Who Declared War on the Word Chicano?
by Roberto Rodríguez
“The word Chicano, I learned, was not a denial of Mexican blood, rather it was a reaffirmation of it.”
Having been born in Mexico, my family moved to East L..A. when I was five years old. At that time, Spanish was not spoken too much and if you spoke it, you were considered a “wetback.” Since that is all I spoke when I first went to elementary school, I was a wetback. Crossing the border was instant education. I was brown, I was born in Mexico and I spoke nothing but Spanish. I was a wetback. They were brown, they were born in the U.S. and they spoke English — they were Americans. This was East L.A. in 1960. I knew something was wrong. I learned to speak English almost instantly.
So the years went by and I couldn’t understand the psychology of the Mexican-American. It seemed like the majority were ashamed to be Mexicanos. Many claimed to be Americans — they even denied having Mexican blood. But how could they explain their last name away? Easily — they were Spanish, they were Americans of Spanish descent. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why Mexicanos born in the U.S. side of the border, hated Mexicans, like myself, who had come over from Mexico.
At the time, I didn’t know the history of discrimination against the Mexican-American. All I knew is that because I had learned English fast, I was no longer considered a wetback. Because of this, I would constantly hear the extreme hatred Mexican-Americans had against Mexicanos.
So in Junior High — who was thinking politics? We weren’t. At the school I was going to, Eastmont Jr. High, we used to have food riots, walkouts, and sit-ins routinely. One of our walkouts happened to coincide with the big-time East L.A. walkouts of ‘68. At this time, I began to start hearing the word Chicano used in a context different from which I knew. I had always known La Chicanada to mean the plebe — La Raza Mexicana. Like I said, I wasn’t into politics, but I thought it was a heavy word. It was a word which said ‘soy Chicano — no soy Americano.” Because I was born in Mexico, I could not use the word Chicano in that context. How could I? I wasn’t an American, I wasn’t even a citizen.
I think I was in tenth grade when I heard Sal Castro, leader of the school walkouts on the Eastside, explain the meaning of the word Chicano and the Chicano movement. It was something heavy. The word Chicano, I learned, was not a denial of Mexican blood, rather a reaffirmation of it. It was heavier than that — it was understanding our indigenous roots, and at the same time, understanding the nature of Spanish colonialism. As a sixteen -year-old, all that stuff was heavy. To be Chicano was a rejection of all foreign labels. To be Chicano was to reaffirm our pride in our Raza. In those years, to call yourself a Chicano was the equivalent of committing a crime. It was sacrilegious. Even among our Raza — the word was looked down upon. To gavachos, it was rebellion — it was war. And that’s what the word came to stand for — RESISTANCE and DEFIANCE. Gavachos declared war on the word Chicano and all those who used it.
When the Sheriffs killed Ruben Salazar (along with Angel Diaz and Lyn Ward), a prominent columnist for the L.A. Times and news director for Spanish-language television station, KMEX, La Raza united in total resistance. Anyone who halfways knew what was going on, knew that the war on the Chicano was real. The only voice La Raza had, had been silenced. Ruben Salazar didn’t represent Chicanos, nor did he claim to, but just as important, he wrote about the problems afflicting La Raza.
Chicano… Resistance…Defiance. It was more than understanding our bloodlines… it was more than understanding our history. It was more than understanding the savagery of Spanish and Yanqui Imperialism, which was responsible for the rip-off of the Southwest. Chicano was to rebel. To be Chicano was to take a stand. To be Chicano meant NO COMPROMISE — NO ACCOMMODATION. To be Chicano was to say, “WE ARE NOT THE FOREIGNERS!”
“We are not the foreigners!”
When we were kids, we were told by gavachos to go back to Mexico — our response was “THIS IS MEXICO!” When we were called wetbacks, we would respond, “WE DIDN’T SWIM ACROSS THE OCEAN.”
When a gavacho told us we were foreigners — we just laughed. Gavachos we could deal with… but when a Mexican-American called us a wetback, that we couldn’t understand. So yeah, when the Chicano cried out that we were not the foreigners, it was a welcome cry to Mexicanos.
