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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What is a Chicano, and what does this have to do with Cesar Chavez?

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon—Sometimes, Portland strikes me as The Land that Time Forgot: isolated geographically from most of the nation, historically hostile to racial and ethnic minorities, and uniquely ignorant of the complexities that define and separate the panoply of Hispanic and Latino cultures and communities.

Nothing has brought this last point to the fore so much as the efforts by the Committee-Once-Bent-on-Renaming-Interstate-Avenue to rename a street somewhere, anywhere in Portland after the great Mexican-American Chicano hero Cesar Chavez, without actually identifying him as such.

The vast majority of Oregonians, it appears, cannot tell one from another, and for the most part can’t imagine that it makes a difference: Latino, Hispanic, Mexican-American, Chicano….

The terms are most definitely NOT interchangeable

Before you read more about what I have to say, at the bottom of this post, please read through these sources; it will do you no harm:



“Chicanos (USA) Originally the descendants of Mexicans living in the area of the USA occupied in the Mexican–American War of 1846–8. In the 1950s the name was gradually adopted by Mexican Americans, who as the country's second largest minority group began to develop a distinctive consciousness.

“Chicano cultural organizations were formed, while successful trade union activity led by Cesar Chavez led to some improvements in pay and working conditions in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, the 1970s brought some educational advances with the establishment of bilingual and bicultural courses….”

© A Dictionary of Contemporary World History 2004, originally published by Oxford University Press 2004.

2. From The Chicano Chronicles:

“There are other theories and explanations (for the origin of “Chicano”), but it doesn't really matter because the meaning of the term drastically changed in the 1960's when it was picked up by Mexican-American activists.

“Along with the farm workers' strikes led by Cesar Chavez, politicians and Mexican-American universities started a movement to better the social position of Mexican-Americans in the United States. Not only that, but to also reclaim our past and rediscover who we truly are and where we came from.

“The 'Chicano Movement' came about, and was very successful in giving a voice to people traditionally ignored.

“Since then, the label 'Chicano' means 'Mexican-American', but it has a political charge to it: Pro-Raza. . “'Chicano' is synonymous with 'Brown Pride'

3. The Free Dictionary:

“Usage Note: Chicano is used only of Mexican Americans, not of Mexicans living in Mexico. It was originally an informal term in English (as in Spanish), and the spelling of the first recorded instance in an American publication followed the Spanish custom of lowercasing nouns of national or ethnic origin. However, the literary and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s among Mexican Americans established Chicano as a term of ethnic pride, and it is properly written today with a capital.

“While Chicano is a term of pride for many Mexican Americans, it remains a word with strong political associations. Since these politics are not necessarily espoused by all Mexican Americans, and since usage and acceptance of this word can vary from one region to another, an outsider who is unfamiliar with his or her audience may do well to use Mexican American instead.”

4. Dr. Ricardo Sanchez on The meaning of “Chicano”:

“Hispanic means someone who is Spanish or of Peninsular culture, but Chicanos are mestizos whose bloodlines are much more índio than español….

Rubén Salazar, a broadcast and print reporter in California, wrote about the human and social condition(s) of Chicanos.

“He wrote of a people that had become veritable ‘strangers in their own land,’ yet he stressed that Chicano meant looking at oneself through one's ‘own’ eyes and not through Anglo bifocals.

“Those words were a godsend to many of us, for those words of simplicity and rationality were spiritually and intellectually liberating.

“Salazar was killed by the Los Angeles Police Department, and the speculation persists that he was assassinated for his stands on behalf of a voiceless people….”

5. Wikipedia on Ruben Salazar:

Rubén Salazar (March 3, 1928 - August 29, 1970) was a Mexican-American news reporter killed by the sheriffs during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, California. During the 1970s, his killing was often cited as a symbol of unjust treatment of Latinos by law enforcement.

“Salazar was a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times between 1959 - 1970[1]. He was also news director for the Spanish language television station KMEX in Los Angeles.

“On August 29, 1970 he was covering the National Chicano Moratorium March, organized to protest the disproportionate number of Chicanos killed in the Vietnam War.

“The peaceful march ended with a rally that was broken up by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department using tear gas. This resulted in rioting, during which Salazar was shot in the head at short range with a tear gas projectile while seated in The Silver Dollar Cafe. A coroner's inquest ruled the shooting a homicide, but the police officer involved, Tom Wilson, was never prosecuted. At the time many believed the homicide was a premeditated assassination of a very vocal member of the Los Angeles Chicano community.

“The story of Salazar's killing gained nationwide notoriety with the release of Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, an article written for Rolling Stone magazine by noted gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and released on April 29, 1971 in Rolling Stone #81.

Ruben Salazar Honors

“In 1971 he was posthumously awarded a special Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and after the controversy of his death had subsided, Laguna Park - the site of the 1970 rally and subsequent police action - was renamed Salazar Park in his honour.

“His death was commemorated in a corrido by Lalo Guerrero entitled "El 29 de Agosto".

“At Sonoma State University, the former library, now an administration and classroom building, is named for Ruben Salazar, in memory of his work in Sonoma County as a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. As well, a classroom building at California State University, Los Angeles is named for him. On October 12, 2006, the hall was rededicated with the unveiling of his portrait by John Martin.

“On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn, John Hersey, George Polk, Ruben Salazar, and Eric Sevareid.”

6. Wikipedia on Chicano:

Definition: Chicano (feminine Chicana) is a word for a Mexican American (in the sense of U.S.-born Americans of Mexican ancestry, as opposed to Mexican natives living in the United States). The terms Chicano and Chicana (also spelled Xicano) were originally used by and regarding U.S. citizens of Mexican descent.

Political identity:

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, politically correct term to use in reference to Mexican-Americans, particularly in the scholarly literature. However, as the term became politicized, its use fell out of favor as a means of referring to the entire population. Since then, Chicano has tended to refer to politicized Mexican-Americans…. Chicano is considered to be a positive term of honor by many.

Political aspects:

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.

7. BlogoliticalSean:

“Chicanos are the warrior class. Not everyone likes to hear that.” –Sean Cruz

About Sean: Sean Cruz was born Mexican-American in California. He became a Chicano in 1970 while studying political science at Sonoma State University, protesting the Viet Nam war, and supporting Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers, the same year Ruben Salazar was killed. Sonoma State’s former library building was renamed in honor of Ruben Salazar.

Sean Cruz writes Blogolitical Sean:

1 comment:

Ricardo said...

Hey, nice post. It's a very interesting topic and you put together a good amount of sources. When all is considered, 'Chicano' perfectly describes our history and who we are.

The new address for the Chicano Chronicles post is: