Who is a Chicano? What does the term Chicano mean? Where does the term originate? Why have Mexican-Americans in the past objected to being known as Chicanos? Why do so many Mexican-Americans today take pride in being Chicanos? There questions are frequently asked when the subject of the Chicano Movement comes up. This essay seeks to clarify the origins and meaning of the term Chicano and attempts to explain some of the implications of being a Chicano. A Chicano is an individual of Mexican parentage or ancestry who lives in the United States.
Chicano is often used synonymously with Mexican-American, although many Chicanos presently make an ideological distinction between the two terms. The word Chicano has developed negative connotations in the past, for reasons that will not be discussed as much. Notwithstanding, today the word has, for many persons, very positive connotations. Keyword: Chicano Defining, Uniting and Empowering the Chicano Community For many years the Chicano people were considered the silent or forgotten minority, or referred to anonymously as one of the other oppressed nationalities.
The plight of Chicanos as an oppressed people was not in the public spotlight. This situation was to change dramatically in the mid- and late-1960s as an independent movement developed in response to the specific oppression of the Chicano people, which had a dynamic and revolutionary logic of its own. The Afro-American and student movements were joined by a movement of those who had called themselves Mexican-Americans, Hispanos, Latin Americans, Spanish-speaking. Part of the nationalist dynamic of this development was a new self-image.
Terms of self-description like La Raza and Chicano gained greater acceptance, reflecting a new pride and dignity, a new determination to struggle for equal rights, for a better life, for liberation (Pollack, 1971). However, even with this new found self-image, there is still that misconception and negative connotations on who Chicanos are and what defines them culturally, socially, and politically. One necessary step in the construction of defining the Chicano people is to change the way the mass media portrays Chicanos.
For years now, Chicanos have been defined by the negative stereotypes the media portrays of them. This has led to the misinterpretation of Chicanos being a growing, obstinate working class that maintains its own culture and does not assimilate into American life (Cavendish, 2011). Popular culture has often reinforced these stereotypes through films, television, and advertising, adding to them images of Chicana women as seductive temptresses or suffering mothers and Chicano men as gangsters, low-riders, and drug smugglers (Cavendish, 2011).
However, these stereotypes are not and should not be used to define the Chicano people. There are many Chicano families that are assimilated into U. S. society and have very few ties to Mexico. Therefore, Chicanos refuse to let the stereotypes of the mass media define who they are and should make a push on the media to change their portrayal of Chicanos. Although the mass media does a pretty good job on giving society a negative view on Chicanos, there is still that misunderstanding on, who Chicanos are.
Many have that mindset and idea that all Mexicans are illegal aliens, which some are. They also believe that being Chicano or Mexican is the same difference, which leads to the idea that all Mexicans are immigrants. What many don’t know is that there is a separation when it comes to the Mexican community. That separation in the Mexican community is between the Chicanos and the Mexican immigrants. Amongst this separation, some Chicanos have that feeling of segregation between Mexican immigrants, what they call “border brothers” and some call “wetbacks.
” If anything, this feeling of segregation is caused by the clash of identity and misunderstanding on both sides. Even something as far as lethal, as the gang warfare between Nortenos and Surenos in the Bay Area of California has this conflict at its base (Madrid, 2005). The clash between the two sides also goes as far as being able to identify one another. For years the word “wetback” has been thrown around loosely, not just among society, but even from other Chicanos. It wasn’t always used with hatred, but often more as a description, a way to identify.
There are also terms that immigrants use for Chicanos. Words like “pocho” and “gringo. ” All of these terms, that are used to identify one another, just add to the feeling of segregation between Chicanos and Mexican immigrants. One of the major separations between the two sides is the communication amongst one another. Sometimes in public places like a department store, Mexican immigrants have trouble communicating with a salesperson so they will look around for help. They will spot a Chicano and ask for help but for many Chicanos, they don’t speak Spanish.
This disappoints Chicanos and makes them feel bad more so often, not because they are not able to help but more for the reason that they can’t speak the language. For many Chicanos, they are caught in the middle of two worlds (Madrid, 2005). Chicanos are proud of their roots, but at the same time they don’t really know their own culture (Madrid, 2005). It’s one thing to be judged and looked down upon by white people, but it’s an added slap in the face when someone of your own ethnicity does it to you.
