top of page

Linguistic Identity: A Chicano Journey of Language Resistance Tale

This article examines the language experiences of the Chicano community in the United States, highlighting the enduring resilience and persistent quest for cultural identity within Chicano communities, which are inherently influenced by the language assimilation process. This narrative connects the past and the future by delineating the formidable obstacles encountered by Mexican Americans in their unyielding pursuit of independence. Within the complex interplay of culture and society, the Chicano community demonstrates exceptional resiliency, fueled by their unique linguistic journey, which adds dimension to their narrative. The Chicano historical narrative reveals their resolute voyage toward self-definition, with these persistent obstacles serving as defining markers. This journey began during the period of Spanish colonization, endured succeeding obstacles, and culminated in the Chicano movement of the twentieth century. This movement arose in response to prevalent racial and socioeconomic inequities, signifying the Chicano movement's ascent from adversity to its apogee. At its foundation, there was a consistent struggle for equality and empowerment. Some subordinate cultures assimilate into the hegemonic culture to capitalize on opportunities but in the Chicano case, it could be argued that most of them choose bilingual adaptation to preserve their heritage.

The Chicano movement, while promoting unity and pride, failed to adequately address linguistic concerns. When Chicanos and individuals of other racial backgrounds choose not to completely assimilate into the dominant culture, they face economic difficulties. This decision, though sometimes compelled by external factors, results in a voluntary form of social isolation that creates a psychological dilemma analogous to a conflict on the brink of escalation. When Chicanos and people of diverse ethnic backgrounds resist entirely adopting the cultural norms and practices of the majority society, they may face economic difficulties. This resistance can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a desire to preserve cultural identity or systemic barriers. Despite being frequently motivated by external pressures such as discrimination or social exclusion, the decision to maintain cultural distinction results in a form of self-imposed isolation. Currently, Chicanos resist assimilation pressures by preserving Mexican identity, language, and culture (Anzaldúa, 1987, pp. 84-85). This strategy entails satisfying the demands of the dominant culture while preserving their own cultural heritage (Anzaldúa, 2018, pp. 82-83). In spite of this, education, employment, and integration are hampered by inadequate English proficiency, which perpetuates inequalities. Hence, the Chicano population's linguistic experiences are crucial for their effective integration in society. This investigation of the Chicano linguistic trials highlights the imperative need for inclusion, recognition, and equal opportunities, thereby enriching the culturally diverse fabric of American society.

Figure 1: Effective communication glyph icon (Bsd studio, 2021).

1. Language and Cultural Identity Challenges

The issue of language poses a significant challenge for the Chicano population due to its multifaceted implications for cultural identity, social inclusion, and economic opportunities. Historically, Chicanos have grappled with the effects of linguistic marginalization stemming from the dominant culture's imposition of English as the primary language. This imposition not only undermines the preservation of their linguistic customs but also contributes to a sense of alienation and disconnection from their roots. As a result, Chicanos often face difficulties in fully expressing themselves, conveying their cultural nuances, and maintaining a strong connection with their ancestry (Quiñones, 2018, pp. 42-43). Furthermore, since language is intimately tied to social integration and participation, Chicanos who struggle with English proficiency may experience exclusion from mainstream social interactions, limiting their ability to engage fully in public discourse, civic activities, and community life (Quiñones, 2018, p. 43). This exclusion could lead to feelings of isolation and inhibit their capacity to advocate for their rights and concerns effectively. The influence of the dominant culture's language extends beyond mere predilection to actively shape the thought processes and narratives of subordinate cultures. Within the sociocultural context of the Chicano community, Spanish speakers have traditionally struggled with feelings of embarrassment and social stigma associated with their linguistic expressions, resulting in a complex emotional interplay. The forced inculcation of the English language led to the internalization of the belief that speaking Spanish was an undesirable attribute, fostering a disconnection from their linguistic heritage:

Nosotros los Chicanos straddle the borderlands. On one side of us, we are constantly exposed to the Spanish of the Mexicans, on the other side we hear the Anglos' incessant clamoring so that we forget our language … As a culture, we call ourselves Spanish when referring to ourselves as a linguistic group and when copping out (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 84).

