Illini Everywhere: Mexican Illini, Since 1884

Since at least 1884, Mexican students have been attending the University of Illinois. They have included civil, mining, and chemical engineers, musicians, newspaper editors, transfer students, dancers, actors, instructors, professors, and writers. Mexican Illini have had a long history of outreaching to inform the campus of Mexican culture and society, while also excelling in their careers and building community. Read on to learn about early Mexican Illini!

"al maestro y amigo con la admiración de siempre de Renato".

A book dedication from the author Renato Ignacio Rosaldo-Hernandez (B.A. Spanish, 1936, M.A. 1937, PhD 1942).

Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico

It was 1884 when the first two students arrived: Rodrigo Aguilera and Miguel Jurado. Both men entered a growing campus with a diverse student population from across Illinois, the United States, Bohemia, England, and Germany. For such a small campus, it was not unusual to find enthusiastic newspaper announcements for new University arrivals.

A Daily Illini Newspaper Clipping.

A Daily Illini article announces the arrival of Rodrigo Aguilera and Miguel Jurado, found in the September 22, 1884 Daily Illini issue in Record Series 41/8/802.

Mr. Aguilera, of Parral, Mexico, studied civil engineering. During his three years of study, Mr. Aguilera was active in the student literary society known as the Adelphic Society where he was an effective orator and an admired piano player. [2] Unfortunately, following the death of his father, in the summer of 1887, Mr Aguilera was unable to complete his studies. [3]

Mr. Jurado, also of Parral, Mexico, studied agriculture until 1887. After returning to Mexico, citing an inability to recover from a winter illness, he recovered and he returned to his studies. [4] All else that is known about Mr. Jurado is his donation of silver and gold specimens to the University. [5] This is significant, because Parral was a famed source of silver, and at least one University alumni would relocate to Parral for a career. [6]

Later, there was Philemon Anatolio Schaefer, also of Parral, who studied civil and mining engineering. [7] Mr. Schaefer was a member of the Adelphic Society with a reputation for giving humorous orations. [8] After graduation in 1890, he held different engineer jobs in St. Louis, Missouri, and Georgetown, Texas.  Although, after over fifteen years of working and studying in the United States, in 1902, he returned to Parral.

The 1899 Visit of Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Don Ignacio Mariscal

During an official trip to Chicago to attend “fall festivities”, the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Don Ignacio Mariscal’s train stopped in Champaign, for two hours, for an informal reception and a brief inspection of the University. It was almost noon on a Saturday, when Illinois Governor John Riley Tanner arrived to welcome the distinguished guests. After his speech to the Illinois Central crowd, the Mexican train arrived. As a Daily Illini writer reported: [9]

The train is a model of the car builder’s art, and consisted of five Pullman palace cars painted in the colors of the republic. Both the engine and the coaches were decorated with the national colors of the United States and Mexico.

Secretary Mariscal was introduced to University President Andrew Draper, before taking a carriage tour around the campus. While the military band played on Burrill Avenue, Mr. Mariscal was shown the experimental farm, the model heating and lighting plant, and other buildings of interest. In particular, the Illini reported that the foreign dignitary was most impressed with campus spirit, the breadth of University curriculum, and the library building (as Mr. Mariscal was an esteemed writer himself).

Living Abroad During The Mexican Revolution

The Mexican revolution of the early twentieth century was felt on campus. Seeking informed perspectives, the Daily Illini published a series of interviews with three Mexican students on political change in Mexico. [10] Only one student agreed to be identified.

Carlos Castelazo Castillo, (B.S. Railway Civil Engineering, 1914) was an engineering student who was also an early president of the Spanish Club. The Spanish Club was a literary society which hosted performances of Spanish language literature. After graduation and with these experiences, Mr. Castillo became Assistant Professor of Spanish at Washington University’s Pullman campus. [11]

A Photo of Carlos Castelazo Castillo.

Carlos Castelazo Castillo Illio Photo from the 1915 Illio, Page 126, found in Record Series 41/8/805.

Professor Castillo was not the only Mexican Illini who chose a different career path. Enrique M. Zapeda quit his job as an editor of a Mexican daily newspaper (with a reported daily circulation of 50,000) to study journalism at the University of Illinois. [12] Mr. Zapeda’s (currently unidentified) newspaper was critical of the Mexican government, and Mr. Zapeda came to the United States to study labor conditions. Shortly after his arrival, he advertised Spanish language classes for commerce, referring to himself as “Professor Zapeda”. [13] Later, Mr. Zapeda and five other international students spoke to the Champaign Chamber of Commerce on contemporary business practices in their nation of origin. [14] Although he did not complete a degree, Mr. Zapeda left the campus after one year of study to teach courses in Colorado and Michigan. Prior to his return trip to Mexico in later 1920, he visited friends on campus once more. [15]

Living Abroad After The Mexican Revolution

Another undergraduate who became a professor was Morton Junior College transfer student Renato Ignacio Rosaldo-Hernandez, of Minatitlán, Veracruz, (B.A. Spanish, 1936, M.A. 1937, PhD 1942), sometimes nicknamed “El Guapo the handsome”. Mr. Rosaldo-Hernandez was a locally acclaimed tango dancer, he preferred American football to Mexican bullfighting, and he preferred drinking pulque to cola, he said in a Daily Illini interview. [16]

A Photo of Renato Ignacio Rosaldo-Hernandez.

