Jesus Luna, a former Fresno State history professor and pioneer of the Chicano and Latin American Studies program, died this month of cancer at age 70.
Mr. Luna, born in 1944, grew up in Edinburg, Texas, in a family of agriculture workers. The seventh of 11 children, he was the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. He received a doctorate degree in history from North Texas State University in 1973, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Scholar specializing in Latin American history.
Yolanda Luna said her husband had a huge influence on his family. All his younger siblings followed his example and attended college, she said.
Mr. Luna started working at Fresno State in 1976, joining the La Raza Studies Program before it was renamed.
“He always used to say that he loved teaching so much that if they didn’t pay him he would still teach,” Yolanda Luna said.
Mr. Luna served as coordinator of the La Raza Studies Program at Fresno State from 1977-78 and 1980-82. After it became the Chicano and Latin American Studies program, he worked as an associate and full professor until 1990.
Later that year, Mr. Luna transferred to the History Department, where he taught until retirement in 2009.
Luz Gonzalez, dean of the College of Social Science that houses the two departments where Mr. Luna taught, remembers starting out as his student. His enthusiasm for Mexican history helped her fall in love with the subject, she said.
Gonzalez said Mr. Luna believed in empowering young Latinos.
“Walking into his classroom and seeing a professor that looked like a relative, that looked like a brother, a dad — a Mexicano like me,” she said. “I remember being impressed, thinking if someone like him can get a PhD, maybe I can, too.”
She said that’s one of the reasons he transferred to the history department. Mr. Luna became the first Latino history professor at Fresno State, she said. He realized the importance for disadvantaged students and students of color to see someone like them in different fields.
Mr. Luna and his wife moved back to Edinburg, Texas, after retirement. He died Jan. 5 in Houston.