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The Lost Territories and the Emergence of the Chicano Nation

The origins of Chicano history are closely intertwined with the historical consequences of Spanish colonization in North America. The origin of the Chicana/o nation is rooted commences in the experiences of Mexican immigrants who encountered challenges in a territory characterized by the deprivation of assets and legal entitlements after the territorial expansion of the United States in 1848. Consequently, numerous individuals found themselves in a condition of liminality, grappling with the complexities of straddling two distinct cultures (Maciel, 2018, p. 10). This led to a state of liminality –a nebulous space between Mexican heritage and American citizenship leaving many Chicanos feeling like outsiders in their own land. This borderland existence created a unique identity, one characterized by resilience and the blending of cultures (Maciel, 2018, p. 17). Before the Chicano movement, Mexican Americans confronted racial discrimination and social inequality, which fostered cultural pride, political activism, and recognition of their distinct heritage. In response to ethnic disparities, the Chicano movement sparked cultural revitalization, unity, and unwavering resolve. Hence, this article analyzes the continual difficulties Latinos confront as a minority group. The main target of this study is to render the Chicano movement emergence, first analyzing its demographic composition and then the Chicano community's narrative as a saga of adaptation, survival, and the pursuit of recognition which was inspired by the concurrent civil rights struggles of the sixties to shed light on its changing socio-political landscape.

Demographic Composition: Navigating the Borders of Identity

The history of the population in the United States of Mexican ancestry, more frequently referred to as the Chicano population, begins with the Spanish colonization of North America and continues right up to the present day (Maciel, 2018, p. 17). This is the story of a community that was initially in charge of its own destiny before becoming an internal colony of the United States as a result of nineteenth-century expansionism in the United States (Maciel, 2018, p. 9). In the beginning, Mexican immigrants in the lost regions had to contend with the loss of their property as well as their civil and political rights. In fact, the history of the Mexican population in the north of the Rio Bravo begins with the conclusion of the territorial conquest war between the United States and Mexico in 1848. During the period referred to as the Great Dispossession (1848-1910), Mexicans became aliens in their own country (Maciel, 2018, p. 19). Thus, this section examines their liminal existence, tenacity, and ongoing struggle for equality, which shaped American history (Semo, 2018). Individuals who were Chicano and lived in the borderlands often found themselves in a state of liminality since they were neither completely linked with the culture of their home country nor fully absorbed into the identity of the United States. The Mexicans who remained in the lost territory (approximately 120,000) were divided into two social sectors: the elites (a minority, generally consisting of landowners) and the rest of society, which included small ranch owners, some merchants, and professionals, but primarily laborers. In the first half of the 19th century, the American Southwest possessed identities distinct from those influenced by the English. These included marginalized indigenous identities molded by centuries of European presence as well as mestizo culture originating in New Spain and independent Mexico (González Herrera, 2008, p. 17). As the Anglo-American Saxons rose to prominence and hegemony in this region, they perpetuated a civilizational campaign comparable to Turner's depiction of westward expansion in the United States. It wasn't until the Twentieth century that a larger middle class, and subsequently an entrepreneurial class, emerged within the Chicano community (whose numbers have increased since then to the present day) (Maciel, 2018, p. 19).

Figure 1: Power to the people (Cedeno, n.d.).

Few exceptions notwithstanding, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the laws and practices of Anglo-Saxon dominance stripped Mexican colonizers who remained in the territories lost by Mexico of their property, leadership, and civil and political rights. Since then, the U.S.-Mexico frontier, which is located at the crossroads of the Anglo-Saxon world and Latin America, has been an essential source of identity for Mexicans in the United States (Maciel, 2018, p. 19). In establishing the border between the United States and Mexico, the southern nation was initially viewed as a seemingly inexhaustible source of unskilled and deportable low-cost labor. This was done to preserve the Southwest's competitive advantage by ensuring a readily available labor force. This requirement was crucial for the overall economic stability of the United States. To orchestrate this, a comprehensive understanding of scenarios, state institutions, and environmental factors was necessary. The main aim was to ensure that those on the other side of the border were consistently identified as aliens, others, and strangers, a narrative that persists to this day (González Herrera, 2008, pp. 16-17). The border was an isolated and sparsely populated region until the beginning of the 20th century; its inhabitants developed a regionalist mentality, largely detached from the national institutions and governments of both nations and with strong cross-border ties. This binational border zone has exceptional advantages such as bilingualism and biculturalism among a significant portion of its population, but its inhabitants have been viewed with a certain degree of disdain on both sides of the Rio Grande (Maciel, 2018, p. 19). In light of these obstacles, Gloria Anzaldua emerged as a prominent figure and writer in the late eighties, committed to addressing psychological impediments and cultural disjunctions, intending to examine, clarify, and promote the well-being of the Chicano community through her writing. She narrates the displacement and marginalization of Tejanos in their own land:

In the 1800s, Anglos migrated illegally into Texas, which was then part of Mexico, in greater and greater numbers and gradually drove the tejanos (native Texans of Mexican descent) from their lands, committing all manner of atrocities against them. Their illegal invasion forced Mexico to fight a war to keep its Texas territory…Tejanos lost their land and, overnight, became the foreigners (Anzaldua, 1987, p. 28).

