IN SEARCH OF BEING CHICANO PART ONE
Do you think that you (yourself) are what is called “ethnic?” You see, the term ethnicity means “to have a consciousness of kind,” according to Ward Hunt Goodenough (1919-2013), who was an American anthropologist known for his work in kinship studies, linguistics, anthropology, cross-cultural studies, and cognitive anthropology. It was because of the work of Goodenough, in part, that I chose to write my dissertation on the topic called “The Acceptance of the Basic Tenets of Multicultural Education by Social Studies Teacher Educators.” (Is that title long enough for you?)
The reason that I was interested in the topic of “ethnicity” was because I was also interested in the specific ethnicity called “Chicanismo.” You see, I have spent a major part of my career in the field of education thinking and pondering about the topic of ethnicity as it pertains to why Chicanos and Chicanas identify as being Chicano and Chicana. And when it all boils down to it, we are Chicano (in my opinion) because we have what Goodenough called “a consciousness of kind.” This realization then triggers (in my mind) the question, “What kind of “kind” are we conscious of?” And so I believe that if I can answer that question, then I am more able to know if I identify as Chicano.
It seems to me (also) that being “Chicano” has a lot to do with a variety of parameters. According to Webster’s, “a parameter is an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system,” or a population, in the case of Chicanos. I think that an ethnic parameter, therefore, is a quality that describes a particular population of people. A parameter can be any of a set of various properties or values that determine the characteristics or behavior of someone. So if I am to identify with the “ethnicity” of Chicano, there are a number of parameters (or characteristic elements) that I will need to exemplify. (How many such ethnic parameters do you exhibit?)
However, there occurs a “dilemma” when I try to explain to non-Chicanos why I am “Chicano.” You see, people sometimes think that I am a Mestizo, or a Mexican-American, or Hispanic, and/or a “Latino,” and I tell them, no and yes—I am a little bit of each yet I am more than that. You see, I say that as a Chicano I am a unique amalgam and composite of things distinct from those labels. I don’t know how to explain it (always) that I am Chicano, it’s just that I have a “consciousness of kind” about being so. You see, sometimes I get the feeling that non-Chicanos are always trying to “ethnically cleanse” me so that I can be accepted or understandable to them. But I tell such persons that I don’t need to change or modify my ethnicity to be accepted or be understandable to others, rather, that I can be “different” and still be acceptable.
I often tell people that I am their “bronze” brother (figuratively speaking). You see, Chicanos are like some metals that get made from other metals or elements. For example when we combine copper with various alloys one gets bronze. According to Wikipedia bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper and the addition of other metals, usually tin, but sometimes phosphorous, aluminum, arsenic, manganese, and silicon. In addition, Chicanos are like some compounds whose ingredients do very little by themselves until they are mixed in just the right way to form something special. Take the recipe for mole, a dish which has become the culinary symbol of Mexico’s mestizaje. According to Wikipedia modern day mole is a mixture of ingredients from North America, Europe, and Africa, making it the first international dish created in the America’s. That description applies almost perfectly to Chicanos! Wouldn’t you agree?
But then there is the concern I have pertaining to what I call “linguistic (or nomenclature) ethnic cleansing” which are attempts by those persons that want Chicanos be defined by a certain kind of label (usually to their way of defining us). In addition, those who want to define us, seem to also want all other ethnic minorities to be labeled similarly! With regard Spanish-speaking populations in the Western Hemisphere, there seems to be a mindset held by many, for example, that we should all be called “Latino.” To which I then ask, “Who appointed you to define me as anything but Chicano?”
So I claim that what may be happening to Chicanos is that there is occurring “nomenclature ethnic cleansing” when naming the numerous Spanish-speaking ethnicities in the U.S. For example, others want to call a person from Mexico a “Latino” instead of Mexicano. Or others want to call a Mexican American citizen a “Latino” instead of Mexican American. And then there are those who want to call a Chicano a “Latino” instead of Chicano. It seems to be that the term “Latino” is used (by non-Hispanics) to act like an “ethnic cleanser” for Hispanic persons, and sometimes used sometimes by Hispanics to use against other Hispanics to describe various Hispanic ethnicities, identities, and/or nationalities. In other words a person from England has no right to come to me (a Chicano) in the U.S. and call me “Latino,” any more than a person from South America has the right to do so! I don’t like to be called “Latino,” do you?
Interestingly enough, “a recent PEW Hispanic Center Report, When Labels Don’t Fit, explained that “only about one-quarter (24%) of Hispanic adults say they most often identity themselves by “Hispanic” or “Latino,“ adding that “about half (51%) say they identify themselves most often by their family’s country or place of origin—using such terms as Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran of Dominican.” (Ortego y Gasca, 2013) Note that the PEW report did not use the term “Chicano or Chicana.” Please share this information with all of your Chicano/a, and/or Spanish-speaking, and/or Spanish-surnamed, and/or Spanish ancestry friends and persons, and ask them how they self-identify. They should know how they self-identify, am I right?
I want to thank Dr. Felipe Ortego y Gasca for sending me the following comment: “The term Chicano and its derivatives is not an ethnic identification, it’s a political and ideological sobriquet much like being a Democrat or Republican. For instance, I’m an Hispanic (not Latino) of Mexican extraction (ethnicity) who is an “American” therefore a Mexican American (ethno-political term) with an ideological bent as a Chicano. I reserve the term Latino for those American Hispanics whose origins are in Latin America (excluding Mexico).” Dr. Cirenio A. Rodrigues writes, “Yo Soy Chicano and refuse the term HISPANIC. No lo soy ni lo sere nunca. Soy Latino porque me identifico con mis hermanos de Las Americas. De HISPANIC (Invasores y criminales) no tengo ni las uñas.”
My response back to both of them was: Actually gentlemen, according to Goodenough’s definition, Chicano is “ethnic” as well. But additionally, “Chicano” is also political, ideological, artistic, philosophical, linguistic, historical, literary, social, musical, ethical, culinary, artistic, cultural, and/or anything we as Chicanos want it to be, don’t agree? It’s almost like a religion or a philosophy!
Dr. Ray Padilla (2015) contributed the following: “Most everyone has multiple identities, in the U.S. as a whole (but also around the world), and those identities are always shifting. Identities are not meant to be permanent. They are constantly shifting in the march of history. Our Chicano identity just happens to be one of the possibilities among many other identities that have existed and continue to co-exist in some cases. It remains for the future to see how these identities will persist or be modified.”
Copyright 2015 by Margarito J. Garcia III. Watch for “In Search of Being Chicano Part Two” next month.