This psychological experience was exacerbated by the crossing of physical borders, which spawned psychological borders and generated feelings of alienation and surveillance. The external judgment and pressure served only to heighten their sense of isolation and alienation (Anzaldúa, 1987, pp 80-81). This linguistic barrier often stands in the way of Chicanos' access to economic possibilities, which reflects a substantial deficiency in the likelihood of obtaining employment. Chicanos are put at a disadvantage if they do not exhibit complete competence in English, and socioeconomic gaps are further perpetuated as a result. English proficiency is usually required for higher-paying employment and career development (pp. 33-34). Maciel et al., (2018) in their narrative about the creation of the Chicano nation, describe that this community has steadfastly resisted pressures to assimilate into American society by preserving their Mexican identity and demonstrating a profound attachment to their homeland. This resistance includes the protection and promotion of the Spanish language and the ongoing revitalization of Mexican cultural aspects (p. 21). Notably, this dedication to preserving Mexican culture was especially pronounced in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries. A portion of the Chicano community has chosen alternative forms of resistance within the system, but cultural adaptation has emerged as the most common tactic (p. 20).

Figure 2: La Raza Unida (Mata, 2012).

The hegemonic culture's control over language, which includes dictating terms, expressions, and discourse patterns that reflect its perspective, can suppress the nuanced perspectives of subordinate cultures, thereby reinforcing the superiority of the dominant narrative. This dynamic frequently compels individuals from these cultures to adopt the linguistic norms of the majority in order to access social and economic opportunities, thereby utilizing language as a tool for cultural assimilation. Simultaneously, the Chicano academic community has meticulously documented more than 160 years of Chicano segregation. Prior to the 1960s, despite their U.S. citizenship, Mexican-Americans confronted substantial barriers to voting and jury service, limiting their participation in politics for fair representation and against institutional discrimination. In addition, they were restricted to separate institutions and educational facilities. In the end, legal challenges rendered segregation illegal not only in schools but also in parks, resorts, theaters, shelters, and swimming pools. In addition, residential segregation laws persisted until the 1960s, demonstrating the Chicano community's ongoing struggle against systemic discrimination (p. 29).

Thus, assimilation was spurred on by the prejudice that led to it, which involves the progressive incorporation of distinct group characteristics, unfurled throughout the southwestern United States, with a particular emphasis on areas where Hispanic Americans comprised a small percentage, leaving them unable to protect or preserve their cultural heritage (pp. 29-30). When Hispanic Americans engaged in activities such as speaking Spanish, observing Mexican traditions, or ingesting Mexican-style cuisine in the presence of Anglo-Americans, discomfort and a sense of 'otherness' emerged. Accommodation, which is characterized by adapting to another culture without fully embracing it, was most effective in regions with a significant Hispanic American population, allowing them to maintain their cultural and institutional integrity while also exerting political influence (Weber, 2018, pp. 137-138). In the modern era and foreseen future, cultural adaptation remains the most pragmatic and widely accepted course of action for the newer generations. This process highlights the intricate interplay between language, power dynamics, and forced naturalization in the context of the larger social structure. Moreover, the prevalence of English as the dominant language in education, employment, and the media further exacerbates the language challenge for Chicanos (Maciel et al., 2018, p. 20).

2. Impact of Proposition 227 on Bilingual Education and Language Ideologies in California

A lack of access to bilingual education or resources designed to meet their specific linguistic needs can impede academic advancement and contribute to the emergence of educational disparities in educational settings. Considering the events of 1998 in California, when a law restricting bilingual education was enacted, it is clear that this portrayal is accurate. This legislation has had a negative impact on the English-language learning process of non-native speakers by prohibiting instructors from providing equal instruction in Spanish and English. The passage of Proposition 227 in California in 1998 resulted in the near elimination of bilingual education programs in the state (Matas & Rodriguez, 2014, p. 44). Since then, discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants have increased in California. Matas and Rodriguez examine the implementation of this in “The Education of English Learners in California Following the Passage of Proposition 227: A Case Study of an Urban School District” to analyze its effects on the education of English learners in California's K-12 public schools since its enactment in 1998, taking into account its sociopolitical context, implementation challenges, interactions with other state mandates, and a case study of an urban school district, and suggests educationally-responsive policies for English learners based on the current policy landscape (p. 44). This article presents a comprehensive investigation into the examination of the implementation of Proposition 227 and how it has affected the teaching of English learners. Specifically, it refers to the social environment in which the proposition and its execution took place. The language of Proposition 227 was crafted in such a way that it would influence linguistic minority children attending K-12 schools in the state of California (p. 45).