Despite all this, I could never get myself to call myself Chicano. I agreed with everything the Chicano Movement stood for — TOTAL RESISTANCE. Yet, the memories as a kid were too strong. I could never turn my back on Mi Raza Mexicana… but something happened during my senior year in high school. I was going to go college no matter what the cost. The message of “Edúcate Raza” had sunk in. So when I was up for admission to Cal-State L.A., a Chicano recruiter was interviewing me. I had satisfied all the requirements. Academically, I had no problem; and politically, East L.A. and the Movimiento Chicano was all I could think about. So the recruiter asked me: “Do you call yourself a Chicano?” I froze. In a split second I knew my answer would determine if I was accepted or not. I knew that Chicano recruiters were not interested in eggheads. They were interested in righteous Chicanos with a good head on their shoulders. After a split second, I responded: “You know what, nobody’s ever asked me what I call myself. I was born in Mexico and I grew up in East L.A… SOY MEXICANO…” I paused for a second. Thinking the recruiter had become irritated, I asked him, “Is there a difference?” I was accepted to Cal-State, but I ended up not going there.
I had answered my own question. There was no difference! LA MISMA RAZA… it was not a denial, it was a reaffirmation— and even more than that, it was TOTAL RESISTANCE and it was OPEN DEFIANCE.
Just as the Chicano declared war against oppression — the gavacho declared total war on the Chicano.
The militancy and resistance of the 1960s and 1970s has seemingly subsided although the Chicano population has doubled. Again, the Chicano is ready to revolt. Conditions which gave rise to Chicano power are worse today than 15 years ago. The threat of rebellion is real, but in the 1980s you cannot have the U.S. government turn loose its troops against a large segment of the population — the Mexican people. The U.S. has enough trouble trying to send troops into El Salvador. The U.S. can’t send troops against Chicanos to destroy us — they don’t have to. War and genocide occur in many ways.
The Spaniards were experts in genocide. So were the English and so were the Nazis. Genocide is not only the systematic and physical extermination of a people — it also occurs psychologically. Genocide against our race has never ceased. It continues daily. The method is a sophisticated psychological war against our minds.
Right now, there is a total war against the word CHICANO. What’s so important about a word?
The word CHICANO means TOTAL RESISTANCE. It means OPEN DEFIANCE. It means Y QUE!
This kind of mentality breeds rebellion. The U.S. cannot have whole generations of kids growing up questioning the rights of gavachos to walk all over us. On their side, they have media — and they have money. On our side, we have a whole generation of guerrilleros and guerrilleras, a whole generation who defied the “melting pot,” a whole generation who openly resisted.
This generation of defiant Chicanos are now in a position to educate our Raza. They are the teachers, they are the instructors and they are the professors. In the struggle for the minds of our Raza — the gavachos clearly outgun us. Their sophisticated psychological war is directed ingeniously by money. Money is the weapon that’s destroying our resistance and our defiance. Money is responsible for the extermination of the word Chicano. Today, all money coming out to Raza from the government sector is labeled “HISPANIC.” Everything relating to us is Hispanic. Why does the Government openly embrace the word Hispanic? Because the business sector heavily relies on government contracts, they also eagerly embrace that radical word Hispanic. Whereas ten years ago, gavachos dreaded hearing the word Chicano — now they openly promote and encourage the use of the word Hispanic. Pretty soon they'll be making us bow to the king of Spain. Why the big push to use that word? Has anyone ever bothered to find out what Hispanic means or represents? In the World Book Encyclopedia, the word Hispanic means Spanish… meaning that when you hear people talk about Hispanic culture, they are referring to Spanish culture. Spanish culture — what does it represent? In the Americas, Spanish culture is responsible for genocide. The Spaniards killed millions upon millions of our Raza. Spanish culture came to the Americas as a result of conquest — it was imposed on our population. Genocide on the part of the Spaniards is unequaled in the annals of human history. Spaniards invented the Orwellian Society in which black is white, white is black— right is wrong and wrong is right. Vestiges of Spanish colonialism are with us today. Chicanos/Mexicanos — an indigenous population — are taught to believe that if you are Mexicano, you are not Indian. In fact, the Mexicano is taught to hate the Indian. In the U.S., Mexicanos are legally considered Caucasian — AND SOME PEOPLE EVEN BELIEVE IT! In Mexico, there is fierce pride in “Our Indian Ancestors,” but somehow, at some point in history, the Mexicano ceases to be Indian. Where that break occurs, I don’t know, because the supposed break comes with the Mestizaje. The Mestizaje is a MYTH as is the concept of the cosmic race. Mexico is an indigenous country with primarily an indigenous population. There is, however, a European element in Mexico (also Central and South America), which controls and promotes Spanish and other European cultures. The concept of the mestizaje and its twin theory of the cosmic race are mythical inventions. When one hears mestizo, it implies that we are half-Spanish and half-Indian. This is not proven by history. Rather than mestizaje, a rape occurred. To begin with, in relation to the indigenous population, not that many Spaniards came to Mexico. Of those that came, the overwhelming majority were males. The free mixing, or rather the peaceful mestizaje between the two races never took place. The Spanish male raped the Indian woman. The Indian men never mixed with Spanish females.
