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Nava, Julian (1927-) | Special Collections & Archives

Name: Nava, Julian (1927-)

Historical Note:

Julian Nava was born and raised in East Los Angeles, was one of the first Mexican-American graduates of Pomona College, and one the first Mexican-American doctoral students at Harvard University. He had a distinguished career as a professor of history at California State University, Northridge, was a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, and United States Ambassador to Mexico from 1980 to 1981.

After attending local schools, Nava volunteered for the US Navy Air Corps during World War II, and was accepted as a pilot candidate. While he was completing his training, the war ended, and Nava did not have an opportunity to become an active participant. After leaving the Navy, Nava returned to Los Angeles and eventually entered East Los Angeles Junior College under the G.I. Bill.  Later, he attended Pomona College, earning a Bachelor's degree. He entered Harvard University in 1951, and received a PhD in history in 1955 after completing his doctoral research in Venezuela. The following fall, Nava traveled to Puerto Rico to teach at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.

In 1957, Nava was hired to teach at the newly established branch of Los Angeles State College in Northridge, San Fernando Valley State College (later re-named California State University, Northridge), where he met his wife, Pat Lucas. He traveled extensively during this time to numerous foreign countries. In 1967, Nava was the first Mexican American elected to the Los Angeles Board of Education. Nava served in this position while he continued his full-time teaching schedule at CSUN for twelve years. He presided over issues concerning the East Los Angeles Chicano Student Walkouts of 1968, the introduction of bilingual education to Los Angeles schools, and school integration. He served as the Board’s president twice.

On April 3, 1980 Nava became the first Mexican-American U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.  He presented his credentials to the Mexican President, José Lopez Portillo, at a grand ceremony at the Palacio Presidencial in Mexico City. Nava left the embassy on April 3, 1981.

Back in California, Nava resumed teaching at CSUN. With the increase of "free time" he gained, Nava journeyed to Cuba to produce a documentary film. He visited China in 1993 with members of the Latin Business Association who were attempting to organize trading relations with Chinese businesspeople. A year later, Nava returned to China to film another documentary on the daily life of five families. Additionally, he managed the Los Angeles Music and Arts School in East Los Angeles. In 1993, Nava decided to run for mayor of Los Angeles in an election that was ultimately won by Richard Riordan.

Nava is the author of many articles and books, including some titles written for children. These include Mexican Americans: Past, Present, and Future (1969), Mexican Americans: A Brief Look at Their History (1970), Viva la Raza: Readings on Mexican Americans (1973), California: Five Centuries of Cultural Contrasts (1976, with Bob Barger), and Julian Nava: My Mexican-American Journey (2002).  He has received an honorary doctoral degree from Pomona College, as well as from Whittier College.  Nava is an emeritus faculty member of the History Department at CSUN.

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