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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chicano, or Chicana, is a chosen identity for Mexican Americans in the United States.[1] Chicano or Xicano are sometimes used interchangeably with Mexican-American, and both names exist as chosen identities within the Mexican-American community in the United States.[2]

Although Chicano had negative connotations as a term of denigration prior to the Chicano Movement, it was reclaimed in the 1960s and 1970s by Mexican Americans to express self-determination and solidarity in a shared cultural, ethnic, and communal identity while openly rejecting assimilation.[3] Chicano identity hit a low point in the 1980s and 1990s, as assimilation and economic mobility became a goal of many middle-class Mexican Americans who instead adopted the terms Hispanic and Latino.[4]

By the end of the 1990s a shift in Chicano identity, initiated by Xicana feminists and others, supporting the adoption of Xicana/o identity, occurred among some members of the community.[5][6] There has been a resurgence of Chicana/o/x and Xicana/o/x identity in the 2010s, centered on ethnic pride, Indigenous consciousness, cultural expression, defense of immigrants, and the rights of women and queer Latinx people; some even refer to it as a 'renaissance'.[2][4]

Recorded usage

The town of Chicana was shown on the Gutiérrez 1562 New World map near the mouth of the Colorado River, and is probably pre-Columbian in origin.[7]

A gunboat, the Chicana, was sold in 1857 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.[8] No explanation for the boat's name is known.

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and writer Tino Villanueva traced the first documented use of the term as an ethnonym to 1911, as referenced in a then-unpublished essay by University of Texas anthropologist José Limón.[9]

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.[10] 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.[9]


The etymology of the term Chicano is not definitive and has been debated by historians, scholars, and activists. Although there has been controversy over the origins of Chicano, community conscience reportedly remains strong among those who claim the identity.[11]

Chicano is believed by some scholars to be a Spanish language derivative of an older Nahuatl word Mexitli ("Meh-shee-tlee"). Mexitli formed part of the expression Huitzilopochtlil Mexitli—a reference to the historic migration of the Mexica people from their homeland of Aztlán to the Oaxaca Valley. Mexitli is the linguistic progenitor or root of the word "Mexica," referring to the Mexica people, and its singular form "Mexihcatl" (/meːˈʃiʔkat͡ɬ/). The "x" in Mexihcatl represents an /ʃ/ or "sh" sound in both Nahuatl and early modern Spanish, while the glottal stop in the middle of the Nahuatl word disappeared. The word Chicano therefore more directly derives from the loss of the initial syllable of Mexicano (Mexican). According to Villanueva, "given that the velar (x) is a palatal phoneme (S) with the spelling (sh)," in accordance with the Indigenous phonological system of the Mexicas ("Meshicas"), it would become "Meshicano" or "Mechicano."[11] Some Chicanos further replace the ch with the letter x, forming Xicano, as a means of reclaiming and reverting to the Nahuatl use of the letter "x." The first two syllables of Xicano are therefore in Nahuatl while the last syllable is Castillian.[12]

In Mexico's Indigenous regions, mestizos[13] 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.

Usage of terms


La Ofrenda: mural depicting Dolores Huerta by Yreina Cervantez
La Ofrenda (1989). Mural painted by Yreina Cervántez. Located in Los Angeles, California at the First Avenue Bridge. The mural depicts the first female Mexican American union leader, Dolores Huerta.

Chicano identity was originally reclaimed in the 1960s and 1970s by Mexican Americans as a means of asserting their own ethnic, political, and cultural identity while rejecting and resisting assimilation into whiteness, systematic racism and stereotypes, colonialism, and the American nation-state. Chicano identity was also founded on the need to create alliances with other oppressed ethnic and third world peoples while protesting U.S. imperialism. The notion of Aztlán, a mythical homeland which was claimed to be located in the southwestern United States, was critical in mobilizing many Mexican Americans to take social and political action. Chicano identity was organized around seven objectives: unity, economy, education, institutions, self-defense, culture, and political liberation, in an effort to bridge regional and class divisions among Mexican Americans. Chicanos originally espoused the belief in a unifying mestizo identity and also centered their platform in the masculine body.[14]

In the 1970s, Chicano identity became further defined under a reverence for machismo while also maintaining the values of their original platform, exemplified via the language employed in court cases such as Montez v. Superior Court, 1970, which defined the Chicano community as unified under "a commonality of ideals and costumbres with respect to masculinity (machismo), family roles, child discipline, [and] religious values." Oscar Zeta Acosta defined machismo as the source of Chicano identity, claiming that this "instinctual and mystical source of manhood, honor and pride... alone justifies all behavior."[15] Armando Rendón wrote in Chicano Manifesto (1971) that machismo was "in fact an underlying drive of the gathering identification of Mexican Americans... the essence of machismo, of being macho, is as much a symbolic principle for the Chicano revolt as it is a guideline for family life."[16]