Obviously, our race, even though tens of millions were slaughtered, is still here. We were the victims of the worst genocide in history. Those who survived were put into slavery and worse than that, a cultural, spiritual and psychological genocide occurred. Spanish culture was imposed on our race. Spanish and indigenous culture bear NO similarities whatsoever. They are poles apart… but that was hundreds of years ago. Independence in the 1820s throughout the Americas kicked the Spaniards back to Spain. However the Criollos (Spaniards born in the Americas) and Spanish culture remained. The revolution of 1910 was an indigenous revolt. It was a revolt against Diaz — but it was also against European interests and European ideas. It was an attempt to break the shackles of European (Spanish and American) culture.
In history, the revolt of Chicanos will also be seen as an indigenous revolt.
Here now in the 1980s — an attempt is being made to suppress the rebellion of the Chicano/Mexicano Indigenous Race.
The solution is simple. Impose Hispanic culture on our Raza. Hispanic culture is European — it is not indigenous… so… the war has begun… Hispanicize La Raza. We already kicked the Spaniards out once… and it seems like we’ll have to do it again, but this time, it will be a lot harder. This time, were not fighting Spaniards on horseback. Likewise, we cannot fight with spears and stones. The struggle is this - Europeanize La Raza or else… or else what? If the U.S. does not Europeanize us, then our Raza will reclaim our Indigenous roots. Meaning… that if we are Hispanics, we are proclaiming that we have European roots. This is not only important, it is the key to our future. By the year 2000, Raza will be the overwhelming majority in the Southwest. If our population is conned into believing we are Hispanics, then in effect, we are saying that we are immigrants. So the real immigrants, gavachos, claim to be the Native Population, while we, the Native population are treated like the foreigners. We become subject to deportation. It’s twisted logic — but it’s already here with us.
Our only hope is to struggle against ideas which lend credence to the belief that we are foreigners — WE ARE NOT THE FOREIGNERS!
It sounds like a lot of hot air over nothing— over a couple of little insignificant words. Well, like stated earlier, we are engaged in a very sophisticated psychological war.
In twenty years the difference between Chicano and Hispanic will mean the difference of a South Africa-type situation in which the native majority is ruled by a minority; in which the native majority is considered the foreigners and in which the native majority is subject to deportation.
The word Hispanic is not interchangeable or synonymous with the word Chicano. They are diametrically opposed to each other. Again, why the big fuss over a word? Because there is nothing positive about Hispanic culture in the Americas. Hispanic culture in the Americas is the equivalence of imposing Nazi culture upon Jews. To promote Hispanic culture is not to understand history correctly.
The Spaniards were responsible for the slaughter of millions. We cannot forget that part of our history. Promoting the word Hispanic as something positive is denying that genocide of our race ever took place. It is hard not to use the word Hispanic because it is all pervasive. Everywhere you turn, it’s Hispanic this or Hispanic that. If we had brought on the word ourselves, maybe it would be all right, but we didn’t.
That word is being shoved down our faces. You can’t ignore it, but you can reject it.
One of the main reasons it is pushed on us is because bureaucrats claim that Hispanic refers to not just Mexicans, but also to Central and South Americans, Caribbeans, etc. Hispanic might be a convenient term, but it is totally inaccurate.
The word Hispanic refers to no one but the European element which attempts to crush and suppress our indigenous culture — be it in North or South America. Consider the question:
Every time someone uses the word Hispanic— is that person consciously or unconsciously denying our indigenous culture?
(c) 1982 Corazón de Aztlan Magazine
East Los Angeles