Although there is a separation between Chicanos and Mexican immigrants, Chicanos are still seen negatively due to associations made by Americans. In the eyes of many Americans, the name Chicano has become associated with persons who were poor, unskilled, uneducated, ignorant, and backward (Sinmadera, 2011). Additionally, the U. S. newspapers popularized the notion that Chicanos or Mexicans came from a country where almost everyone was an unprincipled, immoral bandit. Individuals of Mexican descent born in the United States were of course influenced by this propaganda. U. S. citizens of Mexican ancestry were reluctant to associate themselves with the recent immigrants. They took pains to let it be known that they were “Spanish Americans” or “Early Californians,” rather than undesirable Mexicans or Chicanos. This denial on the part of many native born Mexican Americans, of kinship with the immigrants, tended to further hinder the newcomers acceptance into the American mainstream (Sinmadera, 2011). Nevertheless, things have changed over the years for the better but there are still those misconceptions when it comes to the self-image of Chicanos.
The self-image of Chicanos is still under misapprehension due to positive aspects being turned into negative misconceptions. The background for Chicanos is understandably a source of great pride for them. However, the dominant society in the United States, through its educational system and the mass media, has chosen to subvert the positive aspects of past achievements of this minority group, and has instead helped to create negative misconceptions (Sinmadera, 2011). This distortion and neglect of the Chicano heritage has done much hard to the self-image of Chicanos.
It has caused the stereotypes of Chicanos being seen as undesirable troublemakers and as perennial welfare recipients. In the eyes of many, being Chicano probably led to becoming tantamount to being irresponsible and a law-breaker. This is due to the lack of awareness of the underlying reasons behind social phenomena’s. Nonetheless, the term Chicano appears to have been a victim of circumstance, taking a negative connotation emanating from social and economic conditions whose origins could be traced to prevailing racist attitudes and practices of the dominant society (Sinmadera, 2011).
Thus, social problems which have historically emanated from the ill-treatment afforded economically and socially deprived Mexican immigrants, as well as other poor persons of Mexican ancestry, have served not only to divide this minority group, but to stigmatize their proud heritage and identity, which is truly reflected in the term Chicano. Even though the term Chicano has developed negative connotations throughout the years, nevertheless, today the term has, for many people, very positive connotations. Too many, to be Chicano means to be an individual who recognize that they no longer are purely Mexican.
They assimilate into American life but then soon realize that they are not completely accepted by America. Despite that, Chicano still connote a strong political significance and the individuals who define themselves as Chicanos attempt to legitimize themselves in a country which proposes to absorb or erase them (Jimenez, 2009). For Chicanos, they seek to develop culturally, socially, and politically which is especially important for Chicano themselves; pride in one’s self is only the first step for the people of the Chicano community.
One important tool that serves as a means for Chicanos to control their own circumstances, define themselves, and obtain power is the development of a language. As Chicanos, we have our distinct language and culture which help us to seek equal access, opportunity, and justice without being absorbed by mainstream society. Chicanos have developed a language all their own, known as Spanglish, which plays a vital role for the Chicano community. Spanglish allows them to communicate in a language that reflects the complexities of the Chicano identity (Jimenez, 2009).
It is an innovative language that defines, unites and empowers the Chicano Community. For Chicanos, Spanglish is culturally significant because it reflects their identity (Jimenez, 2009). Culture consists of customs, traditions, food, clothing, music, art, and language. In the same way that Spanglish unites the strengths of the English and Spanish languages, so too are Chicanos a union of the American and Mexican cultures. Spanglish not only reflects their identity, but also provides a means for them to strengthen each other (Jimenez, 2009). Through speaking Spanglish, Chicanos are able to restore pride in their language and within their selves. In addition, Spanglish provides the means for Chicanos to transmit social information with emotion, solidarity, and trust (Jimenez, 2009). They speak Spanglish with people they feel close to and who are also bilingual. Spanglish reflects the experience of Chicanos as bilingual, bicultural people (Jimenez, 2009). They combine English, America’s official language, with Spanish, Mexico’s official language. Chicanos are a product of the influences and cultures of America and Mexico, and they have created a language that mirrors this reality.
