Thursday, May 24

"chicanismo is dead": part one

In this week's installment of "Ask A Mexican," a popular and sometimes (though a lot less than I'd thought) contentious column we syndicate from OC Weekly reporter Gustavo Arellano, a reader asks how Chicano Studies might be applied to a career.

I purposely left out a piece of my interview with Arellano on the topic of Chicanismo. Even around here, where Chicano identity was at the core of the civil rights movement of the '60s, people just don't know what the hell it is. Those who are familiar tend to have encountered it in an institution of higher education or have established Latino roots and/or intimate ties to the Southwest. Which makes sense.

The three major figures of the Chicano movement were based in California (Cesar Chavez of the United Farmworkers), Colorado (Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez," of Justice for All and the most urban-based of the three; a fierce proponent of educating Chicanos from their own point of view) and New Mexico (Reies López Tijerina, who fought ardently for land rights). This rather official roster sadly leaves out important female figures like Dolores Huerta, a relevant figure both then and now. (I promise to give her props in an upcoming post.)

Arellano had posted a blog entry while in grad school at UCLA (Latin American Studies) that made a case for nailing the coffin of the ethno-political identity:

Vanessa: In one of the posts you wrote that Chicanismo is dead. Not many people, especially younger people, have any clue what that is, but I imagine a lot of viejos (old guys) get all fired up about you saying that.

Arellano: I do encounter a lot of resistance from self-identified Chicanos, specifically Chicano Studies departments. ... I do take pot shots at Chicano Studies from time to time, not because I disagree with their mission, but because I think they're living in denial of reality.

Vanessa: In a different time.

Arellano: Exactly. Chicano Studies is great because the discipline is where you see the serious study of Mexican Americans in the United States. I give them complete credit for that; I think they're invaluable in that sense. But part of the Chicano Studies, I think, is also this idea of trying to create a separate ethnicity, of Chicanos, and it just doesn't exist.

Especially with this new generation, people like myself, who grew up calling themselves not Chicanos, not Mexican Americans, but Mexicans. We'll be completely assimilated, citizens, proud to be in this country, but when you ask us, "Who are you?" we'll say "I'm a Mexican." The only people who call themselves Chicanos are those who learned about the movement in the universities. But if you go on the street, to kids in high school right now, they're gonna call themselves Mexicans, and I don't think Chicano Studies has dealt with that. And I don't think Chicano Studies wants to deal with that, because I think those professors fear that their discipline would be lost. And I don't think that's the case at all.

Vanessa: No, I think it would just change. ...

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