From the beginning of the Chicano Movement, Chicana activists and scholars have "criticized the conflation of revolutionary commitment with manliness or machismo" and questioned "whether machismo is indeed a genuinely Mexican cultural value or a kind of distorted view of masculinity generated by the psychological need to compensate for the indignities suffered by Chicanos in a white supremacist society," as noted by José-Antonio Orosco. Academic Angie Chabram-Dernersesian indicates in her study of literary texts which were formative in the Chicano movement that most of the stories focus on men and boys and none focus on Chicanas. The omission of Chicanas and the masculine-focused foundations of Chicano identity, created a shift in consciousness among some Chicanas/os by the 1990s.[17]


Xicanisma was coined by Chicana Feminist writer Ana Castillo in Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994) as a recognition of the shift in consciousness since the Chicano Movement.[18] In the 1990s and early 2000s, Xicana/o activists and scholars, including Guillermo Gómez-Peña, were beginning to form a new ideological notion of Xicanisma: "a call for a return to the Amerindian roots of most Latinos as well as a call for a strategic alliance to give agency to Native American groups," reasserting the need to form coalitions with other oppressed ethnic groups, which was foundational in the formation of Chicano identity. Juan Velasco states that "implicit in the 'X' of more recent configurations of 'Xicano' and 'Xicanisma' is a criticism not only of the term 'Hispanic' but of the racial poetics of the 'multiracial' within Mexican and American culture."[19] While still recognizing many of the foundational elements of Chicano identity, some Xicana feminists have preferred to identify as Xicana because of the masculine-focused foundations of Chicano identity and the patriarchal biases inherent in the Spanish language.[20]

Scholar Francesca A. López notes that "Chicanismo has evolved into Xicanismo and even Xicanisma and other variations, but however it is spelled, it is based on the idea that to be Xican@ means to be proud of your Mexican Indigenous roots and committed to the struggle for liberation of all oppressed people." While adopting Chicano identity was a means of rejecting conformity to the dominant system as well as Hispanic identity, Xicano identity was adopted to emphasize a diasporic Indigenous American identity through being ancestrally connected to the land.[21]

Dylan Miner has noted how the emergence of Xicano identity emphasizes an "Indigenous and indigenist turn" which recognizes the Indigenous roots of Xicana/o/x people by explicitly referencing Nahuatl language and using an 'x' to signify a "lost or colonized history."[20] While Chicano identity has been noted by scholars such as Francisco Rios as being limited by its focus on "race and ethnicity with strong male overtones," Xicanismo has been referred to as elastic enough to recognize the "intersecting nature of identities" (race/ethnicity and gender, class and sexual orientation) as well as transnational roots "from Mexico as well as those with roots centered in Central and South America."[22]

Distinction from Hispanic and Latino

Chicanos, like many Mexicans, are Mestizos who have heritage of both indigenous American cultures and European, mainly Spanish, through colonization and immigration. The term Latino refers to a native or inhabitant of Latin America or a person of Latin American origin living in the United States.

Hispanic literally refers 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 who may speak Amerindian languages (and English) as well as Spanish.[23] The term was first brought up in the 1970s but it was not until the 1990s that the term was used on the U.S. Census. Since then it has widely been used by politicians and the media. For this reason, many Chicanos reject the term Hispanic.[24]

While some Mexican-Americans may embrace the term Chicano, others prefer to identify themselves as:

  • Mexican American; American of Mexican descent.
  • Hispanic; Hispanic American; Hispano/hispana.
  • Latino/a, also mistranslated/pseudo-etymologically anglicized as "Latin".
  • American Latino/Latina.
  • Latin American (especially if immigrant).
  • Mexican; mexicano/mexicana
  • "Brown"
  • Mestizo; [insert racial identity X] mestizo (e.g. blanco mestizo); pardo.
  • californiano (or californio) / californiana; nuevomexicano/nuevomexicana; tejano/tejana.
  • Part/member of la Raza. (Various definitions exist of what would be such a "universal race".)
  • Americans, solely.

Term of derision

Chicano existed as a disparaging term, yet transformed from a class-based label of derision to one of ethnic pride and general usage within Mexican-American communities with the rise of the Chicano Movement. Prior to the 1960s, it was used as a racial slur by non-Mexican Americans to refer to Mexican American people in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. 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.

