A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

Chicano!

F. Arturo Rosales

El Movimiento, the Chicano movement that emerged in the mid-1960s, sought social justice for Mexican Americans. In that way it was similar to the African American Civil Rights movement. From its beginnings, however, el Movimiento was heavily influenced by ideas of cultural nationalism. The major statement produced by the movement, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, condemned the “brutal ‘Gringo’ invasion of our territories” and declared “the Independence of our Mestizo Nation.”

Increasingly, young Mexican American activists claimed for themselves the term Chicano, barrio slang associated with pachucos, the hip, rebellious, and sometimes criminal young men who symbolized a world that “respectable” Mexican Americans adamantly rejected. The most militant of these young people rejected a Mexican-American, hyphenated identity. As they explained in El Plan de Aztlán, the Mexican American “lacks respect for his culture and ethnic heritage … [and] seeks assimilation as a way out of his ‘degraded’ social status.” In contrast, they believed, their own chicanismo, or ethnic pride, made meaningful political action possible. Chicano activists did not seek assimilation; they sought the liberation of “la Raza.”

Historian F. Arturo Rosales chronicles an early event in the development of the Chicano movement, the East Los Angeles high school walkout of 1968. His story of the birth of “Brown Power” demonstrates once again the importance of grassroots protest in bringing about social change. But he, more than any of the other authors in this section, focuses on the large-scale structural factors underlying the movements for racial equality.

At the end of the 1950s Mexican American attempts to end the educational neglect affecting their people seemed to be making headway. No Mexicans were segregated by de jure methods anywhere in the

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