Great Depression. As they prepared to leave, the Navas were forced to sell all that they owned. Just before their departure date, Dr. Nava, then only eight years old, became seriously ill from appendicitis. The family remained in the United States, but they had to begin a long process of rebuilding their life.
During World War II, Dr. Nava volunteered for the Navy and after his military service, returned to Los Angeles convinced that education was the key to not only individual success but societal advancement. He received an A.A. from East Los Angeles Community College and during that time worked with his brother, Henry Nava, and UFW founder Cesar E. Chavez in the Community Service Organization. After receiving a B.A. from Pomona College, he enrolled at Harvard University where he was one of the first Mexican American students. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1955 and became one of the founding faculty members of California State University Northridge. As a historian of Latin American history, he helped construct the History curriculum and also helped develop the B.A. in Chicano Studies, one of the first such programs in the nation. His scholarship was prolific and pioneering and he produced some of the earliest comprehensive histories of Mexican Americans. Among his many publications were Mexican Americans: Brief Look at Their History, Viva La Raza: Readings on Mexican Americans, and The Mexican American in American History. He was equally devoted to the classroom and became a beloved faculty member and mentor to generations of students who embraced his passion for history and social justice.
Dr. Nava had great faith in the American Democratic system and that change could and must come from within. In 1967, he ran for and won a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education. He would be the first Mexican American elected to the Board and only the second Mexican American elected to any city-wide office. He served three terms on the Board and fought for the desegregation of L.A.’s city schools, the incorporation of bilingual education, the development of diverse and inclusive curriculum, and the increase of graduation rates for students from all underserved communities. He also served on President Lyndon Johnson’s Inter-Agency Cabinet Committee on Mexican American Affairs. While some activists of the era criticized Dr. Nava for working with the establishment, most certainly his presence in leadership helped reshape Los Angeles’s city schools and open up educational opportunities for thousands and thousands of Los Angeles students. Two Los Angeles schools carry his name: the Julian Nava Learning Academy and the Nava College Preparatory Academy.
In 1980, Dr. Nava’s achievements were recognized when he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as United States Ambassador to Mexico. After returning to Los Angeles, he ran for mayor in 1992 and continued to serve on the faculty at CSUN until his retirement in 2000. He relocated to San Diego where he volunteered with the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum and Encuentros Leadership. In Spring and Fall of 2007, the CSUSM History Department was honored to have Dr. Nava join our faculty as a visiting lecturer through the efforts of our colleague and Dr. Nava’s daughter, Dr. Carmen Nava. The CSUSM History students benefitted from his extraordinary knowledge, commitment to their education, and his genuine warmth in assuring student that they belonged at the university and could make positive contributions. Dr. Nava was always modest about his accomplishments and when our students learned about his tremendous achievements and sacrifices, they were all the more inspired to graduate and contribute to their own communities.
Dr. Nava was a model community activist, an encouraging presence, and a person of great kindness. He has taught us to believe in democracy’s potential and that we all bear the humble responsibility to work together to better our community. Our department extends our deepest condolences to our colleague Carmen Nava and her family for their loss.
Wally Taibleson (1922-2017)
The CSUSM History department will remember Wally as a vibrant and dedicated student, a lover of History, and generous man who wanted to help others. Wally came to the History department in his late 70s, having transferred from Mira Costa College, where he completed his lower division work after retiring from a long and successful career in business. The History faculty members who had him in class, such as Dr. Carmen Nava, recall that Wally would always sit in the front row and could be counted on to participate enthusiastically in class discussions. Dr. Anne Lombard remembers that he loved the intellectual excitement of a good debate. Dr. Jill Watts and Dr. Alyssa Sepinwall recall that Wally was an incredible resource for students because he not only studied history but also had lived it, and he eagerly shared his experiences with his classmates. Wally completed his Bachelor of Arts in History in 2002, and amazingly, this was just the beginning of his career at CSUSM. Dr. Jeff Charles observes that when Wally made it to the university, he seemed to feel at home.
Pursuing his love of learning at CSUSM, Wally would go on to complete three Masters of Arts degrees. In 2006, Wally earned his first Master of Arts in Literature and Writing Studies. His thesis was entitled, “Virginia Woolf: Her Rebellion and Its Genesis.” In May 2009, Wally earned his Master of Arts degree in History. His thesis was entitled, “Doc Will Lend Money: The Life and Career of Dr. Attilio Henry Gianini.” In May 2013, Wally earned his fourth degree from CSUSM, a Master of Arts in Education. At that time, Wally was the oldest student in the entire California State University system and the oldest graduate in CSUSM history.
Wally inspired other History students, many of whom were also non-traditional students who were coming to university later in life. Wally was consistently prepared, focused and upbeat, and this made a strong impression. Jon Bechtol, a classmate of Wally’s in the History M.A. program, remembers him (and will always remember him) as a steadfast friend. Wally was also a wonderful role model for our students of a person passionate about learning and deeply engaged in life. Wally would frequently speak of his beloved late wife Clare, whom he credited with inspiring his love of reading. Students and faculty alike fondly remember Wally’s sense of humor.
But Wally was not only interested in cultivating his own academic interests. Wally took significant steps to provide assistance to students who would follow him at CSUSM. He created the Clare and Wally Taibleson Presidential Scholarship, which is notable because it provides four years of support to help a promising high school graduate successfully complete a bachelor’s degree. In conversations with History Department faculty, Wally would often shift gears, and ask questions about how we were working to build and strengthen our department. In what was the first major donation received by the History Department, Wally generously donated funds to establish an endowment for the History department. He said that hoped it would inspire others to support the History department. Over the years, this endowment has facilitated a wide variety of activities in support of the department’s mission, including special lectures and activities for both undergraduate and graduate History students.
In recognition of his academic achievements, and because he serves as an inspirational example to our students, the faculty of the History department selected Wally as the first inaugural Alumnus of the Year in 2002. Wally’s name appears first on the perpetual plaque located in the department office. The History Department mourns the loss of our friend, Wally Taibleson, and we send our deepest condolences to his family. Wally was passionate about learning and dedicated to helping others realize the benefits he realized through his university education. The History department will remember Wally as a wonderful model and friend to our students, department and university community.