Masa was formed in 2001 in the midst of the fight for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants at public universities in New York State. That year, then-CUNY student Angelo Cabrera founded the Mexican American Students’ Alliance (MASA), a group of student activists advocating for passage of New York’s in-state tuition bill. The bill would allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools. Cabrera went on a hunger strike for this cause; CUNY professor Dr. Robert Smith testified in the bill’s favor and submitted an amicus brief in support.

After the in-state tuition law passed, Cabrera and Smith began working with CUNY’s Admissions office to conduct college access workshops with immigrant high school students. These efforts were prompted by the alarmingly high dropout rate among Mexican and Mexican-American students in New York City, and the oft-repeated refrain Smith heard in his research that “Mexicans don’t go to college.”

In the following years, MexEd, an organization founded by Smith in 1999, ran a high school mentoring program for immigrant teens. Masa, for its part, focused on developing an after-school program that promoted educational achievement and civic engagement among students and their parents. Both organizations continued to offer college access workshops in partnership with CUNY.

In 2009, after a decade of close collaboration, MexEd and Masa merged. In recent years, the organization has dramatically expanded its educational programs, while also launching civic engagement programs focused on immigration relief and other pressing needs identified by the community.