Chicano or Chicana (also spelled Xicano or Xicana) is a chosen identity of some Mexican Americans in the United States. The term Chicano is sometimes used interchangeably with Mexican-American. Both names are chosen identities within the Mexican-American community in the United States; however, these terms have a wide range of meanings in various parts of the Southwest. The term became widely used during the Chicano Movement by Mexican Americans to express pride in a shared cultural, ethnic and community identity.
The term Chicano had negative connotations before the Chicano Movement, and still is viewed negatively by more conservative members of this community, but over time it has gained more acceptance as an identity of pride within the Mexican-American community in the United States.
The pro-indigenous/Mestizo nature of Chicano nationalism is cemented in the nature of Mexican national identity, in which the culture is heavily syncretic between indigenous and Spanish cultures, and where 60% of the population is Mestizo, and another 30% are indigenous, with the remaining 10% being of European heritage and other racial/ethnic groups. Ultimately, it was the experience of Mexican Americans in the United States which culminated in the creation of a Chicano identity.
The Chicano poet and writer Tino Villanueva traced the first documented use of the term as an ethnonym to 1911, as referenced in a then-unpublished essay by University of Texas anthropologist José Limón. Linguists Edward R. Simmen and Richard F. Bauerle report the use of the term in an essay by Mexican-American writer, Mario Suárez, published in the Arizona Quarterly in 1947.
In 1857, a gunboat, the Chicana, was sold to Jose Maria Carvajal to ship arms on the Rio Grande. The King and Kenedy firm submitted a voucher to the Joint Claims Commission of the United States in 1870 to cover the costs of this gunboat's conversion from a passenger steamer. No particular explanation of the boat's name is known.
The origin of the word "chicano" is disputed. Some claim it is a shortened form of Mexicano (from the Nahuatl name for a member of the Mexica, the indigenous Aztec people of Anahuac, the Valley of Mexico). The name Mexica as spoken in its original Nahuatl, and Mexico by the Spaniards at the time of the Conquistadors, was pronounced originally with a sh sound and was transcribed with an x during this time period. (All pronunciations that follow are English approximations of the original Spanish or Indigenous languages; roughly // and //, respectively.) According to this etymological hypothesis, the difference between the pronunciation and spelling of chicano and mexicano stems from the fact that the modern-day Spanish language experienced a change in pronunciation regarding a majority of words containing the x (for example: México, Ximenez, Xavier, Xarabe). In most cases the sh sound has been replaced with the h sound (thus //) and a change of spelling (x to j, though this has not been done to Mexico and various other proper names). The word Chicano would have also been affected by this change. Many Chicanos replace the ch with the letter x, forming Xicano, due to the original spelling of the Mexica Empire. In the United States, some Mexican-Americans choose the Xicano spelling to emphasize their indigenous ancestry.
In Mexico's indigenous regions, (mestizos) and Westernized natives are referred to as mexicanos, referring to the modern nation, rather than the pueblo (village or tribal) identification of the speaker, be it Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huasteco, or any of hundreds of other indigenous groups. Thus, a newly emigrated Nahuatl speaker in an urban center might referred to his cultural relatives in this country, different from himself, as mexicanos, shortened to chicanos.
According to one explanation, the pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico called themselves Meshicas, and the Spaniards, employing the letter x (which at that time represented a "sh" and "ch" sound), spelled it Mexicas. The Indians later referred to themselves as Meshicanos and even as Shicanos, thus giving birth to the term Chicano.
Some[who?] believe that the early 20th-century Hispanic Texan epithet chicamo shifted into chicano to reflect the grammatical conventions of Spanish-language ethno- and demonyms, such as americano, castellano, and peruano. However, Chicanos generally do not agree that chicamo was ever a word used within the culture, as its assertion is thus far entirely unsubstantiated. Therefore, most self-identifying Chicanos do not agree that Chicano was ever derived from the word chicamo.[original research?]
Another hypothesis is that chicano derives from the indigenous population of Guanajuato, the Chichimecas, combined with the word Mexicano. An alternative idea is that it is an altered form of Chilango, meaning someone from Mexico City or Central Mexico (i.e. the highland states of México, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Puebla and Michoacán). A similar notion is that the word derives from Chichen Itza, the Mayan temple ruin and its associated culture in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Chicano would thus be a Hispanized word for Chichen and Mayans, rather than the Aztec or Nahua people.
Yet another etymological speculation is that it derives from the term Chileno (a person from Chile), by way of the Chilean American presence in mid 19th-century California, when miners from Chile arrived in the California Gold Rush (1848–51). This seems dubious, as the term is not frequently used other than in reference to Mexican Americans, is certainly not primarily used for Chilean-Americans.