Figure 2: Map of the United States of Mexico (Disturnell, 1847).

She exposes how the war and its aftermath had profound effects on the Tejano population. The loss of their land, which severed their ancestral ties to the region, was a traumatic event. She emphasizes the harsh realities of historical events at the intersection of power dynamics, territorial disputes, and cultural conflicts. She illuminates the repercussions of political decisions and conflicts, as well as the lasting emotional and psychological toll such events can have on communities trapped in their path (Anzaldua, 1987, p. 29). Situating themselves within the borderlands, these individuals remained in a state of liminality, no longer completely aligned with their country of origin but also not fully assimilated into the American identity. This dilemma is most pronounced among the first two generations, who pursued assimilation by separating themselves from their indigenous culture (Semo, 2018, p. 15). Historically, the term "assimilation" conveyed negative connotations and was frequently loaded with derogatory connotations, implying that those who pursued it were intellectually deficient. In the face of impending dispossession and the erosion of their rights, Chicanos residing in the borderlands were thrust into a state of liminality, a betwixt and between existence. They found themselves suspended in a precarious space, neither wholly tethered to their country of origin nor seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the American identity and therefore, could just resort to assimilation to fight for their status quo. In the 1960s, however, the situation underwent a transformation, acquiring a new social meaning as a symbol of asserting individuality and a distinct sense of self. The assimilation process that the first generations underwent experienced a profound metamorphosis during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, serving as a potent symbol of the resolute affirmation of the individuality and the cultivation of the Chicano identity (Maciel, 2018, pp. 20-23).

Catalyst for Social and Political Change: The Emergence of the Chicano Movement

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Mexican government did not encourage or facilitate the repatriation of Mexican laborers who were in the United States during the Great Depression. As a result of the 1929 economic downturn, these employees confronted significant labor, legal, and cultural pressures. The effects of the Great Depression compounded these difficulties. González Herrera (2006) observes that unfortunately, historical evidence suggests that the Mexican government, characterized by a nationalist posture since the time of Venustiano Carranza, exhibited little concern for the fate of its approximately 1.5 million emigrant citizens during this time period (p. 260). Hence, it could be stated that it is not surprising that in the 1960s, the concept of Chicano identity underwent a radical transformation from one of assimilation to one of seeking individuality and self-expression. Coinciding with the civil rights struggles of African Americans and the anti-Vietnam War resistance, the Chicano movement constituted a profound journey of self-discovery for the minority of Mexican Americans (Semo, 2018, p. 15). During this period of significant social and political change, the Chicano movement emerged as a potent force, spawning the formation of numerous new organizations, publications, and public gatherings.

Inspired by larger civil rights movements in the United States, the Chicano movement aimed to combat racial discrimination and social inequality faced by Mexican Americans (Semo, 2018, p. 15). Hence, this era witnessed the emergence of a vibrant Chicano identity, with individuals united to fight for their rights and demand recognition of their distinct culture and heritage. In many ways, the Chicano movement mirrored the larger social upheavals of the time, reflecting the call for justice, equality, and human rights that reverberated across the country. As the movement gathered traction, it spawned numerous organizations that advocated for improved working conditions, educational opportunities, and political representation for the Chicano community (Maciel, 2018, p. 20). In addition to these organized efforts, the Chicano movement found expression through a variety of artistic and literary endeavors. To share the stories and experiences as Chicanos and provide a forum for their voices, magazines and publications were created (Semo, 2018, p. 15). At public events and gatherings, Chicanos celebrated their heritage, displayed their art and music, and fostered a sense of community. Hence, it could be stated that as a social process, it is comparable to all 1968 movements worldwide. As part of their anti-hegemonic and anti-assimilationist campaign, Chicanas and Chicanos looked to Mexico's past for inspiration (Semo, 2018, p. 15). Thus, they appropriated the images of Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, heroes of the Mexican Revolution, and contemporary guerrillas such as Genaro Vázquez and Lucio Cabaas (Semo, 2018, pp. 14-15).

Figure 3: San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico (Rabassa, 2019).

This social action fostered a spirit of resistance, resiliency, and empowerment, encouraging people to appreciate their cultural roots and challenge prevalent societal norms (Semo, 2018, p. 15). These images became potent political and cultural symbols for a new generation seeking an alternative to Euro-American identity and culture. This struggle to establish a new identity included a rebellion against the previous generation, which Chicano youth deemed assimilationist (Maciel, 2018, p. 20). Chicano youth initially resorted to new forms of political participation; instead of limiting themselves to the parliamentary world, they opted to found grassroots organizations and adopt direct forms of protest, such as boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations, which contributed significantly to altering the climate of the Chicano-Mexican community (Semo, 2018, pp. 14-15). Chicano intellectuals established their own institutions, journals, research centers, and academic networks. These organizations also played a crucial role in promoting cultural revival, fostering a sense of pride and unity among Mexican Americans (Semo, 2018, p. 14). Since its founding in 1973 by Chicano graduate students and professors, the National Association for Chicano Studies (NACCS) has remained the most influential organization in the field. Therefore, the Chicano movement arose as a potent force during a period of significant social change, promoting cultural revival and advocating for civil rights and recognition of Mexican American culture and heritage.

