College of Ethnic Studies elder, mentor, and friend
Latina/Latino Studies Professor Emeritus Roberto Rivera passed away on January 15, 2022. Roberto’s first teaching assignment in the United States came in 1968. It was a Mexican Philosophy class in SF State’s Philosophy department. In the middle of the semester, he joined the 1968-1969 strike and, once the College of Ethnic Studies was established, Roberto became one of the first professors in the newly created Raza Studies Department.
Roberto taught many classes including Aztec Philosophy, Critical Thinking in Latina/Latino Studies, and Early Transatlantic Literature and Culture. He also briefly served as chair of the American Indian Studies department. Roberto retired in 2011 but continued staying in touch with both the American Indian Studies department and the Latina/Latino Studies department. He often called Gabriela Segovia McGahan to inquire about new developments on campus and ended his phone calls with “Todo va salir bien,” roughly translated as “Everything’s going to be alright.”
Roberto was featured on Radio Bilingüe’s program focusing on the 50th anniversary of the SF State Strike. His portion of the program begins at the 38:37 mark: http://radiobilingue.org/noticias/arte-y-cultura/50-anos-de-estudios-etnicos-3/
Included below are friends’ memories of our dear colleague.
“Roberto Rivera was the best kind of scholar. He nourished his brain with an immense love of the Latinx community and all communities of color. He read voraciously and celebrated every step forward from his colleagues and friends in our shared Latina/Latino Studies and Ethnic Studies journey. I was so fortunate to get to walk along side of Roberto for a good number of years. He was a true collaborator and friend. His brilliant, caring, and generous spirit remains at the heart of the Latina/Latino Studies Department and it’s our job to keep it alive.”
- Teresa Carrillo, SF State Latina/Latino Studies Professor
“The Department of American Indian Studies grieves the passing of CoES faculty elder, LTNS Professor Emeritus, and former AIS department chair Dr. Roberto Rivera. Dr. Rivera was an incredibly generous, generative, and committed teacher and colleague. Speaking personally, I was fortunate enough to study with Dr. Rivera in high school as part of my Step to College classes at Mission High and then again as an undergraduate at SFSU in classes ranging from critical theory to mysticism. When I reached graduate school, I realized I was more prepared to survive than I thought in part because Dr. Rivera had already taught many of the books and concepts I was reading there. I am grateful for the lessons I continue to learn from those experiences with Dr. Rivera and for the opportunity to remember and share them today with my own students. American Indian Studies wishes to send its condolences and express its gratitude to Dr. Rivera and to his family.”
- John-Carlos Perea, SF State American Indian Associate Studies Professor and Department Chair
“Roberto Rivera was my dear friend. When I taught at SF State, we spoke often, took walks, discussed books that he really liked and those he didn’t. We even taught several graduate courses together in the MA program. I was in awe of his breadth of knowledge. He knew so much. He was a truly brilliant, kind, and gentle soul who taught me so many things. In addition to the scholarly and academic, I learned the value of being kind, always kind. He taught me the importance of integrity, humor, rigor, and friendship. He was an easy friend who would stop by my office to talk politics, whether a class went well or not, what book he was reading, his health, and what he would like to do next. Seeing him was always a joy. The last time we spoke was a few years ago when I called to let him know that our dear friend Miriam Jimenez Roman had passed. It was a conversation full of longing and beautiful memories. There will never be anyone like Roberto Rivera. He was a mentor and a friend to me, to all of us, and we are so much better for it. Rest in Peace my dear friend."
- Nancy Raquel Mirabal, Associate Professor in the American Studies Department; Director of the U.S. Latina/o Studies Program, University of Maryland, College Park. SF State Latina/Latino Studies Associate Professor, 1996-2014.
“I first met Roberto in 2003 although we more likely met briefly when I was a graduate student in the Ethnic Studies Graduate Program from 1997-1999. Roberto was a masterful scholar and a brilliant theorist. We shared UC Santa Cruz as our doctoral alma mater and we just loved to talk whenever we could in the hallways, in our offices, at events, at protests. He was as a mentor to me, and he was my department chair in American Indian Studies at a critical moment of transition for the department. Through his efforts our department was able to grow and thrive and I will forever be grateful to him for his genius, his support, and his sacrifice as one of the 1968 strikers! We thrive because of him. We exist because of him! Thank you… mil gracias, Roberto! Job well done! I imagine him now talking with Hegel and other great theorists along with many revolutionary thinkers! He is and will always be a giant of Ethnic Studies. QEPD. The attached photo is from 2011 when he retired after more than forty years at SFSU. He was honored for his many contributions and leadership by the department of American Indian Studies and was gifted a blanket as a reflection of his leadership.”
- Andrew Jolivette, Professor and Chair, Department of Ethnic Studies; Director Native American and Indigenous Studies, UC San Diego. SF State American Indian Studies Professor, 2003-2019 and AIS Department Chair, 2010-2016.
“It’s sad to let go of my best friend and colleague Roberto and say farewell, but I do and I am. So many good years of co-teaching, shared readings, and supervising students in the College. So feisty and yet compassionate.”
- Ben Kobashigawa, SF State Asian American Studies Professor Emeritus