Thus far, explanations of the origins of the word remain inconclusive. This is an indication that the term originated as a self-identification.[original research?]
Chicanos, like many Mexicans, are Mestizos who have heritage of both indigenous American cultures and European, mainly Spanish, through colonization and immigration. Literally, Latino refers to a native or inhabitant of Latin America or a person of Latin American origin living in the U.S.
Hispanic refers literally to Spain, but, in effect, to those of Spanish-speaking descent; therefore, the two terms are misnomers inasmuch as they apply only by extension to Chicanos, who may identify primarily as Amerindian or simply Mexican, and they may speak Amerindian languages (and English) as well as Spanish. The correct amalgamation is Latin American or Latin Americans, as coined by the Portuguese in the 17th century.
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The term's meanings are highly debatable, but self-described Chicanos view the term as a positive, self-identifying social construction. Outside of Mexican-American communities, and even within them, by those who do not prefer the term, Chicano has sometimes been considered pejorative. Regardless, its implications are subjective, but usually consist of one or more of the following elements.
From a popular perspective, the term Chicano became widely visible outside of Chicano communities during the American civil rights movement. It was commonly used during the mid-1960s by Mexican-American activists, who, in attempts to assert their civil rights, tried to rid the word of its polarizing negative connotation by reasserting a unique ethnic identity and political consciousness, proudly identifying themselves as Chicanos.
Although the U.S. Federal Census Bureau provided no way for Mexican Americans or other Latinos to officially identify as a racial/ethnic category prior to 1980, when the broader-than-Mexican term "Hispanic" was first available as a self-identification in census forms, there is ample literary evidence to substantiate that Chicano is a long-standing endonym, as a large body of Chicano literature pre-dates the 1950s.
According to the Handbook of Texas:
Inspired by the courage of the farmworkers, by the California strikes led by César Chávez, and by the Anglo-American youth revolt of the period, many Mexican-American university students came to participate in a crusade for social betterment that was known as the Chicano movement. They used Chicano to denote their rediscovered heritage, their youthful assertiveness, and their militant agenda. Though these students and their supporters used Chicano to refer to the entire Mexican-American population, they understood it to have a more direct application to the politically active parts of the Tejano community.
At certain points in the 1970s, Chicano was the preferred term for reference to Mexican Americans, particularly in the scholarly literature. However, even though the term is politicized, its use fell out of favor as a means of referring to the entire population due to ignorance and due to the majority's attempt to impose Latino and Hispanic as misnomers. Because of this, Chicano has tended to refer to participants in Mexican-American activism. Sabine Ulibarrí, an author from Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, once labeled Chicano as a politically "loaded" term, though later recanted that assessment.
The identity may be seen as uncertain. For example, in the 1991 Culture Clash play A Bowl of Beings, in response to Che Guevara's demand for a definition of "Chicano", an "armchair activist" cries out, "I still don't know!". Juan Bruce-Novoa, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at University of California, Irvine, wrote in 1990: "A Chicano lives in the space between the hyphen in Mexican-American".
For Chicanos, the term usually implies being "neither from here, nor from there" in reference to the US and Mexico. As a mixture of cultures from both countries, being Chicano represents the struggle of being institutionally acculturated into the Anglo-dominated society of the United States, while maintaining the cultural sense developed as a Latin-American cultured, US-born Mexican child.
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The identity may be seen as native to the land, and distinct from a European identity, despite partial European descent. As exemplified through its extensive use within el Plan de Santa Bárbara, one of the primary documents responsible for the genesis of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), Chicano is used by many as a reference to their indigenous ancestry and roots. The last word in M.E.Ch.A., Aztlán, is a Mexica reference to an ancestral homeland which historians have speculated is somewhere in northern Mexico or the southwest of the US. M.E.Ch.A. is one example of how people have self-identified as Chicano as a means to identify with indigenous roots.
As Rubén Salazar put it in "Who is a Chicano? And what is it the Chicanos want?", a 1970 Los Angeles Times piece: "A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself." According to Leo Limón:[who?] "...a Chicano is ... an indigenous Mexican American". in essence, it is coming to terms with indigenous roots and Spanish roots, a cosmic race, composed of conquest and suffering; a duality of a clash of cultures that meshed a race of people that sympathize with the indigenous aspect of their being, but who must also accept and learn to also love the Spanish side of their being because they, in fact, are a product of both. And as Chicanos come to terms with what it means to be a part of two worlds, post-colonialism, they must now deal with the fact that they have one foot in the Anglo-dominated world, that they are indigenous to and contribute, in their own, unique cultural experience, to the American melting pot; and all the while having another foot in New World they descended from, Latin-American, Spanish-dominated through conquest and Anglo-dominated through American Manifest Destiny, empiricism, and greed.
