CHICANOS? LA RAZA UNIDA? LATINOS IN TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA ARE FIGHTING THE SAME FIGHT.
Recently I found myself in a room with Chicanos from East LA, Tejanos from the South Texas border, and even a few Tejanos from South Texas who have spent time around Chicanos from East LA. I was in Austin for South by Southwest and attending one of the few Latino-centric events at the festival.
Music from the Chicanos from East LA was playing while Tejanos from South Texas were enjoying themselves with the novelty of it. “Somos Chicanos,” the song went, which kind of made me chuckle to myself. Having grown up in LA with family from South Texas, the jarring context of those words made me laugh for several reasons. One, most people I meet in Texas never use the word “Chicano,” two I don’t think the band members either knew this or would have understood it, and finally the curiosity with which the Tejanos perceived the East LA Chicanos stood out to me but I didn’t think was perceived by most.
All of the commotion made me realize that, oftentimes, the confusion between Texas and California Mexican Americans may be because of a simple error in translation. In several ways, I would say, the Chicano identity which falls flat in Texas is similar to the Raza Unida legacy (or its current iteration) in terms of politics, values and goals.
Essentially, Tejanos are still fighting the same fight that Chicanos in California were fighting years ago.
During the anti-immigrant legislative wave of the 1990s in California, lawmakers and conservative voters in the state targeted Latinos vis a vis immigrants with ditties like Proposition 187 and Proposition 209. I remember these because I was marching in protests in downtown LA against them, holding signs and taking pictures, the whole enchilada.
Later, when I worked as a journalist in Texas I found myself encountering similar sentiments from the powers that be with redistricting fights, voter ID laws and pointed squabbles over educational funding. This couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?
To be clear. Today in LA, part of the Chicano identity (at least that I perceive) is pride over the victories in the past, the civil rights movement and educational victories of previous decades. This pride is reflected by a feeling of empowerment, one that comes with having a Latino mayor and a city where being Latino is no longer a liability granted that the extent of all of these things is debatable.
In Texas, I perceive a similar attitude. Activism is about the pursuit of politics and policies that will better serve Latinos in that state. It’s the politics of education, equity, access, class, and more often than not, race. The fights that light up Chicano movement legend(s) in California are still alive and active in Texas. While Chicanos may call themselves activists, most of the Tejanos I know say they are against a particular policy or law, but ultimately they’re having the same conversation.
In my experience, Tejanos and Californianos are wont to tease one another, or make jokes at each others’ expense. There sometimes seems to be a disconnect, perhaps one that is informed by a thousand of miles, but not one informed by drastically different experiences, hopes or dreams. As a Latina who has family in both of these great states, who’s lived and worked across them, and who hopes for great things for all Latinos, my recent visit to Austin seemed like a great gift. A room full of Tejanos jamming out to music from East LA and everyone seemingly forgetting about all of those miles between them seemed like the start of something good and it maybe not be so new!
Sara Inés Calderón
la vida es dura, pero es bella