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The terms Chicano or Chicana (also spelled Xicano or Xicana) is a chosen identity of Mexicans who grew up in the United States. The name "Chicano" is not interchangeable with "Mexican-American." Both names are chosen identities within the Mexican community of 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, mainly amongst those Mexicans of the United States who wanted to express a new self-identity, an identity based on community values, rather than the assimilationist mentality of Mexican-American.
Although "Chicano" was sometimes used to denote anyone with a Mexican background, it was mainly applicable to the barrio communities of the southwest. The term "Chicano" had negative connotations before the Chicano Movement, and still is viewed negatively by more conservative members of this community, but it is gaining more acceptance as an identity of pride within the Mexican community of the United States.
The origin of the word "chicano" is disputed. Some critics claim it is a shorterned form of "Mexicano" (the Nahuatl name for a member of the Mexica pueblo. The word "Mexico" as spoken in its original Nahuatl, and by the Spaniards at the time of the conquest, was pronounced originally with a "sh" sound ("Meh-shee-co") and was transcribed with an "x" during this time period. 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 "he" sound ("Meh-he-co") and a change of spelling ("x" to "j"). The word "Chicano" was also affected by this change. Many Chicanos replace the "ch" with the letter "x" as Xicanos, due to the original spelling of the Mexica Empire (pronounced: Meshica).
Most likely the name Chicano was a shortened form of "mexhicano" as expressed by Nahuatl-speaking Mexicans emigrating to the United States. In Mexico's indigenous regions, ladinos (mestizos) and westernized natives are referred to as "mexichanos," referring to the modern nation, rather than the pueblo identification of the speaker, be it Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huasteco, or the hundreds of other native pueblos. Thus, a newly emigrated Nahuatl speaker would have referred to his cultural relatives in this country, different than himself, as "mexicanos," shortened to "chicano."
Derived from "mexhicano," "chicano" thus has its roots in the pueblo identification of Mexica, also known as the Aztecs. "Mexica" is the name given members of the Aztec pueblo who settled in the Yucatán by the Mayans, and which means "bearded serpents," or "those who follow the Feathered Serpent."
The Chicano poet and writer Tino Villanueva traces the first documented use of the term 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.
Mexican Americans were not identified as a racial/ethnic category prior to the 1980 US Census, when the term "Hispanic" was first used in census reports. In 1857 there was a mention of a sale of the gun boat, “Chicana” being 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 to convert the “Chicana” from a river steamer to a “gunboat”.
Some believe that the word "chicamo" somehow became "chicano", which (unlike "chicamo") reflects the grammatical conventions of Spanish-language ethno- and demonyms, such as "americano" or "castellano" or "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 Chicanos do not agree that "Chicano" was ever derived from the word "chicamo". There is ample literary evidence to further substantiate that "Chicano" is a self-declaration, as a large body of Chicano literature exists with publication dates far predating the 1950s. There is also a substantial body of Chicano literature that predates both Raso and the Federal Census Bureau.
As stated in the Handbook of Texas:
Thus far, the origins of the word remain inconclusive, as the term is not used outside Mexican-American communities, further indicating that the term is primarily self-identifying.
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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, the term has been considered pejorative and takes on subjective view but usually consists 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 attempt to reassert 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.
The term "chicano" may have come from Mexican immigrants to the U.S. during the 1920s and 1930s, but by those originated from Chihuahua (not the term "Chi-"hua-hua" when they came into Texas where the locals made fun of the way the Chihuahuan Mexicans, primarily indigenous rural peasants, spoke a "less common" dialect of Spanish).
Others believe it was a corrupted term of "Chilango", meaning an inhabitant from Mexico City or Central Mexico (i.e. the highland states of Mexico (state), Jalisco, Puebla (state) and Michoacán); and even from the term "Chileno" by the Chilean presence in mid 19th-century California, when miners from Chile arrived in the California Gold Rush (1848–51).
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, 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.
Sabine Ulibarri, an author from Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, once attempted to note that "Chicano" was a politically "loaded" term, although Ulibarri has recanted that assessment. "Chicano" is considered to be a positive term of honor by many.
The identity is seen as uncertain:
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 accepted into the Anglo-dominated society of the United States, while maintaining the cultural sense developed as a Latino-cultured, US-born Mexican child.
The identity is seen as native to the land:
One theory is the origin of such terminology is from the Mayan temple Chichen Itza in the Yucatán Peninsula, a ruin of an ancient MesoAmerican civilization about 1,500 years ago. "Chicano" may be a Hispanized word for "Chichen" or the Mayan descendants, not limited to Aztec descendants or Nahuatl people. But essentially Chicanos, like some Mexicans, are Mestizo Indians who were influenced by the Spanish/European culture through conquest, while Latino or Hispanic refers to race/genetics. Therefore Latinos are Americans who are descendants of the Latin group (namely Spain and Portugal) and Hispanic refers to the descendants from the Iberian Peninsula (also known as Ibero-American particularly Spain and Portugal).
Reies Tijerina was a vocal claimant to the rights of Hispanics and Mexican Americans, and he remains a major figure of the early Chicano Movement.
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The earliest known record of "Chicano" was thought to be in the late 19th or turn of the 20th century in Northwest Indiana. Mexican factory workers and railroad crews first arrived in the area and used the term among themselves, probably to mean working man. But in the Spanish language, the words Chico (small) -a-no (man) stands for "the little people".
Long a disparaging term in Mexico, the term "Chicano" gradually transformed from a class-based term 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), Jose Cuellar 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 classist 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:
Norteño referred to the Mexicans of Northern Mexico as opposed to Sureño, although anyone from the US is NorteAmericano, since Mexico and Latin America (Central and South) long identified themselves as Americanos. Mexican-Americans do not actually call themselves Norteños. The only people who identify themselves as Norteños are Mexicans from Northern Mexico, compared to Sureño or Mexicans from Southern Mexico. The term means a Northern Mexican or "Mexicano del Norte" versus Southern Mexican or "Mexicano del sur".
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.
Sim 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.
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 Chicano poetry, while José Antonio Villarreal's Pocho is widely recognized as the first major Chicano/a 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 has now been recognized as a literary classic. Vasquez's writing has been compared to Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck. Other important writers include 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, Luis Alberto Urrea, Dagoberto Gilb, Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Gloria Anzaldua.
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 agarian civil rights movement in the Southwest, known as "la causa chicana", 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 tragi-comic effect as shown by Los Angeles' comedy troupe Culture Clash and Mexican-born performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena 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 cartoons 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, what is 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 is regarded 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 the 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 variety of Mexican, Tejano, and American popular music, but was killed 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 from Mexican immigrants (i.e. Conjunto or Norteño) has influenced much of new Chicano folk music, especially in large market Spanish language radio stations and on television music video programs in the U.S. The band Quetzal is known for its political songs.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, a wave of Chicano pop music surfaced through innovative musicians 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 espanol) by Cubans, Puerto Ricans, such as Joe Bataan, and Ralphi Pagan and South America (La Nueva Cancion). 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. Examples of the genre include music by the bands The Zeros, Los Illegals, The Brat, The Plugz, Manic Hispanic, Los Crudos, The Casualties, and the Cruzados; these bands emerged from the California punk scene. 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 began to experiment with banda, a Jazz-like Mexican music that has grown recently in popularity among Mexican Americans such as Jenni Rivera.
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 Psycho Realm, Sick Symphonies, Street Platoon, El Vuh, Baby Bash, Lil Rob, Serio, and Lighter Shade Of Brown as well as A.K.A. Down Kilo with "Definition of an Ese" which denotes a historical account of Chicano popularity in Southern California .