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“Chicano” Mexican-American Movement Essay

Chicano – a political term made popular in the sixties with the Chicano Civil Rights Movement which followed the example of the Black Civil Rights Movement. The people of the Movement adopted the word Chicano for themselves just as the African Americans had adopted Black. The Chicano Movement fought for all people of the Southwest of Mexican descendancy. These people included those whose ancestors had been citizens in the southwest when it was Mexico before the United States occupied it in 1848. These people became citizens by default with all rights guaranteed to them under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Chicano Movement also included three waves of immigrants from Mexico: those who migrated because they were escaping the Mexican Revolution between 1900 and 1914; those who came between World War I and 1930, mainly for economic reasons; and those who came between World War II and the 1960’s. Several of those who came in the 1940’s came with organized labor programs such as the Bracero Program and decided to stay, even if undocumented.

The Chicano Movement and the Treaty of Gudalupe Hidalgo – After the United States won the Mexican American War the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was executed on February 2, 1848. Under the treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States a large area including, California, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of what we know today as Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. The annexation of Texas was also approved. All the citizens who had resided in what had been Mexico were given one year to make a choice to remain in what was now the U. S. or go to what was now Mexico. It is estimated that 75,000 Mexicans decided to stay and became citizens of the U. S. by default. The treaty provided specific guarantees for the property and political rights of the “native” population and they were given the right to retain their language, religion and culture.

Almost immediately, the treaty was broken and these people were treated like foreigners in their own land. When they lost their land, they lost their economic base, thus had to turn to wage labor to survive. They were subjected to great discrimination practices, as were the three waves of immigrants who came later. By the time World War II ended Chicanos were an oppressed people; poor, uneducated, with no political clout; and menial jobs¬†with little hope for upward mobility. It was after the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 and after soldiers came back from World War II that the foundation for the Chicano Movement was built. The veterans and other concerned Chicanos refused to be treated like second class citizens. The groundwork was laid for the battle of equality for Chicanos. When the 1960’s came about Chicanos recognized that like the Blacks, they, too, had a cause and initially emulated the Black Civil Rights Movement.

Scholars consider the year 1943 as the beginning of an new period of Mexican American history and culture. When the so-called Zoot Suit Riots occurred in the Los Angeles area it marked a stage in the cultural development of the Mexican American in which there was a consciousness of not belonging to either Mexico or the United States and an effort to assert a separate independent identity. It introduced the Pachucos, young Mexican-American young men who were not accepted in their schools, nor at home. They sought their own identity.

Also after World War II Mexican American veterans who had fought and died side by side with their other American counterparts now felt they had earned their rights and were ready to participate equitably. Thus the quest for identity in modern American society was initiated and by the 1960’s a younger generation made up of the children of the veterans took up the pursuit of democracy and equity in the Civil Rights Movement and explored the question of identity in all the arts. There had been very little Chicano Literature in the past so the 60s was considered a Chicano Renaissance.

Hispanic – an umbrella term that reduces groups of people into the lowest common denominator of Spanish speaking peoples. This can be people who speak Spanish or whose ancestors spoke Spanish and includes, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans and other ethnic groups. It is a most unfair label because it denies the different histories, and dilutes the importance of each different culture by lumping them all under one umbrella. The term was given by the government during the Nixon administration.

Mestizo – for the scope of this class half-Spanish, half-Indian. When the¬†conquistadores arrived in the Americas miscegenation took place between the Spaniards and the Indigenous women, thus produced a new race, the Mestizo, a mixture of Caucasian and Indian. Much of Chicano Literature is based on Indian folklore. The Mestizo is an element in Mexican American Studies — meaning both the Indian and Spanish side of the Chicano. Therefore we will be studying literature that takes us back to ancient Mexico and Spain and brings elements of both cultures to produce Chicano literature.

I am Joaquin, written by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales in the 1960’s elaborated a version of cultural nationalism that would typify what is called Movement Poetry. It was Mexican American history all wrapped up into one poem. It was monumental because up until then there had been very little written about the Chicano. When something was written, it was usually derogatory or stereotypical. It stands alone as an epic poem of the Chicano Movement.

A new breed of writers were born because of the Chicano Movement. Their writings were related to a political and social movement. They wrote about cultural identification with the Mexican American heritage within the general framework of American society. It became the most intense expression of the creative spirit of the movement. It first saw the light in print in angry journals or newspapers such as El Grito Magazine or El Gallo Newspaper. There were many. The writing was cause writing, not just literary. It was also inspirational.

The first Chicano writers of Chicano Literature in the 60’s committed their literary vices to the political economic and educational struggles. Their works were often inspirational and read at organizational meetings, boycotts and before protest marches.

The first Chicano poets included: Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado; Ricardo Sanchez and Alurista (Alberto Urista). Alurista coined the term Aztlan as the Chicano homeland. It gave Chicanos a sense of place. Aztlan had been the mythical homeland of the Aztecs which was north from Mexico, probably somewhere in the southwest United States.

In 1967 appeared the most influential Chicano Literary Magazine, El Gallo, initiating the publishing house El Quinto Sol (The Fifth Sun). El Quinto Sol emphasized the Chicano culture, language, themes and styles and a Mexica/Aztec identity and promoted the Spanish Language. The fifth sun referred to the Aztec belief in a period of cultural flowering that would take place some time in the future, in a fifth age that coincided with the rise of the Chicano movement. One of the first books published by Quinto Sol was an anthology in 1986, El Espejo/The Mirror, edited by Dr. Octavio Romano Paz and Herminio Rios. In 1970 El Quinto Sol instituted a national award for Chicano Literature, Premio Quinto Sol (Fifth Sun Award) which gave the winner $1000 and published their winning manuscript.


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