In Mexico, which by American standards would be considered class discrimination or racist, chicano is associated with a Mexican-American person of low importance class and poor morals (similarly to the Spanish terms Cholo, Chulo and Majo).[25][26][27] Chicano is widely known and used in Mexico.[27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30][31]

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, Ana Castillo has indicated the following subjective meaning through her creative work: "[a] marginalized, brown woman who is treated as a foreigner and is expected to do menial labor and ask nothing of the society in which she lives."[32] Castillo herself considers chicano to be a positive one of self-determination and political solidarity.[33][34][35][36]


The term's meanings are flexible. Reclaiming its usage as a term of derision, self-described Chicanos view the identity as a positive self-identifying social construction meant to assert certain notions of ethnic, cultural, political, and Indigenous consciousness. Chicano identity usually consists of incorporating some notion of hybridity. For Chicanos, the identity has been defined as being "neither from here, nor from there" in reference to the US and Mexico.[37] 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, U.S.-born Mexican child.[38]

The identity may hold different meanings for different Chicanos. Armando Rendón wrote in the Chicano Manifesto (1971), "I am Chicano. What it means to me may be different than what it means to you." In the 1990s, Chicano writer Benjamin Alire Sáenz wrote "There is no such thing as the Chicano voice: there are only Chicano and Chicana voices."[24] 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."[37] The identity thus may be understood as somewhat ambiguous (e.g. 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!"). However, as substantiated by Chicano activists, artists, writers, and scholars since the inception of the Chicano Movement, many Chicanos gravitate around the following conceptualizations of ethnic, political, cultural, and Indigenous identity:

Ethnic identity

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 such as Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, who was one of the first to reclaim the term, in an attempt to assert their civil rights and rid the word of its polarizing negative connotations. Chicano soon became an identity for Mexican Americans to assert their ethnic pride, proudly identifying themselves as Chicanos and also asserting a notion of Brown Pride, drawing on the "Black is Beautiful" movement, inverting phrases of insult into forms of ethnic empowerment.[39][40]

Following this reclamation, Chicano identity soon became a celebration of non-whiteness, both within and external to the Mexican-American community. Chicano ethnic identity worked against the state-sanctioned census categories of "Whites with Spanish Surnames," originally promulgated on the 1950 U.S. census, and "Mexican-American," which Chicanos felt encouraged assimilation.[39] Chicanos thus asserted their non-Europeaness during a time when Mexican assimilation into whiteness was being promoted by the federal government, which, as noted by Ian Haney López, was done in order "serve Anglo self-interest," who would use it to deny discrimination against Mexicans.[41]

The United States Census Bureau provided no clear way for Mexican Americans or other Latino Americans 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. While Chicano also appeared on the 1980 census, indicating the success of the Chicano Movement in gaining some federal recognition, it was only permitted to be selected as a subcategory underneath Spanish/Hispanic descent, which erased the visibility of Amerindian and African ancestries among Chicanos and populations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.[39]

Chicano writers have described how Chicano ethnic identity is born out of colonial encounters between Europe and the Americas. Alfred Arteaga writes how the Chicano arose as a result of the violence of colonialism, emerging as a hybrid ethnicity or race from European colonizers and Amerindian Indigenous peoples. Arteaga acknowledges how this ethnic and racial hybridity among Chicanos is highly complex and extends beyond a previously generalized "Aztec" ancestry, as originally asserted during the formative years of the Chicano Movement, sometimes involves more than Spanish ancestry, and also may include African ancestry, largely as a result of Spanish slavery or runaway slaves from Anglo-Americans. Arteaga therefore concludes that "the physical manifestation of the Chicano, is itself a product of hybridity."[42]

Political identity

Chicano political identity has been cited as having developed out of a glorification of pachuco/a resistance to assimilation in the 1940s and 1950s. Pachucos were negatively perceived by white European American society. As stated by Luis Valdéz: "Pachuco determination and pride grew through the 1950s and gave impetus to the Chicano movement of the 1960s. [...] By then the political consciousness stirred by the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots had developed into a movement that would soon issue the Chicano Manifesto – a detailed platform of political activism."[43] Pachuco political action has been documented by some as a precursor to the Chicano Movement.[44] By the late 1960s, according to Catherine S. Ramírez, the Pachuco figure "had emerged as an icon of resistance in much Chicano cultural production," despite the absence of similar portrayals of the pachuco in Mexican-American literature and art prior to the Chicano Movement as well as the omission of the same reverence for the pachuca figure, which Ramírez credits with the pachuca's embodiment of "dissident femininity, female masculinity, and, in some instances, lesbian sexuality."[45]