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Reies Tijerina (who died on January 19, 2015) was a vocal claimant to the rights of Latin-Americans and Mexican Americans, and he remains a major figure of the early Chicano Movement. Of the term, he wrote: "The Anglo press degradized the word 'Chicano'. They use it to divide us. We use it to unify ourselves with our people and with Latin America."
Long a disparaging term in Mexico, the term "Chicano" gradually transformed from a class-based label of derision to one of ethnic pride and general usage within Mexican-American communities, beginning with the rise of the Chicano Movement in the 1960s. In their Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vicki Ruíz and Virginia Sánchez report that demographic differences in the adoption of the term existed; because of the prior vulgar connotations, it was more likely to be used by males than females, and as well, less likely to be used among those in a higher socioeconomic status. Usage was also generational, with the more assimilated third-generation members (again, more likely male) likely to adopt the usage. This group was also younger, of more radical persuasion, and less-connected to a Mexican cultural heritage.
In his essay "Chicanismo" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures (2002), José Cuéllar, a professor of Chicano studies at San Francisco State University, dates the transition from derisive to positive to the late 1950s, with a usage by young Mexican-American high school students.
Outside of Mexican-American communities, the term might assume a negative meaning if it is used in a manner that embodies the prejudices and bigotries long directed at Mexican and Mexican-American people in the United States. For example, in one case, a prominent Chicana feminist writer and poet has indicated the following subjective meaning through her creative work.
Ana Castillo has referred to herself as a Chicana, and her literary work reflects that she primarily considers the term to be a positive one of self-determination and political solidarity.
The Mexican archeologist and anthropologist Manuel Gamio reported in 1930 that the term chicamo (with an m) was used as a derogatory term used by Hispanic Texans for recently arrived Mexican immigrants displaced during the Mexican Revolution in the beginning of the early 20th century. At this time, the term "Chicano" began to reference those who resisted total assimilation, while the term "Pochos" referred (often pejoratively) to those who strongly advocated assimilation.
In Mexico, which by American standards would be considered class discrimination or racist, the term is associated with a Mexican-American person of low importance class and poor morals. The term "Chicano" is widely known and used in Mexico.
While some Mexican Americans may embrace the term Chicano, others prefer to identify themselves as:
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When it comes to the use of loanwords, Romance-language orthographies, unlike French for example, do not use uppercase for non-name nouns, such as those used for nationalities or ethnic groups, of whatever sort – even Chicano/Chicana are best written with lowercase as chicano/chicana in Spanish and related languages suchs Portuguese, Galician, and Catalan.
Some of them might be used more commonly in English and others in Spanish: e.g. one might identify as a "Mexican" in a mixed American context, in which English would generally be expected, but to identify as part of the white/Euro-American demographic segment of the ethnic Mexican populations, in a strictly Mexican or Mexican-American context, in which one might be speaking Spanish.
Anyone from the United States is referred to in Spanish as norteamericano or estadounidense. Romance languages conserved the original standard (formerly shared with English) of counting the entire New World as a single America, as was the consensus in the Age of Discovery; to Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers in the Americas, they are just as americano as someone from Belgium would be European. Geological validation of the current English norm is bound by controversies and potential inconsistency, so the best explanation for both cases is mere tradition.
Norteño refers to the Mexicans of Northern Mexico as opposed to sureño. Mexican Americans do not refer to their shared identity as norteños. The only people who identify themselves as such are Mexicans from Northern Mexico which represents the whiter and relatively wealthier half of Mexico, compared to sureños or southern Mexicans, more related in descent to the original Indigenous peoples of the continent and thus being the ones to actually have greater likelihood for an identity a bit closer to the militant Chicano one. Mainstream Spanish-language discourse does not treat the American Southwest as a contemporary part of Mexico (cultural, identitarian or otherwise), and the indigenist Chicano nationalism is hardly related at all to non-American Mexican desire for reconquering, an irredentist narrative of what might be perceived as a colonial state and collective mentality.
Militant Chicanos, regardless of their generational status, tend to connect their culture to the indigenous peoples of North America and to a nation of Aztlán. According to the Aztec legend, Aztlán is a region; Chicano nationalists have equated it with the Southwestern United States. Some historians may place Aztlán in Nayarit or the Caribbean while other historians entirely disagree, and make a distinction between legend and the contemporary socio-political ideology.