Renato Ignacio Rosaldo-Hernandez Illio Photo from the 1936 Illio, Page 106, found in Record Series 41/8/805.

While facing the additional challenges of being both a transfer student and an international student, Mr. Rosaldo-Hernandez did well in his studies and he continued at the University for a graduate degree. Often, he gave campus and community talks on Mexico. [17] In 1936 and 1937, he was elected president of Spanish Club and of the multi-cultural student organization Cosmopolitan Club, respectively. For the 1937 Junior Prom, which featured the music of Duke Ellington, Betty Potter (B.A. English, 1938), of Flora, Illinois took Mr. Rosaldo-Hernandez, and sometime later they would marry. [18]

By 1942, he completed his dissertation on the poems of Don José María Roa Bárcena. During his graduate studies, Mr. Rosaldo-Hernandez was a Spanish instructor, and he co-developed a Spanish language textbook for a soldier training program at the local Chanute air base. [19] In 1945, with his wife and four-year-old son, he took a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin, before joining faculty at the University of Arizona where he became the head of the Romance Languages Department while continuing his work in research and translations.

During the cultural and political changes of the 1930s and 1940s, some Mexican students chose to write editorials in the Daily Illini. In 1938, one student wrote in support of President Cádernas’ domestic policies. [20] While another student gave regular interviews about Mexican politics and his comparative experiences in the United States. [21]

A Photo of Renato Cesar Octavius Baptista.

Cesar Octavio Baptista Montes Illio Photo from the 1942 Illio, Page 42, found in Record Series 41/8/805.

Cesar Octavio Baptista Montes (B.S. Chemical Engineering, 1942), of Mexico City, was another Cosmopolitan Club and Spanish Club member who was the source of multiple Daily Illini articles. After graduation, Mr. Baptista Montes took a position in the Mexican state-owned petroleum company (Pemex), where he is credited with helping develop the petrochemical industry in Mexico. [22] In 1959, Mr. Baptista Montes was a founder and the first president of the Mexican Institute of Chemical Engineers “Instituto Mexicano de Ingenieros Químicos” (IMIQ). [23]

Students like Mr. Baptista had the unique position to be authority figures on Mexico for other students. For example, in one interview, Mr. Baptista appreciated the rigor of his chemistry and engineering courses, while he was surprised that when compared with his studies in Mexico, fellow American students had less influence over the curriculum. [24]

The following year, during the highly disputed presidential election of 1940, Mr. Baptista reassured the Daily Illini that the peaceful atmosphere of Mexico would continue, and that “the dispute will be resolved without the use of firearms and with democratic methods of reasoning”. [25] This was significant for Mr. Baptista to address in 1940, because despite the long history of Mexican students on campus and shared national border, not all Illini were aware of current events in Mexico.

Later that year, before Thanksgiving holiday, Mr. Baptista and a second, although unidentified Mexican student, were interviewed again to compare holidays in Mexico with the United States. [26] Some observations included:

In Mexico people know how to be gay, happy. There they take several nights to celebrate an occasion. And they celebrate it as it should be done […]

Take Christmas, for example […] The weather in Mexico is such that we can get out doors to celebrate. And there we really celebrate! We have as many as seven nights of festivities. People are happy, they feel good, and they want everyone to feel good.

Independence day, too, is an entirely different situation in Mexico than here […] Coming on September 16, from ten to 15 days are taken to celebrate that occasion. People make noise, and let everyone know they are celebrating. There they shoot guns, firecrackers.

“And sometimes they shoot people too,” the other Mexican student standing nearby joked.

Celebrating Independence Day on Campus

Since at least 1940, Mexican Illini have been organizing Mexican Independence Day celebrations on campus. Some locations have included the Cosmopolitan Club house, the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, and today at La Casa Cultural Latina. In fact, it was September 16, 1940, at the Cosmopolitan Club house, when a hand-made, green, white, and red tri-color flag was flown above the building in lieu of an official flag. [27] Today, the Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity and the Mexican Student Association organize annual performances of the independence day speech “El Grito”, including unveiling a large Mexican flag, before parading and dancing across campus with a live band too.

