Hispanic Heritage Month is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate a distinct culture and its important contributions to a diverse world. In this spirit of education and appreciation, one might take the opportunity to learn about a distinct group within the broad Hispanic community. One example that holds historical and political significance is the Chicano/a group, which has made bold assertions about its own presence in American culture.
The term “Chicano” or “Chicana” is typically applied to a man or woman of Mexican origins living in the United States. There is some ambiguity regarding the application of the label.
According to Chicanas.com, “A Chicana or Chicano identity specifically rejects the idea that we must deny our Mexican heritage in order to be a ‘real’ American. To identify as Chicana means we are both Mexican and American…Some of us are immigrants, some of us are third generation descendants of Mexico, and some of us have been on this land since before it was the United States… we are diverse people.”
The essence of this identity might be considered a celebration of both past and present. A Chicano/a is aware and proud of his or her heritage, but also embraces the idea of being American.
Within a broader sociopolitical context, a historical “Chicano Movement,” known also as the movimiento, has contributed to ideas of public activism being associated with the Chicano/a population.
An important figure in the movimiento was Cesar Chavez, founder of United Farm Workers. His advocacy for agricultural worker’s rights became aligned with the growing Chicano movement through the 1960s and 70s, as explained by Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America.
Another indicator of the group’s unique cultural presence can be found in the existence of a Chicana feminist movement.
According to Latin Post, “Chicana feminism, also known as Xicanisma, examines the historical, societal, political and economic situations of Latinas in the United States and Latin America… [t]he struggles of Latinas were, and continue to be, different than those of other women in the United States.”
Not only might a Chicana feminist demonstrate a rejection of the patriarchal household, she is likely to be concerned about the wage disparity present between Latinas and many other people groups in the workforce. Here, race and gender issues are viewed as deeply intertwined, and both are dealt with through a vital perspective.
In many ways, a Chicano or Chicana can embody concepts which extend beyond race. Every individual in the world has a distinct history and different ideas about how they connect to that history, and this applies very dynamically to Chicano/as.
One perspective that may be shared is my own, as the daughter of a proud Chicana. My mother grew up understanding a rich family history involving an orphan’s destitution, his adventures with Pancho Villa, a migration, tireless factory labor and a struggle for education and assimilation which spanned multiple generations.
Impacted by everything her parents and grandparents had sacrificed, she proceeded with determination to become the first in her family to attend college. She now holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. In turn, she has instilled in me a drive to persevere toward success.
Because of this history and its influence, I value higher education as an opportunity afforded to me by the aspirations and toils of my ancestors. In this way, remembering my roots helps me to appreciate the life I live today, and that is why I have celebrated these roots during Heritage Month and have been proud of them during every month.
–Elisabeth Garratt, contributing writer