SACNAS -The Beginning

By Ciriaco Gonzales PhD

On May 12, 1972, Dr. Alonzo Atencio, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of New Mexico Medical School, invited a group of 784 Chicano and Native American Scientists to an organizational meeting in Albuquerque. He obtained funds to sponsor the meeting from the NIH with help from Dr. Geraldine Woods and Dr. Robert Gibbs of the Division of Research Resources, NIH. At that meeting the attendees were: Dr. Alonzo Atencio, Dr. Ciriaco Gonzales, Dr. Ruben Duran, Dr. Arthur Diaz, Dr. Ricardo Griego, Dr. Don Ahshapanek, Dr. Vicente Llamas, Dr. Bill Rivera, Dr. Robert Pozos, Dr.Reynaldo Morales, Dr. Jose Martinez, Dr. Richard Tapia, Dr. Fred Young Begay, Dr. Zenaido Camacho, Dr. Sigfredo Maestas, Dr. Orlando Cuellar and Dr. Eugene Cota-Robles. This group could be referred to as the founders of SACNAS.

At that meeting it was decided to form a Federation of Chicano and Native American Scientists. A steering committee was established chaired by Ciriaco Gonzales, which explains why he is referred to as an early president. A meeting was scheduled for the fall of 1972 in Denver at which the name SACNAS was decided upon.

The first Annual meetin783 g of SACNAS was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey on April 19, 1973 in conjunction with the meetings of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Dr. Eugene Cota-Robles was elected President and a board of directors was established. There were approximately 50 members at the meeting, with several making scientific presentations. It was supported with funds from NIH and other agencies.

A board meeting was held on June 1, 1973 at Haskell Indian Junior College, Lawrence, Kansas, hosted by Dr. Don Ahshapanek, professor of biology at Haskell. Present were: Don Ahshapanek, Eugene Cota-Robles, Arthur Diaz, Ciriaco Gonzales, Alonzo Atencio and Richard Tapia. The Board decided to focus on specific goals and develop a proposal to initiate a predoctoral Graduate Fellowship Program to recruit and train Chicano and Native American students for the Ph.D. The draft included details for stipends and costs related to undertaking research projects. It was to be discussed at the next board meeting in December 15, 1973 in Washington, DC. The meeting in DC was arranged by the Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for Spanish Speaking People, chaired by Mr. Henry Ramirez. At the meeting it was decided to incorporate in Washington, DC. Dr. John Chapman of Mr. Ramirez' office assisted in the incorporation process. The documentation was managed by Dr. Arthur Diaz who was on assignment to NSF at the time. This incorporation did not work out and was later moved to Maryland.

A meeting was scheduled in conjunction with the AAAS meeting in San Francisco on February 27, 1974, with a business meeting at the University of California, Santa Cruz on the 28th. At this point there were two native Americans, Ahshapanek (vice president) and Fred (Young) Begay and seven Chicanos as officers and board members: Cota-Robles president, Duran secretary-treasurer and board members Atencio, Cuellar, Gonzales, Diaz and Tapia.

The Third annual meeting was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico in August of 1975. At that meeting the members elected Drs. Alonzo Atencio president, Richard Tapia vice president, and Miguel Rios secretary-treasurer (Science, Nov. 7, 1975).

This was the beginning of a somewhat organized SACNAS as recorded in letters, memos, back of the envelope notes and articles in Science as well as recollections by Ciriaco Gonzales. There is no pride in authorship and there is plenty of room for additions, deletions and corrections by those who were there.

Postscript: As the history unfolds, it is important to honor the late Dr. Alonzo Atencio with having the vision and moving the agenda to fruition. Without his commitment to getting Chicanos and Native Americans into the system of medical schools and research Universities, it is reasonable to conclude that he was the catalyst that led to the SACNAS we know today. His tracks are all over the history of this organization at its infancy and what’s more, he did not seek nor relish any rewards or recognition during his career. This author and many others have a lot to thank Dr. Atencio for his contributions and sacrifices.

About the author: Dr. Ciriaco Gonzales is a founding member of SACNAS and a retired member, senior executive service, Department of Health and Services; and retired health scientist administrator and director of the Minority Biomedical Support program, National Institutes of Health.

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