Figure 3: Sicario (No Man's Land) (Movie posters, 2015).

The passing of this act reinforced discriminatory policies or behaviors that could often be concealed by what appear to be benevolent intentions: “Despite the positive intentions of voters who believed they were acting in the best interests of English learners, Proposition 227 was written and promoted by individuals and groups that had previously participated in anti- bilingual education and anti-immigrant movements” (p. 46). Hence, this article points out that after this change in the legislation of education, a subtle facet of discrimination was enacted. It is possible that this will serve as a reminder that even actions that appear to be beneficial might be discriminatory if they are not thoroughly examined and carefully considered. However, the impact of individuals and organizations that have a history of opposing bilingual education and immigration illustrates how racism and xenophobia can be camouflaged inside programs that appear to have good intentions. These individuals and groups have a history of opposing bilingual education and immigration. In this particular election, the people who backed Proposition 227 most likely believed that they were working toward the improvement of English education for those who are still learning the language (Matas & Rodriguez, 2014, p. 47). Matas and Rodriguez (2014) explain in detail certain drawbacks that this plan brought when it was put into operation for the first time. These problems included issues such as the proposition having vague language that made it unclear how to carry it out at the school level, a shortage of teacher training to help students who were now being taught only in English. In addition, there was a lack of appropriate instructional materials for Structured English Immersion classes (p. 47).

This investigation concludes that individuals affected by this act may find themselves additionally navigating a sociopolitical environment that can be perceived as anti-immigrant in schools that provide a predominantly English-only learning environment (pp. 44-45). The findings of the study indicate that the general public ought to be educated on the positive effects that well-coordinated bilingual programs can have on students' academic performance. It also remarks that to accomplish this goal, proponents of bilingual education should use scores on standardized tests administered by the state as well as empirical data to demonstrate that students who participate in these programs perform just as well as, if not better than, students who are not enrolled in primary language classes (Matas & Rodriguez, 2014, pp. 54-55).

In outline, this statute emphasizes the use of linguistic authority by the dominant culture to maintain its authority over subordinate cultures. All of this was exacerbated some years later by the discriminatory policies of the new president of the United States, Donald Trump, who has made clear his aggressive attitude toward both Mexico and Mexican Americans during his time in office (Semo, 2018, p. 16). Conformity to the linguistic standards of the dominant culture facilitates greater access to opportunities and resources, whereas deviations from these norms may result in exclusion or marginalization (Anzaldúa, 2018, pp. 84-85). The dominant culture exerts control over linguistic norms, grammar, and vocabulary, establishing its own linguistic conventions as superior and authoritative. This language-related superiority enables the dominant culture to establish a hierarchical structure that emphasizes its cultural principles, thereby reinforcing the subordination of other cultures. Poza's (2016) research in a dual immersion program and analysis of the English Language Development curriculum demonstrated how prevalent monolingual ideologies exclude English Language Learners from essential content instruction and effective teaching methods, prioritizing rapid reclassification of English proficiency (p. 20). He explains that: “In addition to the marginalizing effect of language ideologies, the aforementioned research on Latino experiences and outcomes in U.S. schools also examines the obstacles resulting from structural issues such as poverty, residential segregation, and racialized anti-immigrant sentiment” (p. 25). He demonstrates that this decline became especially apparent after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. In contrast to earlier versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education legislations, this act not only eliminated the term "bilingual" but also transferred its emphasis to English language acquisition. His ethnographic research concludes that: “The educational pathways and outcomes of emergent bilinguals are likewise unfavorable compared to those of their English-proficient peers, even those who share their ethnic or racial profiles” (p. 25).

Figure 4: How do I get a thought from my mind into yours (Munday, 2018).

The primary conclusion of this study is that Proposition 227 had a significant and negative effect on bilingual education programs in the state. It restricted students' access to bilingual programs and eliminated a significant number of them. Consequently, English language learners, notably immigrants or those from immigrant families, faced academic and social integration difficulties. Despite Proposition 227's characterization as a pro-immigrant initiative, it did not substantially improve educational opportunities for English language learners and had negative effects. The sociopolitical context surrounding California's 1998 passage of Proposition 227 highlights the complex challenges encountered by English language learners (ELLs), particularly within urban educational institutions.