Inspiring the establishment of numerous organizations and artistic expressions, the movement fostered a sense of pride and unity among Mexican Americans.Today, Chicanos-Mexicanos have new modes of expression, new goals, and new struggles (Semo, 2018, p. 15). Despite obstacles and discrimination, the Chicano community's legacy continues to inspire their ongoing struggle for equality and acknowledgement. The border is a figurative arena for social processes including cultural pluralism, assimilation, and nationalism, and it is still a site where immigration tracking, racism, and heterosexism thrive in the modern era. (Chabram-Dernersesian, 2006, pp. 97-98) Contributing to American history, the legacy of this movement continues to inspire and influence the Chicano community's ongoing fight for equality and recognition (Semo, 2018, pp. 14-15). To wrap up, this section has focused on the notable shift in the Chicano identity in the sixties as it transitioned from a focus on assimilation to a more pronounced emphasis on self-expression. This transformation was largely influenced and drew inspiration from the ongoing civil rights fights of the time. The period sparked a resurgence in cultural expression, acts of defiance, and a sense of solidarity throughout the Mexican American community, resulting in a lasting impact of empowerment and an ongoing endeavor to attain social acknowledgement and distinction.

Conclusion: Weaving the Threads of Identity

In summary, the historical progression of Chicano communities in the United States encompasses a narrative of endurance and cultural self-definition, shaped by the impact of Spanish colonization and subsequently reshaped via a series of adversities and achievements. The narrative commences with Mexican Americans confronting the profound challenges of bereavement and exclusion, progressing through the transformative advent of the Chicano movement, and persists in the present era with an unyielding dedication to safeguarding cultural heritage and expressing a justifiable position. The unyielding perseverance and determination displayed by individuals in the face of these difficulties serve as a tangible monument to the enduring impact of Chicano history in the United States. The emergence of the Chicano Movement can be attributed to the prevailing racial prejudice and inequality that permeated society during the 20th century. Taking inspiration from concurrent civil rights movements, this phenomenon served as a catalyst for the establishment of various organizations, publications, and cultural manifestations that ignited a sense of communal pride and solidarity. Notwithstanding enduring challenges, the impact of the movement remains, serving as a continual testament to the continuous struggle for parity and acknowledgment. Anzaldua's emergence as a significant figure and writer, committed to dismantling psychological barriers and bridging cultural gaps, is further reinforced by her in-depth examination of the effects the conflict and its aftermath had on the Tejano population. Her literary endeavors provided insight on the long-lasting effects of political decisions and conflicts, showcasing the enduring emotional and psychological distress experienced by communities entwined in such unceasing upheaval.

Figure 4: A young Chicanita hawks La Raza newspapers at the Poor People's Campaign (Varela, 1968).

The history of the Chicano community is a fluid narrative that spans across several periods, linking the era of Spanish colonization to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the current day. This statement attests to the persistent resilience of a population that has tackled challenges with unwavering resolve, so establishing a distinct sense of self while asserting their proper position within the multifaceted fabric of American culture. This article has intended to show a connection between historical events and current prospects, documenting the challenges encountered by those of Mexican American descent while shedding light on a trajectory towards self-empowerment. It has approached the progression from challenging circumstances to the emergence of the Chicano movement, illustrating a persistent quest for equity and self-definition. Chabram-Dernersesian describes the border as "a space where commodities circulate and multinational interests seal the fates of less powerful nation states and populations that still carry the deep imprints of earlier histories of imperialism and colonialism"(2006, p. 96). The Chicano community, while grappling with the complex interconnections of culture and society, serves as a symbol of resilience, motivating successive cohorts to actively mold their individual trajectories. Despite the aforementioned struggle, the tenacity of this community and its ongoing fight for equality and recognition continue to influence American history and inspire future generations to usher in cultural pride, activism, and recognition. Their enduring legacy of empowerment reverberates through time, signifying the community's unyielding fight for recognition and equality in the dynamic fabric of American society.

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.

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.

Visual Sources

Cover image: Rodriguez, G. (1970). Chicano Moratorium, Boyle Heights.

Figure 1: Cedeno, M. (n.d) Power to the people.

Figure 2: Disturnell, J. (1847) Map of the United States of Mexico.

Figure 3: Rabassa, S. (2019) San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico.

Figure 4: Varela, M. (1968) A young Chicanita hawks La Raza newspapers at the Poor People's Campaign.


Author Photo

Daniela Sandoval

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