For Chicanos to be able to express themselves in Spanglish, the language that represents who they are as a Mexican person living in America, encouraged them to feel “in place” in this socially and ethnically different world. Spanglish in social settings gives a Chicanos a sense of unity with others who also faced the cultural shock and alienation of being Chicano in an institution where we are so under-represented. Chicanos may also use Spanglish to mobilize their community towards political power (Jimenez, 2009). The language grants Chicanos control over their experience.
“People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or in order not to be submerged by a situation that they cannot articulate” (Jimenez 2009). In a society that has historically negated the value of different ethnic groups, Chicanos have developed a language with which to define their unique experience. They do not wish to use exclusively a language that has been an instrument of discrimination and oppression. At the same time they constantly struggle against being in a state of limbo.
By living in America we have been exposed to another culture and another way of life, no longer are they strictly Mexican. Having been influenced by the American way of life, they have developed a new culture and language to express and control their circumstances. Given this significance, Chicanos can speak Spanglish to effectively convey their social plight and deepest feelings. Exclaiming “Unanse a la causa…supportive affirmative action! ” has more power than “Unite with the cause … support affirmative action! ” because it is said in Spanglish.
There is something in the sound of Unanse that makes them feel like one body. “Unanse … support,” the two words are truly Spanglish (Jimenez, 2009). In this way they gain support, make their voices heard, and turn the personal into the political . Even with the development of a language, one question still looms around. What, then, is a Chicano? Chicanos say if you have to ask you’ll never understand, much less become a Chicano. Actually, the word Chicano is as difficult to define as “soul. ” For those who like simplistic answers, Chicano can be defined as short for Mexicano.
For those who prefer complicated answers, is has been suggested that Chicano may have come from the work Chihuahua, the name of a Mexican state boarding on the United States. Getting trickier, this version then contends that the Mexicans who migrated to Texas call themselves Chicanos because having crossed into the United States from Chihuahua they adopted the first three letters of that state, Chi, and then added cano, for the latter part of Texano (Salazar, 1970). Such explanations, however, tend to miss the whole point as to why Mexican-American activists call themselves Chicanos.
Mexican-Americans, the second largest minority in the country and the largest in the Southwestern states, have always had difficulty making their minds what to call themselves. In New Mexico they call themselves Spanish Americans. In other parts of the Southwest they call themselves Americans of Mexican descent, people with Spanish surnames or Hispanos (Salazar, 1970). Why, ask some Mexican-Americans, can’t we just call them Americans? Chicanos are trying to explain why not. Mexican-Americans, though indigenous to the Southwest, are on the lowest rung scholastically, economically, socially, and politically (Salazar, 1970).
Chicanos feel cheated. They want change, now. Mexican-Americans average eight years of schooling compared to the Negroes’ 10 years. Farm workers, most whom are Mexican-American in the Southwest, are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act unlike other workers (Escobar, 2010). Also, Mexican-Americans often have to compete for low-paying jobs, with their Mexican brothers from across the border, who are willing to work for even less (Escobar, 2010). Mexican-Americans have to live with the stinging fact that the Mexican is the synonym for inferior parts of the Southwest.
That is why Mexican-American activists flaunt the word Chicano, as an act of defiance and badge of honor (Salazar, 1970). Mexican-Americans, though large in numbers, are so politically impotent in Los Angles, where the country’s largest single concentration of Spanish-speaking live, they have no one of their own in the City Council. This, in a city politically sophisticated enough to have three Negro councilmen (Salazar, 1970). Chicanos, then, are merely fighting to become “Americans,” but with a Chicano outlook. Fortunately, times are changing.
New awareness has come as a result of the Chicano Movement. For the individual Chicano, the Movement seeks to place things in their proper perspective. To be Chicano today means, among other things, to have pride in one’s culture and history, to be dedicated to the betterment and welfare of the community, to be committed to action that will effectively accomplish the goals of self-determinism, and to work toward the establishment of a society where equal rights and equal opportunities truly exist for all. References Cavendish, M. (2011).
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