By the 1960s, Chicano identity was consolidating around several key political positions: rejecting assimilation into white American society, resisting systematic racism, colonialism, and the American nation-state, and affirming the need to create alliances with other oppressed ethnic and third world peoples. Political liberation was a founding principle of Chicano identity. Chicano nationalism called for the creation of a Chicano subject whose political identity was separate from the U.S. nation-state which Chicanos recognized had impoverished, oppressed, and destroyed their communities. As stated by scholar Alberto Varon, Chicano nationalism "created enduring social improvement for the lives of Mexican Americans and others" through the political action of Chicanos. At the same time, this brand of Chicano nationalism focused on the masculinist subject in its calls for political resistance, which has since been insightfully and powerfully critiqued by Chicana feminists.[14]

Chicano political activist groups such as the Brown Berets (1967-1972; 1992–Present), originally founded by David Sánchez in East Los Angeles as the Young Chicanos for Community Action, quickly gained support for their political objectives of protesting educational inequalities and demanding an end to police brutality. Paralleling with groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords, which were founded in 1966 and 1968 respectively, membership in the Brown Berets was estimated to have reached five thousand in over eighty chapters mostly centered in California and Texas. The Brown Berets were critical in organizing the Chicano Blowouts of 1968 and the National Chicano Moratorium, which protested the high number of Chicano casualties in the Vietnam War. Continued police harassment, infiltration by federal agents provacateur via COINTELPRO, and internal disputes led to the decline and disbandment of the Berets in 1972. Sánchez, then a professor at East Los Angeles College, revived the Brown Berets in 1992 after being prompted by the high number of Chicano homicides is Los Angeles County, seeking to supplant the structure of the gang as family with the Brown Berets.[46]

At certain points in the 1970s, Chicano was the preferred term for reference to Mexican Americans, particularly in scholarly literature.[47] 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.[citation needed]

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."[48]

Cultural identity

Barrio Logan, San Diego came to be referred to as a barrio in the 20th century due to the high population of Mexican-Americans in the area.
Barrio Logan, San Diego came to be referred to as a barrio in the 20th century due to the high population of Mexican-Americans in the area.

Since the Chicano Movement, Chicano has been reclaimed by Mexican-Americans to denote a hybrid cultural identity that is neither American or Mexican. Chicano cultural identity is commonly defined as embodying the "in-between" nature of hybridity.[49] Rather than existing as a "subculture" of European American culture, Chicano culture has been positioned by Alicia Gasper de Alba as an "alter-Native culture, an Other American culture indigenous to the land base now known as the West and Southwest of the United States." While influenced by settler-imposed systems and structures, Chicano culture is referred to as "not immigrant but native, not foreign but colonized, not alien but different from the overarching hegemony of white America."[50]

At least as early as the 1930s, the precursors to Chicano cultural identity largely developed in Los Angeles and the Southwest. In the early 20th century, former zootsuiter Salvador "El Chava" reflects how "racism and poverty created [Mexican-American] gangs; we had to protect ourselves."[51] Racism forced Mexican Americans to congregate in areas separated from Anglo Americans. Barrios and colonias (rural barrios) were founded throughout Southern California and elsewhere in neglected districts of cities and outlying areas which exacerbated social and cultural issues within Mexican-American communities.[52] Along with alienation from public institutions, some Chicano youth became susceptible to gang channels in a search for self-identity, allured by the rigid hierarchal structure and assigned roles amidst a world of state-sanctioned disorder.[53] "The pull of urban culture, with its rigidly defined hierarchy, prescribed member roles and activities, and symbols of group and cultural identity, can be particularly alluring for vulnerable youth," as noted by academic Kurt C. Organista.[54]

Pachuco/a culture in Los Angeles developed in the 1940s and 1950s and has been credited as a precursor to the consolidation of Chicano cultural identity. Chicano zoot suiters on the West Coast were influenced by Black American zoot suiters and the jazz and swing music scene on the East Coast. In Los Angeles, Chicano zoot suiters developed their own cultural identity, as noted by Charles "Chaz" Bojórquez, "with their hair done in big pompadours, and 'draped' in tailor-made suits, they were swinging to their own styles. They spoke Cálo, their own language, a cool jive of half-English, half-Spanish rhythms. [...] Out of the zootsuiter experience came lowrider cars and culture, clothes, music, tag names, and, again, its own graffiti language."[51]

