At the time I graduated from high school at the age of eighteen, I had no expectations about going to college. I observed, however, that a large number of my white (“Anglo”) fellow graduates had left town to go off to college. As for my fellow Chicano and Chicana graduates, they would go off to join the armed services, get married, and/or find a job. I did not see that social phenomena as being anything but the norm, for most Chicano families, for I knew that either they could not afford to send their kids to college, or that they had not been able to save for college. One thing that I took upon myself to do after I graduated, however, was to get involved with the Jr. G.I. Forum in my hometown. You see, in my senior year in high school, I had been vice president (and concessions chairman) of the student council, and so I had gained some insight into how organizations are run. So I used that experience to get the Chicano and Chicana youth in my home town organized and functioning as a state-recognized chapter by the American G.I. Forum. We even raised enough money to send a rep to the annual state convention!
So, you ask what does that past experience have to do with being Chicano? Actually, at the time I was doing that “activist” work, I did not know that I was developing any Chicano activist identity. I also did not know that being involved with an organization which focused on the rights of Mexican Americans previously serving in the armed forces, would raise my consciousness (about our people) to greater heights. Such awareness raising (unbeknownst to me) started me on the road to thinking what things in our society impacted significantly on a group of people known as being of Mexican descent. Oh yes, there was also a LULAC chapter in our town, but we thought of them mainly a “social activities” type of group that put on an annual ball. Nevertheless, my “Weltanschauung” at that time did not include my knowing of any organizations in the nation, such as the G.I. Forum, who were trying to address the needs of Spanish-surnamed peoples. But a philosophic “seed” had been planted in me, and it blossomed later into my knowing that to be Chicano, one also had to be an activist, not just a couch potato at home talking about being active.
By the time I went off to college to the University of Texas at Austin at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I had the general sense about myself as being “American”, but that was chiefly my U.S. identity, not my ethnicity. In fact, I did not know of any other identity for myself except to call myself “Chicano” or to tell others that I was of Mexican descent. And I did not even know at that time about something called “ethnicity.” My identity, at that stage in my life came simply enough from the way our people in my hometown in West Texas referred to each other as “Chicano,” i.e., we frequently used the term “Chicano” to describe ourselves. We also threw around the terms “Mexican American,” “Mejicano,” and “La Raza,” but the chief term for ourselves was “Chicano,” if you were male, and “Chicana” if you were female. Keep in mind that this kind of term for our identity did not come from knowing about “The Chicano Movement” or “The Struggle for Civil Rights” and/or any “let’s-change-the-world” mentality. In fact, at that point in my life, I had not heard of anything pertaining to Chicanos that was going on nationwide.
So what does this tell you? It tells you that I was “Chicano” before I knew that I was or was not supposed to be “Chicano.” So then, you may ask, what is it that tells a person whether he is or is not Chicano? One answer to that question can be found when we examine the definition of “ethnic,” which is defined as “a consciousness of kind” by anthropologists. In other words, I did not have to read about being Chicano, or hear lectures about it, nor understand that I was another kind of ethnicity—I just knew my ethnicity. In fact, when I began college, I had not even heard of the word “ethnicity” nor did I care if I had it or did not have it. So the way to know if one is Chicano is that you just have a sense of or a “consciousness of kind” that you are that—usually through your the socio-cultural environment in which you grew up, i.e., your upbringing, and the nomenclature you use to describe yourself to others in your barrio.
One other thing, as well, that a lot of people do not understand, about many of us Chicanos in the U.S., is that we did not need the “Chicano Movement” to tell us that we were “Chicano.” We pre-Chicano Movement Chicanos were perfectly happy to be “Chicano” and go on struggling with our lives without the movement. But then there was this great nationwide interest in civil rights for Chicano/as, equal educational opportunity for Chicano/as, bilingual bicultural education for Chicano/as, greater economic opportunity for Chicano/as, Chicano Studies Programs for Chicano/as, affirmative action for Chicano/as, etc., etc. And then suddenly, it was cool to be “Chicano” or “Chicana” because of all the above-mentioned things being proposed and subsequently funded. Ironically, just like we say about the U.S.-Mexican border, the Chicano Movement crossed over us (we Chicanos in the U.S), we did not cross it (unwittingly).
But what I can say about the way in which the Chicano Movement came into our lives, was that it became a major area of study during in the ethnic studies movement, which likewise also motivated the Multicultural Education Movement in the U.S. For those of you who want to read an overview of the significance of Multicultural Education in the U.S., you can do so by going to: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2252/Multicultural-Education.html.
That field of study has been called by others Equity Pedagogy, and is seen as an essential component of Multicultural Education. The thing that was likewise happening at that stage in my life was what Paulo Freire called developing a “critical consciousness,” or the ability to perceive social, political, and economic oppression and to take action against the oppressive elements of society. And that may possibly have been one of the best things about perceiving oneself as “Chicano,” i.e., Chicanos have a heightened sense of awareness about taking action against injustice, inequity, and oppression than most other ethnic groups.
