Rodrigo Bañuelos

 Please note.  What follows is not my professional/academic Bio.  If you need such a bio, send email.


Here I give an interview newspaper articles related to the Blackwell-Tapia Prize in Mathematics which I had the highest honor of receiving in 2004. The Prize presentation took place at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA where I received my Ph.D. in 1984. The articles was written by Jorge Morales Almada, a reporter for the daily La Opinión (one of the nation's largest Spanish language daily newspaper) of Los Angeles, California, and published Sunday, November 7, 2004. For this article Jorge received a second place prize in "The 17th Annual Hispanic Print Awards" in the category of "Outstanding Hispanic Success Story, Daily Publications," presented by The National Association of Hispanic Publications. Congratulations Jorge!

Since the appearance of this article, I have received hundreds of emails, and many phone calls, from students, parents and teachers (at elementary, junior and senior high schools and universities), asking for advice on educational matters and for more information on my professional career. I have also received many requests for further biographical information. For these reasons, I have decided to put the article here and to include the biographical sketch below. A version of this biographical narrative can also be found at the SACNAS website HERE.

For many young people attending college is a given. It represents merely the next logical step in their pursuit of well-defined goals. Deviations from this would be considered exceptions. Yet for far too many others (especially for many minority students and students from low income families), attending college is often the exception. This path can be a monumental, frightening, and life-transforming leap with immeasurable consequences for current and future generations. It is my sincere hope that by publicly disclosing this (personal) information I can encourage low income and minority students to continue their education and to fully explore their dreams and aspirations.

As always, students, parents and teachers can write to me at I will try to answer all emails as promptly as possible and be as useful as I can be with my answers and suggestions.

    BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION.  PLEASE NOTE: This was written (a version of it) for the SACNAS Biogrphy Project designed to show young high school Latin @ students the range of experiences and backgrounds of Latin@ Scientists.  IT IS NOT MY PROFESSIONAL BIO.  If you need such a bio, send me email and I will provide it.

    I was born in a rural agricultural community, called "La Masita", in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, to a Mexican-American father, Sr. José Bañuelos, and a Mexican mother, Sra. Rosalva Bañuelos. As a child I had no formal education, working, like most kids in that region of Mexico at that time, primarily in farming. We had no running water, no electricity and no telephone service.  In retrospect, life in La Masita was very primitive and very hard, but I did not know it at the time.  My childhood memories are those of a "campesino" community, whose members were always looking after one another.

    At the age of 15, along with my mother, grandmother, five brothers and one sister, I moved to Pasadena, California. My father, born in the city of Superior, Arizona, had lived in the US essentially all his life, commuting from Pasadena to La Masita once or twice a year.  He worked as a cook at various restaurants in the Los Angeles area. He was very proud of his Mexican-American heritage and was an incredibly hard working individual with an amazing sense of optimism who believed that through hard work anything can be achieved. After we moved to the US, my mother worked for minimum wage at various factories and in the serving line at a popular cafeteria in Pasadena-"The Pasadena Cafeteria".  While not having had any formal schooling, both my parents valued education greatly.  Indeed, my mother always blamed every "bad" thing that happened to our family on our lack of education.  We were poor, we were sick, people mistreated us or took advantage of us, etc., and all because of a lack of an education.  "Eso nos pasa por falta de educación," she would always say. As a young person I did not always understand, nor fully appreciated, the depth of this statement.

