The Chicano of Aztlan: Chicano Movement as a Turning Point

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Imagine living in a town where you have/had been living for a long time and suddenly, someone comes to your town and tells the world that the land has been left uninhabited. Your colonizers tell you to leave your homes and claim it to be their land. It seems to be a little unrealistic, right? Unfortunately, this is a sad reality of the Chicana/o/x people, and it happened right here on this land that some of us seem to call ‘home’. In El Plan de Santa Barbara, the word, “Chicano” symbolizes a “root idea of a new cultural identity” (Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, 9). The social forces being challenged during the Chicano movement was the racist and discriminatory structure of the American society. The Chicano movement tried to transform these forces by reckoning with the Chicano history to prove the historical prejudice against them and aim at being granted rights and by self-identifying and using the self-imposed label “Chicano” which used to be a pejorative and class-bound term.

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“Chicano” was used to promote a new identity that was not only a sense of pride and confidence for Mexican people living in the United States, but also “reveal[ed] a growing solidarity and the development of common social praxis” (Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, 9). This meant that being Chicano and understanding what it stood for and the people it represented was a complex topic of dialogue across and with people from similar, or different backgrounds and identities as the Chicano.

The social force that is being challenged in the document El Plan de Santa Barbara is the racist system that “denied [the Chicano] freedom of expression and human dignity” (Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, 9). The Chicano faced “cultural, economic, and residential isolation” (Haney Lopez, 43) in the United States because of their “essentially different life style” (Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, 9). They were deemed as poorer and had recent immigrant status. Education and Justice systems were big platforms where this racism could be seen on full display. The “scant resources and severe overcrowding” (Haney Lopez, 17) in schools as a result of racism influenced the level of education and support the Mexican children got. The Mexicans faced “abusive and excessive prosecutorial power by an unrepresentative government” (Haney Lopez, 168) which resulted in police brutality and social injustice. “The Mexicans were treated for a while after annexation like a conquered people. Ignorant of their right, and of the new language, they allowed themselves to be imposed upon by the newcomers, who seized their lands and property without shadow of claim” (Forbes, 91). The social forces, over here the Anglo-Americans, took over Chicano lands, which happened to be their only source of livelihood, hence leaving them deprived of basic living conditions and financial stability. This goes back to their poverty and working low paying jobs and being targets of unemployment, especially during the depression. Often, the Mexican were blamed for their social and economic problems. “Anthropologists [who studied these Mexicans], ignored the way in which racism historically had been used by Anglo Americans to obstruct the social, economic, and political mobility of Mexican-origin people” (Menchaca, 15). The Mexicans were victims of “segregation, employment discrimination, racist laws and police violence” (Menchaca, 15) because of the “political act and reflection of the power Anglo Americans have in the production of the United States history” (Menchaca, 16).

Recovering and reckoning with Chicano history was one of the ways of transforming the social forces. By reckoning with their history, the Chicano was unsettling and challenging ahistorical ideologies and confirming that colonial logic existed till date and had caused damage to minority groups. The Mexican history had either been hidden or ignored and “this ignorance [was] a result of the Spanish conquest and its decimation of ancient learning, but it [was] also due to the Anglo-American’s provincialism about the results of modern Mexican scholarship and creative activity” (Forbes, 34). As a result, the Mexicans were unaware of their mastery in educational subjects. By simply realizing there had been injustice done and by understanding that they “are a racially mixed people with a complex history of conquest” (Menchaca, 18), they were able to challenge the idea that they had no impact on their environment. This can be seen in not only the structures built by indigenous people, and the farming practices used by them, but can also be seen in the trade relationships between the different tribes to show how the turquoise from Arizona was used in the building of the temple in ancient Mexico City.

The second example of how the Chicano movement sought to transform the social forces was by self-naming as Chicano and “attempt[ing] to invert the stigma attached to being a Brown people living in the United States and transform[ing] that racial heritage into a legacy of pride” (Menchaca, 20). The Chicano, before the movement, were identified as being “white persons of Spanish surname” (Haney Lopez, 43). However, they argued that they were not white and that they consisted of a separate class and racial identity. They proved that “because Mexicans suffered legal discrimination, they came to see themselves as brown” (Haney Lopez, 175). The Chicano tried to show that “the difference [among the different groups] is not, however, due to the intrinsic significance of mestisaje but only to a racist-colonialist stratification based upon racial descent” (Forbes, 191). By self-naming, the Chicano showed that they were not a part of the racist system and that they were not going to let that system cause hindrance in their attainment of freedom of cultural expression.

In conclusion, the Chicano were a community, that, in the past had been denied basic rights like freedom of expression and human dignity, but through the Chicano movement, were able to rise and attain access to their rights and create a better future for their community.

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