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College Chicano Studies and Psychohistory Pioneer Dies

September 1, 2004

College Chicano Studies and Psychohistory Pioneer Dies

Campus Memorial Service for Professor Mauricio Mazón To Be Held Sept. 27

By Eva Emerson
September 2004

Historian Mauricio Mazón, longtime member of the faculty of the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and an early pioneer of Chicano studies, died Sept. 4. He was 59.

Mazón’s most influential work was his book about the Sleepy Lagoon murder case and its explosive repercussions in 1940s Los Angeles, The Zoot Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation (Univ. of Texas, 1984).

“Mauricio will be greatly missed,” said Mazón’s friend and colleague Steven J. Ross, chair and professor of history in the College. “His death is both a shock and a great loss.”

Mazón grew up near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from California State University, Los Angeles in 1970. After completing tours of Vietnam and Germany with the U.S. Army, Mazón earned a doctoral degree in history from UCLA in 1976.

One of the first historians in the country to train in psychoanalysis, Mazón earned a Ph.D. from the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute in 1987, where he was also a faculty member.

For more than 25 years, Mazón, an associate professor of history and American studies and ethnicity, played key leadership roles in the College and university. He served three terms as chair of the history department between 1983 and 2000.

In the early 1990s, Mazón helped transform the focus of what had been traditional American studies program at USC into a cutting-edge program that included distinct emphases in Chicano studies, African-American studies and Asian-American studies as well as a more modern approach to American studies. He led the Chicano studies program from its inception and directed the program in American studies and ethnicity for six years. He was also Vice Provost for Minority Affairs from 2000 to 2001.

As a scholar, Mazón gained renown for bringing a psychohistorical approach to Chicano and U.S. history. He published on a wide range of subjects — including Texas history, Mexican history, the Alamo, urban history and political biography of figures from Nixon to Pancho Villa.

His book on the Zoot Suit Riots largely shaped current understanding of the events, and was called “an immense contribution to the study of the Mexican American,” by Arnoldo de León writing in the American Historical Review.

Mazón taught courses on U.S. history, the Vietnam War, the history of the Mexican American, Mexican migration to the U.S., Chicano studies and psychohistorical methods.  Psychohistory, according to Ross, involves using psychoanalysis as a way to understand the driving forces in history, and can be applied to individuals and, less commonly, to groups.

“He made Chicano history, and especially the history of the Mexican American in Los Angeles, come alive for hundreds of students,” Ross said. “He loved being in the classroom.”

“Intellectually, Mauricio was a path-blazer during his early career. He was one of the first historians in Southern California to train as a psychoanalyst and use that training to delve into the new terrains of psychohistory and Chicano history. His book on the Zoot Suit Riots remains an important work more than 20 years after its publication.”

“Where Mauricio truly excelled was as an administrator,” said Ross, who credits Mazón with expanding the size and prominence of the history department, and praises Mazón’s work to re-create American studies at USC.  Mazón was also a key mentor for many faculty members.

“He taught me and many of his friends how to navigate the often tumultuous waves of academic politics,” Ross said.

In addition to his work at USC, Mazón remained active at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute as a faculty member, chair of the Research Clinical Associate Committee and a member of the thesis committee. He was also a clinician, and maintained a private psychoanalytic practice for many years.

Mazón is survived by his wife, Nadine, and his two children, Rosa Maria and Rafael.

The history department will hold a memorial service in celebration of Mazón’s life at 2 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 27, in the Intellectual Commons Room, 2nd Floor of the USC Doheny Memorial Library. All are welcome to attend.