    I cannot say that I was the smartest nor the hardest working member of my family. I believe such distinctions belonged to my oldest brother Javier who passed away at age 45 from Mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos after many years of working in a lumberyard.  However, because of opportunities that others did not have, I was the first in the family to attend and graduate from college.  In fact, I was even the first to attend and graduate from high school! For this, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Juan Francisco Lara whom I met in 1973 while  working at the Arroyo Parkway Car Wash in Pasadena located at the corner of Pasadena boulevard and Arroyo Parkway. Juan was then a Ph.D. student at UCLA with a part-time job teaching Chicano History at Pasadena City College. He would regularly drive from West Los Angeles to Pasadena. The Pasadena freeway, coming from downtown LA, empties onto Arroyo becoming the Arroyo Parkway. Juan then would drive on Arroyo, make a right turn onto Pasadena Boulevard, a left at Hill Avenue (with the prestigious California Institute of Technology at the corner of California and Hill) and just after a short five minute drive on Hill (and just before Colorado Boulevard), he would arrive at Pasadena City College. From time to time on this journey Juan would stop at the Arroyo Parkway Car Wash to clean his car. My job at the car wash was to clean and shine those great chrome bumpers (front and back) that cars used to have in the 60's and 70's as the cars role on the belt on their way out of the wash. While younger than many of the older Latino (Mexican) men who had worked at the car wash for many years, I was no different than all the other young Latinos and few African-Americans who worked there. But for some strange reason Juan took the time to talk to me and to encourage me to enroll in his course on Chicano Studies at Pasadena City College. With Lara's help I went to the admissions office and enrolled in his course. In addition, I enrolled in an elementary (about 8th grade level) mathematics course and in a beginning English course. After a full year and two summers at Pasadena City College, again with the help of Juan Lara and this time also with the help of Ruben Rubalcaba who was the director of the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) at UC Santa Cruz, I transferred to Santa Cruz.  (Just one semester earlier I had applied to, and was rejected from, every campus of the UC System.)  The Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), which seems to still exist these days, was totally different in the early 70's when I and thousands of other Chicano/Latino/African-American kids entered the University of California system.

    During my first year at UC Santa Cruz, I was extremely fortunate to meet two of the founding members (fathers) of SACNAS, Professors Eugene Cota-Robles and Frank Talamantes, both biologists. From these two individuals I, and many other of my fellow UC Santa Cruz students, received tremendous support and encouragement.  These two, like Lara and many others, exemplify at its very best Cesar Chavez's statement that "we cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.  Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own." I would certainly not be where I am today if I had not encountered these remarkable people on my very winding path to my present career.

    During my time at UC Santa Cruz I was encouraged to study mathematics by several people, none more than Professor Tony Tromba.   Professors Tony Tromba and Edward Landsman were the first non-Latino teachers/academics who believed that I had the potential to earn a college degree. I owe them a great debt of gratitude.

    For many years I have been involved with many efforts, both local and national, to increase the number of minority students in sciences and engineering. I served on the Human Relations Commission (2000-2006) for the City of West Lafayette and I was a member of the Golden Apple Awards Selection Committee for the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce for several years.  We (my wife Rosa and I) live in West Lafayette, Indiana. We have two daughters. Nidia, a graduate of Stanford University, is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Carisa, a graduate of Purdue University Krannert School of Managment, lives in Denver, a city she has fallen in love with.  I am extremely fortunate to have a job where I interact with people from allover the world, which is fun and challenging and which provides the financial support to live comfortably. But there is not a single day when I don't contemplate, at least for a moment or two, the "what if... Lara hadn't been there..." Where would I (and other members of my family) be? One last fact about me. I am completely addicted to very, very,..., spicy food.

    Dr. Juan Francisco Lara is now a retired Vice Chancellor of UC Irvine and is the Chairman of the Orange County Hispanic Educational Endowment Fund . Dr. Lara's lifetime commitment to helping low income and underrepresented minority students gain access to higher education is truly inspiring. His efforts have impacted the lives of hundreds of individuals and their future generations, mine included.  For his efforts to improve access to higher education for Latino and other low income students, Dr. Lara has received many awards and recognitions. It is gratifying for me that in many of his acceptance speeches he uses the above "car wash" story to illustrate the impact that his efforts have had on the lives of so many. Over the years I have been in regular contact with him and often see him at the SACNAS national meetings. I treasure his big hugs (fuerte abrazos), his big smile, and his forever unique style of bow ties.

    All those looking for biographical information on US-Latino scientists are encouraged to visit the SACNAS (the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) webpage, and specially the SACNAS Biographical Project and the SACNAS Videos. I also strongly recommend visiting the webpage of Professor Richard Tapia, a person who has been a role model and an inspiration for countless US-Latino students in mathematics and related fields.

    In addition, I believe it would be inspiring for all students, and especially for all minority students interested in careers in the mathematical sciences, to read about the life and achievements of Professor David Blackwell, a truly extraordinary American mathematician of African descent. For biographical information on Professor Blackwell, please visit Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, or the MAA SUMMA page.

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