Many currents came together to produce the revived Chicano political movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Early struggles were against school segregation, but the Mexican-American cause, or la Causa as it was called, soon came under the banner of the United Farm Workers and César Chávez. However, Corky Gonzales and Reies Tijerina stirred up old tensions about New Mexican land claims with roots going back to before the Mexican–American War. Simultaneous movements like the Young Lords, to empower youth, question patriarchy, democratize the Church, end police brutality, and end the Vietnam War, all intersected with other ethnic nationalist, peace, countercultural, and feminist movements.
Since Chicanismo covers a wide array of political, religious and ethnic beliefs, and not everybody agrees with what exactly a Chicano is, most new Latino immigrants see it as a lost cause, as a lost culture, because Chicanos do not identify with Mexico or wherever their parents migrated from as new immigrants do. Chicanoism is an appreciation of a historical movement, but also is used by many to bring a new revived politicized feeling to voters young and old in the defense of Mexican and Mexican-American rights. People descended from Aztlan (both in the contemporary U.S. and in Mexico) use the Chicano ideology to create a platform for fighting for immigration reform and equality for all people.
For some, Chicano ideals involve a rejection of borders. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transformed the Rio Grande region from a rich cultural center to a rigid border poorly enforced by the United States government. At the end of the Mexican–American War, 80,000 Spanish-Mexican-Indian people were forced into sudden U.S. habitation. As a result, Chicano identification is aligned with the idea of Aztlán, which extends to the Aztec period of Mexico, celebrating a time preceding land division.
Paired with the dissipation of militant political efforts of the Chicano movement in the 1960s was the emergence of the Chicano generation. Like their political predecessors, the Chicano generation rejects the "immigrant/foreigner" categorization status. Chicano identity has expanded from its political origins to incorporate a broader community vision of social integration and nonpartisan political participation.
The shared Spanish language, Catholic faith, close contact with their political homeland (Mexico) to the south, a history of labor segregation, ethnic exclusion and racial discrimination encourage a united Chicano or Mexican folkloric tradition in the United States. Ethnic cohesiveness is a resistance strategy to assimilation and the accompanying cultural dissolution.
Mexican nationalists in Mexico, however, condemn the advocates of Chicanoism for attempting to create a new identity for the Mexican-American population, distinct from that of the Mexican nation.
The term Chicano is also used to describe the literary, artistic, and musical movements that emerged with the Chicano Movement.
Chicano literature tends to focus on themes of identity, discrimination, and culture, with an emphasis on validating Mexican-American and Chicano culture in the United States. Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales's "Yo Soy Joaquin" is one of the first examples of explicitly Chicano poetry, while José Antonio Villarreal's Pocho is widely recognized as the first major Chicano novel.
The novel Chicano, by Richard Vasquez, was the first novel about Mexican Americans to be released by a major publisher (Doubleday, 1970). It was widely read in high schools and universities during the 1970s, and is now recognized as a breakthrough novel. Vasquez's social themes have been compared with those found in the work of Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck.
Other major names include Norma Elia Cantú, Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto, Sergio Troncoso, Rigoberto González, Raul Salinas, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Daniel Olivas, John Rechy, Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Luís Alberto Urrea, Dagoberto Gilb, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Luis J. Rodriguez, Pat Mora, and Gloria Anzaldúa.
In the visual arts, works by Chicanos address similar themes as works in literature. The preferred media for Chicano art are murals and graphic arts. San Diego's Chicano Park, home to the largest collection of murals in the world, was created as an outgrowth of the city's political movement by Chicanos. Rasquache art is a unique style subset of the Chicano Arts movement.
Chicano art emerged in the mid-60s as a necessary component to the urban and agrarian civil rights movement in the Southwest, known as la causa chicana, la Causa, or the Chicano Renaissance. The artistic spirit, based on historical and traditional cultural evolution, within the movement has continued into the present millennium. There are artists, for example, who have chosen to do work within ancestral/historical references or who have mastered traditional techniques. Some artists and crafters have transcended the motifs, forms, functions, and context of Chicano references in their work but still acknowledge their identity as Chicano. These emerging artists are incorporating new materials to present mixed-media, digital media, and transmedia works.
Chicano performance art blends humor and pathos for tragicomic effect as shown by Los Angeles' comedy troupe Culture Clash and Mexican-born performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Nao Bustamante is a Chicana artist known internationally for her conceptual art pieces and as a participant in Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. Lalo Alcaraz often depicts the issues of Chicanos in his cartoon series called "La Cucaracha".