Many aspects forming Chicano cultural identity, such as lowrider culture, have been stigmatized and policed by white European Americans who perceived all Chicanos as "juvenile delinquents or gang members" for their embrace of nonwhite style and cultures, many of which were influenced by and adjacent to Black American urban culture. These negative perceptions were amplified by media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times. Luis Alvarez remarks how this affected the policing of Black and Brown male bodies in particular: "Popular discourse characterizing nonwhite youth as animal-like, hypersexual, and criminal marked their bodies as 'other' and, when coming from city officials and the press, served to help construct for the public a social meaning of African Americans and Mexican American youth. In these ways, the physical and discursive bodies of nonwhite youth were the sites upon which their dignity was denied."[55]

With mass media, Chicano culture became popular in both the United States and internationally. In Japan, the highlights of Chicano culture include the music, lowrider community, and the arts. Chicano Culture took hold in Japan in the 1980s and continues to grow with contributions from people such as Shin Miyata, Junichi Shimodaira, Miki Style, Night Tha Funksta, and MoNa (Sad Girl).[56] The introduction of Chicano culture in Japan has caused thousands of individuals to engage in Chicano culture. The Chicano fashion trends have also made its way to Japan, with it inspiring many of the younger generations of Japan.[57]There has been debate over whether this should be termed cultural appropriation, with some arguing that it is appreciation rather than appropriation.[58][59][60]

Indigenous identity

The identity has been perceived as a means of reclaiming Indigenous ancestry and forming an identity 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 was used by many as a reference to their Indigenous ancestry and roots. As Mexican-American journalist 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."[61] Leo Limón, an artist and community activist in Los Angeles states, "...a Chicano is ... an indigenous Mexican American."[62]

Scholar Patrisia Gonzales analyzes how Chicanx people are descendants of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and have been displaced because of colonial violence which positions them among "detribalized Indigenous peoples and communities."[63] Journalist and academic Roberto Cintli Rodríguez describes Chicanos as "de-Indigenized," which he remarks occurred "in part due to religious indoctrination and a violent uprooting from the land," which detached them from maíz-based cultures throughout the greater Mesoamerican region.[64][65] Rodríguez examines how and why "peoples who are clearly red or brown and undeniably Indigenous to this continent have allowed ourselves, historically, to be framed by bureaucrats and the courts, by politicians, scholars, and the media as alien, illegal, and less than human."[66]

Gloria E. Anzaldúa has addressed detribalization, stating "In the case of Chicanos, being 'Mexican' is not a tribe. So in a sense Chicanos and Mexicans are 'detribalized'. We don't have tribal affiliations but neither do we have to carry ID cards establishing tribal affiliation." Anzaldúa also recognizes that "Chicanos, people of color, and 'whites'," have often chosen "to ignore the struggles of Native people even when it's right in our caras (faces)," expressing disdain for this "willful ignorance." She concludes that "though both 'detribalized urban mixed bloods' and Chicanas/os are recovering and reclaiming, this society is killing off urban mixed bloods through cultural genocide, by not allowing them equal opportunities for better jobs, schooling, and health care."[67]

While some Chicanos have asserted an identification with a generalized Indigenous ancestry and the mythical Aztec homeland of Aztlán, which has been noted by J. Jorge Klor de Alva as a useful political maneuver for mobilizing support for the Chicano Movement and rejecting assimilation, the appropriation of a pre-contact Aztec culture has since been reexamined by some Chicanos who recognize a need to affirm the diversity of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and of Indigenous ancestry among Chicanos.[42][68] As a result, some Chicanos have argued there has emerged a need to reconstruct the place of Aztlán and Indigeneity in relation to Chicano identity. The beginnings of this movement in revising Chicano Indigenous consciousness may be exemplified in the removal of Aztlán from M.E.Ch.A. in 2019.[69][70]

Academic Inés Hernández-Ávila has emphasized how Chicanos reconnecting with their roots "respectfully and humbly" while validating "those peoples who still maintain their identity as original peoples of this continent" will serve as a means of creating radical change capable of "transforming our world, our universe, and our lives."[71]

