His daughter, Monica, a student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, is eerily composed when reached by phone: "I support my father; he's an absolutely brilliant man. . . . He spoke to me at great length about what is happening, and I am proud of the stand he and the students are taking. I am not prepared for his death and I never will be--no matter how he tries to prepare me. But if the time comes when he has to choose between life and death, I will not ask him to change his decision."
Mancillas keeps large, framed photos of both his children in his tiny tent. "The hardest part of what I am doing is the thought of leaving them."
Scott Waugh, dean of UCLA's department of social sciences, says he "certainly hopes no one dies" in the protest, and that the school has offered every convenience to the strikers.
"We gave them electricity, we send medical workers to check on their condition, we have extra police protection so that no one bothers them." They are entitled to starve themselves in protest, he says, but the university has no intention of giving them what they want just because they are doing it. "It's all very picturesque," Waugh adds, "but it's tantamount to someone walking in with a gun to his own head and saying give me what I want or I'll shoot."
Mancillas and the others believe the situation is untenable; that it must be changed by people willing to martyr themselves. Mancillas says he is "inspired by Cesar Chavez" and hopes to work in his tradition.
Says Marcos Mapachtli Aguilar, 23, a UCLA senior from Mexicali, who is participating in the hunger strike: "I am committed to dying if that's what needs to happen in order to prioritize education over profit on this campus."
Why, Mancillas asks rhetorically, did the chancellor ignore their recommendation after they held such lengthy deliberations.
"The most reasonable-sounding argument the chancellor made was that he wants students in all the conventional departments to be exposed to the field of Chicano studies--and that could best be achieved without a separate department.
"But if you teach at a university, as I do, you realize how hollow that argument is. Courses in Chicano studies must be organized, staffed and taught by a specific department; existing departments have shown very little interest in the subject. Those who volunteer to teach in the (current interdepartmental) program find their efforts perceived as a sort of volunteerism or community service, not as part of their academic responsibilities. Their home departments see it as a time away from their 'real responsibilities.' "
In order to burnish reputations and build careers, Mancillas says, "faculty members must work within their own departments, not 'volunteer,' to teach ethnic studies."
UCLA sociology professor Vilma Ortiz says she supports the strikers and their cause and believes there is "quite a bit of faculty sentiment, even among Anglos," in favor of the strikers' position.
Mancillas believes the administration also worries that a separate Chicano studies department would lead to requests for departments in African-American studies and Asian studies. And he thinks that would be just fine. In today's world, especially in Los Angeles, he says, that would help people understand and appreciate each other.
Mancillas says he is driven in his push for a separate department by the knowledge that "Los Angeles is 40% Latino. It is the main point of immigration from Latin American. It has the second largest Mexican population in the entire world. It was founded by Mexicans in 1781, when the 13 colonies had not yet achieved their independence. The whole southwestern United States was part of Mexico for 327 years before it was annexed to the United States.
"Students who graduate from UCLA should understand this society in which they will practice their professions. Only through understanding can the violence, bigotry and inequality be erased."