One of the most powerful and far-reaching cultural aspects of Chicano culture is the indigenous current that strongly roots Chicano culture to the American continent. It also unifies Chicanismo within the larger Pan-Indian Movement. Since its arrival in 1974, an art movement known as Danza Azteca in the U.S., (and known by several names in its homeland of the central States of Mexico: Danza Conchera, De la Conquista, Chichimeca, and so on.) has had a deep impact in Chicano muralism, graphic design, tattoo art (flash), poetry, music, and literature. Lowrider cars also figure prominently as functional art in the Chicano community.
Lalo Guerrero has been lauded as the "father of Chicano music". Beginning in the 1930s, he wrote songs in the big band and swing genres that were popular at the time. He expanded his repertoire to include songs written in traditional genres of Mexican music, and during the farmworkers' rights campaign, wrote music in support of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers.
Other Chicano/Mexican-American singers include Selena, who sang a mixture of Mexican, Tejano, and American popular music, but died in 1995 at the age of 23; Zack de la Rocha, lead vocalist of Rage Against the Machine and social activist; and Los Lonely Boys, a Texas-style country rock band who have not ignored their Mexican-American roots in their music. In recent years, a growing Tex-Mex polka band trend influenced by the conjunto and norteño music of Mexican immigrants, has in turn influenced much new Chicano folk music, especially on large-market Spanish language radio stations and on television music video programs in the U.S. Some of these artists, like the band Quetzal, are known for the political content of political songs.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, a wave of Chicano pop music surfaced through innovative musicians Carlos Santana, Johnny Rodriguez, Ritchie Valens and Linda Ronstadt. Joan Baez, who was also of Mexican-American descent, included Hispanic themes in some of her protest folk songs. Chicano rock is rock music performed by Chicano groups or music with themes derived from Chicano culture.
There are two undercurrents in Chicano rock. One is a devotion to the original rhythm and blues roots of Rock and roll including Ritchie Valens, Sunny and the Sunglows, and ? and the Mysterians. Groups inspired by this include Sir Douglas Quintet, Thee Midniters, Los Lobos, War, Tierra, and El Chicano, and, of course, the Chicano Blues Man himself, the late Randy Garribay.
The second theme is the openness to Latin American sounds and influences. Trini Lopez, Santana, Malo, Azteca, Toro, Ozomatli and other Chicano Latin rock groups follow this approach. Chicano rock crossed paths of other Latin rock genres (Rock en español) by Cubans, Puerto Ricans, such as Joe Bataan and Ralphi Pagan and South America (Nueva canción). Rock band The Mars Volta combines elements of progressive rock with traditional Mexican folk music and Latin rhythms along with Cedric Bixler-Zavala's Spanglish lyrics.
Chicano punk is a branch of Chicano rock. There were many bands that emerged from the California punk scene, including The Zeros, Bags, Los Illegals, The Brat, The Plugz, Manic Hispanic, and the Cruzados; as well as others from outside of California including Mydolls from Houston, Texas and Los Crudos from Chicago, Illinois. Some music historians argue that Chicanos of Los Angeles in the late 1970s might have independently co-founded punk rock along with the already-acknowledged founders from British-European sources when introduced to the US in major cities. The rock band ? and the Mysterians, which was composed primarily of Mexican-American musicians, was the first band to be described as punk rock. The term was reportedly coined in 1971 by rock critic Dave Marsh in a review of their show for Creem magazine.
Although Latin jazz is most popularly associated with artists from the Caribbean (particularly Cuba) and Brazil, young Mexican Americans have played a role in its development over the years, going back to the 1930s and early 1940s, the era of the zoot suit, when young Mexican-American musicians in Los Angeles and San Jose, such as Jenni Rivera, began to experiment with banda, a jazz-like fusion genre that has grown recently in popularity among Mexican Americans.
Chicano rap is a unique style of hip hop music which started with Kid Frost, who saw some mainstream exposure in the early 1990s. While Mellow Man Ace was the first mainstream rapper to use Spanglish, Frost's song "La Raza" paved the way for its use in American hip hop. Chicano rap tends to discuss themes of importance to young urban Chicanos. Some of today's Chicano artists include A.L.T., Lil Rob, Psycho Realm, Baby Bash, Serio, A Lighter Shade of Brown, and Funky Aztecs.
Thus, the 'Chicano' term carried an inferior, negative connotation because it was usually used to describe a worker who had to move from job to job to be able to survive. Chicanos were the low class Mexican Americans.
In the late 1960s, a nascent Mexican-American movement adopted for itself the word "Chicano" (which had a connotation of low class) and broke forth with surprising suddenness.
The myth of Aztlan was revived during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s as a reconnection to an indigenous homeland.
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