Sociological aspects

Gender and sexuality

Chicana women frequently confront objectification, being perceived as "exotic," "lascivious," and "hot" at a very young age while also facing denigration as "barefoot," "pregnant," "dark," and "low-class." These perceptions in society engender numerous negative sociological and psychological effects, such as excessive dieting and eating disorders. Social media has also enhanced these perceptions/stereotypes of Chicana women.[72] In addition, numerous studies have found that Chicanas experience elevated levels of stress as a result of sexual expectations by their parents and families. Although many Chicana youth desire open conversation regarding gendered and sexual expectations, as well as mental health, these issues are often not discussed openly in families, which perpetuates unsafe and destructive practices. While young Chicana women are objectified, middle-aged Chicanas often discuss feelings of being invisible. Chicana women at this age report feeling trapped in balancing family obligations to their parents and children while attempting to create a space for their own sexual desires. The cultural expectation that Chicana women should be "protected" by Chicano men also constricts the agency and mobility of Chicana women.[73]

Early in their social development, Chicano men develop their gendered identity as men within the context of marginalization. Some authors argue that "Mexican men and their Chicano brothers suffer from an inferiority complex due to the conquest and genocide inflicted upon their indigenous ancestors," which leaves many Chicano men feeling trapped between identifying with the "superior" European conqueror and the "inferior" indigenous ancestor. As a result, the psychological pain this conflict along with marginalization creates is reported to manifest itself in the form of hypermasculinity, in which there occurs a "quest for power and control over others in order to feel better" about oneself. This can result in abusive behavior, developing an impenetrable cold persona, alcohol abuse, and other destructive behaviors.[74] The lack of discussion of sexuality between Chicano men and their fathers, other Chicano men, or their mothers. Chicano men tend to learn about sex from their peers as well as older male family members who perpetuate the idea that as men they have "a right to engage in sexual activity without commitment." The looming threat of being labeled a joto (gay) for not engaging in sexual activity also conditions many Chicano men to "use" women for their own sexual desires.[75]

Chicana/o queer people often seek refuge in their families because it is difficult for them to find spaces where they feel safe in the dominant and hostile white culture which surrounds them, yet may be excluded because of hypermasculinity and homophobia.[76] Gabriel S. Estrada describes how "the overarching structures of capitalist white (hetero)sexism," including higher levels of criminalization directed towards Chicanos, have proliferated "further homophobia" especially among Chicano boys and men who may adopt "hypermasculine personas that can include sexual violence directed at others." Estrada notes that not only does this constrict "the formation of a balanced Indigenous sexuality for anyone[,] but especially... for those who do identify" as part of the queer community to reject the "Judeo-Christian mandates against homosexuality that are not native to their own ways," recognizing how many precolonial Indigenous societies in Mexico and elsewhere accepted homosexuality openly.[77]

Mental health

Chicanos, regardless of their generational status, may seek both Western biomedical healthcare and Indigenous health practices when dealing with trauma or illness. The effects of colonization and conquest have been proven to produce psychological distress among Indigenous communities. Similarly, intergenerational trauma along with racism and institutionalized systems of oppression which emerged from colonization have been shown to adversely impact the mental health of Chicanos and Latinos. Mexican Americans are three times more likely than European Americans to live in poverty. However, the utilization rate of mental health services is lower and lower levels of psychiatric distress were reported among Chicanos. Similar studies demonstrate lower comparative levels of distress in regard to physical health as well. Some scholars have cited strong family connections, lower levels of smoking/drinking, and adherence to traditional values as possible sources for this difference.[78]

Among Mexican immigrants who have lived in the United States for less than thirteen years, lower rates of mental health disorders were found in comparison to Mexican-Americans and Chicanos born in the United States. Scholar Yvette G. Flores concludes that these studies demonstrate that "factors associated with living in the United States are related to an increased risk of mental disorders." Risk factors for negative mental health include historical and contemporary trauma stemming from colonization, marginalization, discrimination, and devaluation. The disconnection of Chicanos from their Indigeneity has been cited as a cause of trauma and negative mental health:[78]

Loss of language, cultural rituals, and spiritual practices creates shame and despair. The loss of culture and language often goes unmourned, because it is silenced and denied by those who occupy, conquer, or dominate. Such losses and their psychological and spiritual impact are passed down across generations, resulting in depression, disconnection, and spiritual distress in subsequent generations, which are manifestations of historical or intergenerational trauma.[79]

Psychological distress may emerge from Chicanos being "othered" in society since childhood and is linked to psychiatric disorders and symptoms which are culturally bound – susto (fright), nervios (nerves), mal de ojo (evil eye), and ataque de nervios (an attack of nerves resembling a panic attack).[79]

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. 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.