I was so influenced by the area of multicultural education (which some say was an outgrowth of ethnic studies education), that I wrote my doctoral dissertation on that very topic. The name of my dissertation was Acceptance by Social Studies Teacher Educators of the Basic Tenets of Multicultural Education. The Chicano Movement was also, in my opinion, a prime motivation for the Bilingual Education Movement in the U.S.—I also got deeply involved with that. That movement attempted to address the needs of children who were limited English proficient, as was the case with many Chicano children. Knowing that bilingual education could impact on the education and development of millions of children in the U.S. who had linguistic and cultural roots such as mine, therefore, gave me lots of hope and motivation for being Chicano. I was proud to be bilingual, too.
But the story does not end there, for I am also of the school of thought that one cannot be Chicano if one does not have a strong foundation in Chicano History. I therefore believe that one cannot be Chicano or Chicana without knowing about the significant events and happenings of our people. You see on February 2, 1848, when the U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that event turned over the lands of ten future states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, as well as parts of Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma, a territory larger than France, Spain, and Italy combined.
After Feb. 2 1848, however, some ranch lands in West Texas belonged to a my ancestors of Mexican descent with the surname of Gonzales. They were “Gonzales lands” prior to being called “Texas” lands.” And as such, around 1848 my great great grandfather would have lived on lands that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was supposed to protect. But my great great grandfather, and his family were part of those people who have historically come to be known the “conquest generation” (Ortego y Gasca, 2015). Most importantly my ancestors were supposed to be protected by the U.S. Constitution. But they were not.
But herewith is perhaps one of the most important things about identifying as Chicano—one’s genealogy. Persons of Mexican descent who have not made an attempt (to the best of their ability) to find out about their ancestry, are missing out on possibly the best thing about being Chicano or Chicana. Here’s why: by knowing one’s genealogy, persons of Mexican descent in the U.S. can better determine what persons from their family tree were in the U.S. when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. By knowing that, this gives those ancestors the citizenship rights to promised to them by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In addition, if one knows in what part of the U.S. one’s descendants were living when the treaty was signed, it is very likely that one may have some claim to those lands which were supposed to be protected by the treaty.
You see, it’s important to know also that persons who identify as Chicano historically have a legacy (both in time and place) with the peoples of Europe and the Western Hemisphere, unlike any other people in other parts of the world! It’s important to know therefore that Chicanos are a bridge between those two worlds and those two peoples. In addition, when the U.S. defeated Mexico in the war between those two countries, it began a chapter in American history in which the Chicano people became an even more important linguistic and cultural bridge between the U.S. and all the countries south of the Rio Grande. Chicanos are historically, culturally, and linguistically “sandwiched in” between those two worlds.
As a matter of fact, Chicanos have many times been described as the people in the middle between the Spanish-speaking peoples to the south and the English-speaking peoples to the north. And what is even more interesting, Chicanos don’t always want to let go of either of those two worlds. It’s been said that the future of democracy in the U.S. may depend on the ability of its citizens to function within and across cultures—Chicanos are living proof of this! After all, why should Chicanos have to choose between U.S. and Mexico? Who’s to say that they should adopt predominantly one language or one culture? And even if they can choose one citizenship, why can’t they have dual citizenship? So being Chicano can be twice as much fun, even if sometimes dualistic. Nevertheless, I contend that Chicanos may very well be the answer to saving democracy in the future.
So if persons are interested in knowing about how to distinguish between Chicanos and other Spanish-surnamed persons in the U.S., I have taken the liberty of applying what is called Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Skills to enable one to distinguish Chicanos from other persons of Mexican descent. For those of you not familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, he developed the classification of levels of intellectual behavior important to learning. (For information about Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain go to: http://ww2.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.html). Keep in mind, however, that this paradigm is meant to be exemplary, and not exhaustive. You see, it will remain to history and others who follow to confirm or dispute what I am posing to you as a way to know if a person is or is not Chicano.
I contend that if they are Chicano, they have to be able to answer the following questions:
a. Can that person recall ever identifying as Chicano or Chicana?
b. Can that person explain or describe why they are Chicano or Chicana
c. Can that person apply information about Chicanos to themselves?
d. Can that person distinguish between being Chicano or another ethnicity?
e. Can that person defend or support why they are Chicano or Chicana?
f. Can that person create a new point of view about a Chicano or Chicana?
Hint: The answers to these questions are demonstrated by me herein, and the answers can be found in the pages that precede this final page. I hope you agree. Enjoy.
Copyright 2015 by Dr. Margarito Garcia III.