From donating time into student life activities, to advising students, to answering many perennial questions about culture, politics, or society, to organizing to support fellow students, to hosting annual independence day celebrations, Mexican Illini have contributed greatly to campus community since the first students arrived.

Are you a Mexican Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!

(A special thank you to the officers and members of the 2016-2017 Mexican Student Association who invited me to their meetings and events, while supporting the development of this story and for sharing their stories too.)



[1] “Rodrigo Aguilera”, The Illini, September 19, 1887, page 16.

[2] Multiple performances are announced in the The Illini. One performance included multiple encores. Please see: “Society Notes”, The Illini, December 14, 1885, page 13.

[3] Untitled, The Illini, September 19, 1887, page 16.

[4] “Jurado”, The Illini, March 14, 1887, page 15.

[5] “Scientific”, The Illini, November 15, 1886, page 9.

[6] “Walter Aurel George Olshausen”, The Alumni Record of the University of Illinois at Urbana, 1906, page 96.

[7] “Philemon Anatolio Schaefer”, The Alumni Record of the University of Illinois at Urbana, 1906, page 122.

[8] “Society Notes”, The Illini, April 13, 1855, page 16.

[9] For a detailed account of the event, including speech transcriptions and other distinguished guest, please see: “Signor Mariscal’s Visit”, The Illini, October 9, 1899, page 1.

[10] “Mexican Students Discuss Revolution”, Daily Illini, March 31, 1914, page 1; “Federal Government Favored by Mexicans”, Daily Illini, April 2, 1914, page 1; “Mexican Students Oppose Intervention”, Daily Illini, April 5, 1914, page 1. Another student appreciated the effort of the DI for interviewing students directly impacted and “for showing one way of employing the views of foreign students for the general good”, please see: “The Mexican Question”, Daily Illini, April 7, 1914, page 4.

[11] For a faculty listing, please see: State of Washington Educational Directory 1916-1917 and Statistics for the School Year 1915-1916, page 66.

[12] “Mexican Editor Quits Chair and Is Illinois Freshman at 32” by William D. Boutwell, Daily Illini, October 17, 1919, page 7.

[13] For Daily Illini classifieds section advertisements, please see issues: January 21, 1920; January 22, 1920; January 23, 1920; January 24, 1920; January 25, 1920; January 27, 1920; and January 28, 1920.

[14] “Foreign Students Speak to Business Men Tonight”, Daily Illini, May 25, 1920, page 1.

[15] “Zapeda Mexican Student. Returns for Visit Here”, Daily Illini, December 12, 1920, page 2.

[16] “From Mexico–Tango Land–Comes Renato R. Hernandez; What? No Chili Con Carni?”by Ethel Kline, Daily Illini, November 3, 1934, page 1. For a Daily Illini “It’s a Merry Go Round” article on his full name, please see: January 15, 1938, page 3. For a biography, please see: “Talking to Renato Rosaldo”, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, UCLA Press, (vol. 33, no. 2), pages 7-37.

[17] From 1934 to 1939, there are multiple (sometimes monthly) announcements. For a Home Economics audience talk including Professor Rosaldo speaking on wooing a woman in Mexico, please see: “Rosaldo Speaks on Mexico: Home Economics Club Climaxes Activities at Banquet”, Daily Illini, May 6, 1938, page 5.

[18] “Elegance, Orchids are Keynote of Junior Prom” by Shirley Wolfson, Daily Illini, December 12, 1937, page 3.

[19] “Chanute Field Men Taught Spanish by Flores” by Maurie Kaplan, Daily Illini, February 12, 1941, page 3.

[20] “Mexico’s New Deal” by Oswaldo Reyes, Daily Illini, April 15, 1938, page 2.

[21] “Foreign Students Comment on American Education” by Rita Chilow, Daily Illini, October 11, 1939, page 3.

[22] “Ing. César Octavio Baptista Montes – Forjadores de la Petroquímica: Primer Presidente del IMIQ. Forjador de la Petroquímica en México”, <> Accessed September 21, 2016.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Foreign Students Comment on American Education” by Rita Chilow, Daily Illini, October 11, 1939, page 3.

[25] “Cesar Baptista, Mexican Student, Tells of Country’s Presidential Confusion” by Jim Buhai, Daily Illini, September 18, 1940, page 1.

[26] This article includes a comparative quotation from a student from Afghanistan. “Mexican Student Tells of Native Celebrations” by Ken Herron, Daily Illini, November 21, 1940, page 3.

[27] “Cosmopolitan Club Flies Mexican Flag to Celebrate Independence Day” by Jim Buhai, Daily Illini, September 18, 1940, page 11.

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