Rejection of borders

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.[80] 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.[81]

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.[81] Chicano identity has expanded from its political origins to incorporate a broader community vision of social integration and nonpartisan political participation.[82]

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. Chicanoism is embraced through personal identity especially within small rural communities that integrate the American culture connected to the Mexican heritage practiced in different parts of Mexico.[83]

Cultural aspects

The term Chicano is also used to describe the literary, artistic, and musical movements that emerged with the Chicano Movement.


Chicana/o film is rooted in economic, social, and political oppression and has therefore been marginalized since its inception. Scholar Charles Ramírez Berg has suggested that Chicana/o cinema has progressed through three fundamental stages since its establishment in the 1960s. The first wave occurred from 1969 to 1976 and was characterized by the creation of radical documentaries which chronicled "the cinematic expression of a cultural nationalist movement, it was politically contestational and formally oppositional." Some films of this era include El Teatro Campesino's Yo Soy Joaquín (1969) and Luis Valdez's El Corrido (1976). These films were focused on documenting the systematic oppression of Chicanas/os in the United States.[84]

The second wave of Chicana/o film, according to Ramírez Berg, developed out of portraying anger against oppression faced in society, highlighting immigration issues, and re-centering the Chicana/o experience, yet channeling this in more accessible forms which were not as outright separatist as the first wave of films. Docudramas like Esperanza Vasquez's Agueda Martínez (1977), Jesús Salvador Treviño's Raíces de Sangre (1977), and Robert M. Young's ¡Alambrista! (1977) served as transitional works which would inspire full-length narrative films. Early narrative films of the second wave include Valdez's Zoot Suit (1981), Young's The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Gregory Nava's, My Family/Mi familia (1995) and Selena (1997), and Josefina López's Real Women Have Curves, originally a play which premiered in 1990 and was later released as a film in 2002.[84]

The second wave of Chicana/o film is still ongoing and overlaps with the third wave, the latter of which gained noticeable momentum in the 1990s and does not emphasize oppression, exploitation, or resistance as central themes. According to Ramírez Berg, third wave films "do not accentuate Chicano oppression or resistance; ethnicity in these films exists as one fact of several that shape characters' lives and stamps their personalities."[84]


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 (1959) 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.

Chicana writers have tended to focus on themes of identity, questioning how identity is constructed, who constructs it, and for what purpose in a racist, classist, and patriarchal structure. Characters in books such as Victuum (1976) by Isabella Ríos, The House on Mango Street (1983) by Sandra Cisneros, Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios (1983) by Cherríe Moraga, The Last of the Menu Girls (1986) by Denise Chávez, Margins (1992) by Terri de la Peña, and Gulf Dreams (1996) by Emma Pérez have also been read regarding how they intersect with themes of gender and sexuality.[85] Academic Catrióna Rueda Esquibel performs a queer reading of Chicana literature in her work With Her Machete in Her Hand: Reading Chicana Lesbians (2006), demonstrating how some of the intimate relationships between girls and women in these works contributes to a discourse on homoeroticism and nonnormative sexuality in Chicana/o literature.[86]

Chicano writers have tended to gravitate toward themes of cultural, racial, and political tensions in their work, while not explicitly focusing on issues of identity or gender and sexuality, in comparison to the work of Chicana writers.[85] Chicanos who were marked as overtly gay in early Chicana/o literature, from 1959 to 1972, tended to be removed from the Mexican-American barrio and were typically portrayed with negative attributes, as examined by Daniel Enrique Pérez, such as the character of "Joe Pete" in Pocho and the unnamed protagonist of John Rechy's City of Night (1963). However, other characters in the Chicano canon may also be read as queer, such as the unnamed protagonist of Tomás Rivera's ...y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971), and "Antonio Márez" in Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima (1972), since, according to Pérez, "these characters diverge from heteronormative paradigms and their identities are very much linked to the rejection of heteronormativity."[86]

As noted by scholar Juan Bruce-Novoa, Chicano novels allowed for androgynous and complex characters "to emerge and facilitate a dialogue on nonnormative sexuality" and that homosexuality was "far from being ignored during the 1960s and 1970s" in Chicano literature, although homophobia may have curtailed portrayals of openly gay characters during this era. Given this representation in early Chicano literature, Bruce-Novoa concludes, "we can say our community is less sexually repressive than we might expect."[87]

Other major names in Chicana/o literature include Norma Elia Cantú, Gary Soto, Sergio Troncoso, Rigoberto González, Raul Salinas, Daniel Olivas, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Luís Alberto Urrea, Dagoberto Gilb, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Luis J. Rodriguez and Pat Mora.