Poza´s study concludes that monolingual ideologies have a significant impact on the education of emerging bilinguals. He argues that in favor of explicit instruction in vocabulary and grammar, these ideologies frequently marginalize emergent bilinguals, limiting their access to important content and authentic communicative opportunities. This approach discourages emergent bilinguals from utilizing their bilingual repertoires for learning and communication and impedes the development of communicative competence. His research advocates valuing bilingualism and embracing translanguaging perspectives on language. Translanguaging enables emergent bilinguals to use features from their multiple languages and modalities to mediate academic tasks, negotiate identity representations, and challenge conventional language and identity hierarchies.

3. Final thoughts

In summary, the purpose of this essay was to investigate the experiences that members of the Chicano community in the United States have had with the English language, with an emphasis on the tenacity with which they have persisted and their search for cultural identity throughout the course of American history. This article aims to render that the historical story of Chicanos, which is marked by linguistic challenges, reflects a path towards self-definition. This voyage began with the Spanish colonization of the Americas, went through a variety of adversities, and arrived at its conclusion with the Chicano movement of the 20th century, which was a reaction to ethnic and socioeconomic injustices. The Chicano experience is heavily influenced by linguistic factors, which in turn have an effect on cultural identification, social integration, and economic opportunity. The historical marginalization of languages and the predominance of the English language have been obstacles to the preservation of linguistic traditions. This has resulted in sentiments of isolation and has restricted the expression of culture. The dominance of the English language has a number of effects, including on narratives and the distribution of power; hence, linguistic assimilation is required. In spite of these obstacles, the Chicano community continues to employ techniques of resistance and adaptation in an effort to traverse the intricate intersections of power, culture, and identity within the larger social context.

Despite efforts to preserve their heritage, linguistic challenges, predominantly caused by English dominance, continue to exist. These difficulties have far-reaching effects, such as educational disparities and social exclusion. The article also emphasizes the impact of Proposition 227, which, despite the good intentions of some voters, was influenced by individuals and organizations with anti-bilingual education and anti-immigrant backgrounds. This demonstrates how discrimination can be camouflaged as well-intentioned initiatives. Furthermore, the article discusses the difficulties associated with the implementation of Proposition 227, including ambiguous language, inadequate teacher training, and a lack of appropriate instructional materials. These obstacles inhibited the efficacy of bilingual education programs. In light of these findings, it is crucial to educate the general public about the benefits of well-coordinated bilingual programs. Advocates should use empirical data to demonstrate their efficacy and pursue policies that promote the inclusion, recognition, and equal opportunity of the Chicano community. The article emphasizes the complex relationship between language, power dynamics, and cultural preservation, highlighting the need for sustained research and efforts to address linguistic and cultural disparities.

Bibliographical References

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.

Chabram-Dernersesian, A. (2006). The Chicana/o Cultural Stories Reader. New York & London: Routledge.

Chavez-García, M. (2004). Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s. Tucson: Arizona U.P.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin Books.

González Herrera, C. (2008). La Frontera que Vino del Norte. México:Taurus.

Maciel, D. R., Gómez-Quiñones, J., & Griswold del Castillo, R. (2018). La Creación de la Nación Chicana. Perspectivas Historiográficas. Ciudad de México: Siglo Veintiuno.

Noriega, C. et al., eds. (2001). The Chicano Studies Reader: An Anthology of Aztlán, 1970-2000. Los Angeles, California: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

Rodriguez, J. L., & Matas, A. (2014). The Education of English Learners in California Following the Passage of Proposition 227: A Case Study of an Urban School District Amanda Matas, Ph.D., San Diego Unified School District . Perspectives on Urban Education , Volume 11 (Issue 2), 44–56.

Poza, L. (2016). “Puro spelling and grammar”: Conceptualizations of language and the marginalization of emergent bilinguals. Urbaned journal, Perspectives on Urban Education 13(1): 20–41, Spring 2016.

Visual Sources

Author Photo


Arcadia _ Logo.png


Arcadia, has many categories starting from Literature to Science. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can subscribe from below or click the bar and discover unique more experiences in our articles in many categories

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page