Our hearts are heavy to share the news that Professor Emerita Beverly Newbold Chiñas, who taught in the Anthropology Department for 26 years, passed away May 24. She was 97.
Born September 1, 1924, on her family’s farm in Minden, Nebraska, Chiñas was cooking, baking, and sewing her own clothes by age nine. After high school, she completed a six-month business course that secured her a job with an insurance company for $60 a month. Chiñas eventually took a civil service position for the Tennessee Valley Authority project and then landed a job as a US Army hospital ward secretary before fulfilling her lifelong dream of earning a university degree—she obtained a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State College in 1963 and eventually a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1968.
Chiñas joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at Chico State soon after, during the early years of its nascent graduate program, and she played an important role in shaping its future direction.
“It is with great pleasure to remember Beverly Chiñas for the seminal role she played in bringing the department to where it is today,” said Anthropology Professor Emeritus Mark Kowta. “Dr. Chiñas brought to the fledgling program at Chico State her firsthand experience as a classic anthropologist—she was a scholar who sought to achieve an understanding of cultures markedly different from her own in language, social interactions, and world views.”
As a graduate student at UCLA, Chiñas traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, to study the Zapotecs, a venture that would inform much of her life’s work. While there, she explored new avenues in economic anthropology, providing a vital cross-cultural perspective for a wide variety of gender-related issues, in particular, the role of Zapotec women as economic entrepreneurs in their society—research that still has relevance today.
Chiñas published two books that resulted from her work during this time: The Isthmus Zapotecs, now considered a classic ethnography, and La Zandunga, an account of her fieldwork experiences. Both books were in continuous print for more than 40 years.
“I felt a special camaraderie with Beverly. Her in-depth look at women in this Indigenous community was similar to my own field experiences,” said Anthropology Professor Emerita Stacy B. Schaefer. “As women, we both went to the field alone, and most naturally found our places among the women of our perspective communities—women who taught us, became dear friends, and looked after us. But, Beverly, like the few female ethnographers of her time, forged the path for those who followed, especially among indigenous cultures in Latin America.”
Friends and colleagues remember Chiñas as an adventurer, an avid gardener, a dedicated nature preservationist, and a great host—she and her husband, Carlos, were known for throwing many memorable dinner parties where they would share stories and good conversation while enjoying her favorite champagne.
A lifelong bicyclist, Chiñas biked to classes during her entire teaching career, even bicycling to Commencement ceremonies in her cap and gown. After retiring in 1986, she rode her bicycle across France, through China, Canada, and Alaska, and on many tours around the United States.
For decades, Beverly had a registered National Wildlife Habitat in her backyard where she encouraged birds, bees, and other wildlife to flourish. In retirement, she became an avid birder, and traveled widely on birding trips around the world, visiting Central and South America, India, and Africa.
In addition to her influential work on campus, Chiñas served the city of Chico in generous ways as an activist and volunteer. She contributed to various wildlife and conservation organizations and regularly served on local environmental councils, such as the Bidwell Park Committee, as well as serving as a board member for Chico Natural Foods Co-op and as a volunteer at the Catalyst Domestic Violence Services shelter.
She is survived by her husband, Carlos; son Lewis Lee Litzler; daughter Barbara Marie (Litzler) Andrews; four grandsons; three great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. No memorial services were planned.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, July 11, in her memory.