Lalo Guerrero has been lauded as the "father of Chicano music".[88] 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.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club often spoke about being half-Mexican and growing up with the Chicano culture.

Other Chicano/Mexican-American singers include Selena, who sang a mixture of Mexican, Tejano, and American popular music, and died in 1995 at the age of 23; Zack de la Rocha, social activist and lead vocalist of Rage Against the Machine; 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.

The Chicano Movement was affected not only those in the United States and Mexico but the Chicano culture has also gone abroad to countries such as Japan. Influencers such as Shin Miyata raised the awareness of Chicano culture in Japan.[89] Miyata owns a record label, Gold Barrio Records, that re-releases Chicano music in Japan from Chicano soul to Chicano rap.[90]


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 is 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.[91]

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.[citation needed] 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.[92]


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.

Hip hop and rap

Hip hop culture, which is cited as having formed in the 1980s street culture of African American, West Indian (especially Jamaican), and Puerto Rican New York City Bronx youth and characterized by DJing, rap music, graffiti, and breakdancing, was adopted by many Chicano youth by the 1980s as its influence moved westward across the United States.[93] By the 1980s on the West Coast, Chicano artists were beginning to develop their own style of hip hop. Rappers such as Ice-T and Easy-E shared their music and commercial insights with Chicano rappers in the late 1980s. Chicano rapper Kid Frost, who is often cited as "the godfather of Chicano rap" was highly influenced by Ice-T and was even cited as his protégé.[94]

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 Sir Dyno, Chingo bling.

Chicano rap has also reached overseas in Japan. MoNa (Sad Girl) is a Chicano-style rapper based in Japan who creates new rap music based on Chicano culture. MoNa is well known in Japan as well as cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles where Chicano culture thrives in.[89]

Pop and R&B

Paula DeAnda, Frankie J, and Victor Ivan Santos (early member of the Kumbia Kings and associated with Baby Bash).

Visual arts

Mural at Chicano Park, San Diego.
Mural at Chicano Park, San Diego.

In the visual arts, works by Chicanos address similar themes as works in literature. The preferred media for Chicano art are murals, graphic arts, and graffiti art. Scholar Guisela Latorre refers to Chicana/o murals as "a unique and effective tool with which to assert agency from the margins."[95] San Diego's Chicano Park, located in Barrio Logan, is home to the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world and 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.

Artists like Charles "Chaz" Bojórquez developed an original style of graffiti art known as West Coast Cholo style influenced by Mexican murals and placas (tags which indicate territorial boundaries) in the mid-20th century.[93] Bojórquez remarks how paint brushes were used prior to the introduction of spray cans in the early 1950s. Some sources say Mexican-American graffiti culture in Los Angeles was already "in full bloom" in the 1930s, stretching as far back as to when "shoeshine boys marked their names on the walls with their daubers to stake out their spots on the sidewalk" in the early 20th century.[51]

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.

Chicano art has also been trending in Japan especially among the youth. The capital for Chicano art in Japan is located in Osaka, Japan. Night Tha Funksta is one of the leading figures of Chicano art and provided his own take for his artwork. Chicano culture is often associated with the gangs and cholos which appeals to the Japanese youth with the idea of rebellion. Instead of focusing on the images of gangs, Night focuses his art on the more positive images of the Chicano culture and its roots.[96] Chicano art in Japan revolves around the theme or family and belonging in a community and avoids gang-related activities such as drugs and violence.

See also


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Further reading

  • Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Longman, 2006.
  • John R. Chavez, "The Chicano Image and the Myth of Aztlan Rediscovered", in Patrick Gerster and Nicholas Cords (eds.), Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. St. James, New York: Brandywine Press, 1997.
  • John R. Chavez, The Lost Land: A Chicano Image of the American Southwest, Las Cruces: New Mexico State University Publications, 1984.
  • Ignacio López-Calvo, Latino Los Angeles in Film and Fiction: The Cultural Production of Social Anxiety. University of Arizona Press, 2011.
  • Natalia Molina, Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879–1940. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Michael A. Olivas, Colored Men and Hombres Aquí: Hernandez V. Texas and the Emergence of Mexican American Lawyering. Arte Público Press, 2006.
  • Randy J. Ontiveros, In the Spirit of a New People: The Cultural Politics of the Chicano Movement. New York University Press, 2014.
  • Gregorio Riviera and Tino Villanueva (eds.), MAGINE: Literary Arts Journal. Special Issue on Chicano Art. Vol. 3, Nos. 1 & 2. Boston: Imagine Publishers. 1986.
  • F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press, 1996.

External links

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