The Road to Chicano Identity

I was very young when I first heard the word Chicano. I asked my mother what the word meant and she explained it as a term for militants. Apparently this explanation was sufficient because I didn’t question it even though I was far too young to understand what a militant is.

It did not come until several years later when I was a teenager in high school. That was then when I first read Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The book is a recounting of a drug addled weekend Thompson spent in Las Vegas with his attorney Dr. Gonzo. I was fascinated by this book and wanted to learn everything I could about it.

One thing I did learn was that Dr. Gonzo was a stand-in for Oscar Z. Acosta, a Los Angeles based civil rights attorney who was investigating the death of journalist Ruben Salazar with Thompson. Then I read Acosta’s books Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockroach People. These books introduced me to Chicano activism without necessarily motivating me to involve myself in that activism.

I then joined the army where I went into a militaristic phase and forgot all about the idea of Chicano activism. The idea of activism did come back to me after I left the service. This next phase of interest was more encompassing. I read Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, though instead of going deeper into the Chicano literature I turned to books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I read authors like Victor Villasenor, Ilan Stavans, and Luis Rodriguez, but I was also fascinated by the work of Joseph Campbell and the translations of Thomas Cleary.

When my eldest daughter Annette was born I became more pragmatic (I did read William James). Activism was then more of an interest than an activity. I again forgot about the idea of the Chicano for many years. Then, while I was in grad school, I learned about identity theory. Identity politics plays a very definite role in identity theory. Though I did not yet apply identity theory to the idea of being a Chicano, those theories were available to me when the Chicano concept came back to me.

After I earned my master’s degree I took some Chicano studies classes at East Los Angeles College. I was looking to learn enough to generalize my graduate thesis to Hispanic, mainly Mexican, communities. I found something that was not quite what I was looking for.

I found that many of the young people I encountered were trying to establish their own identity. Though I am not sure that they saw what they were doing this way, I recognized it because of my studies of identity theory. They were attending these classes to get a degree in order earn themselves a better income and position in life. They are also, generally speaking, still trying to learn how to learn. I saw a lot of my younger self in those faces. I found much I could identify with in their yearning to better themselves.

I have since learned that Chicano identity is not simply tied to demographics. Technically speaking, as the American born child of American born parents of Mexican descent, I am by definition a Chicano. However, the adoption of a Chicano identity also relates to political militantism as my mother described to me.

I learned from these classes is that I am a Chicano regardless of whether I claim it as my identity or not. I grew up not interested in claiming Chicano as a factor in my identity; that I am Mexican has always been sufficient to explain my origins to anybody who had an interest. The truth is that I am not really a Mexican except, perhaps, in an atavistic sense.

I am an American citizen. I watched American TV growing up. I listened to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and heavy metal music growing up. I loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I served in the US Army.

Physiognomy, however, betrays my fundamental Americanness, at least in the context of United States citizenship. My brown skin invites the question, “Where are you from?” In certain circumstances my command of the English language draws confusion and inquires into how I learned to speak so well. Some people are incredulous when I detail my educational accomplishments. I have never really been the type of person who can abide this kind of contempt. I fight back.

This is where the identity politics comes into play. The color of my skin, my belligerent nature, my interest in politics, and my education all suggest that in American (US) society I do not know my place. That I participate in politics and can stand up for myself when necessary mark me as a militant. I never thought so, I just thought I was exercising my rights as a citizen.

I do know I am stepping out of my place because I have been told so by political rivals. I have been told what is appropriate to discuss and what is inappropriate to civil political discourse. What amuses me about these conversations is that my heritage, that which makes me what I am, is always inappropriate to civil discourse. I have been told time after time that we do not have race or class in the United States. To bring these issues up makes me sound like a militant. Even without trying, it seems that I am a Chicano.

Trump World

My dislike of Donald Trump is no secret. I have been openly railing against him for over a year and a half. I have disliked him far longer, though I cannot recall the origins of my spite for him.

So yesterday this buffoon was elected President of the United States. His running mate is a blithering right-wing moron. In my estimation, maybe the best thing that happens is Trump goes down in infamy (which seems likely) and Pence runs the country over the next four years.

In either case, whether Trump continues to rule or Pence does so in his stead, they got to this office because of their overtly racist attitudes. I will not make any claim that they won the election despite their racism because I am not an apologist for the system; I am a political pragmatist and it is my job to view the political system in the light of reality and acknowledge its ugliness when I see it.

Trump has attacked many constituencies: the disabled, African-Americans, and women come immediately to mind. I am sure there are more that I can speak to, but my big concern is his attacks on Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent. This is not to imply that I think Mexican identity is more important than anything else, though I have no trouble admitting this concern comes down to self-interest. I am an American citizen of Mexican descent.

Trump began his campaign by villainizing Mexican immigrants. Though his rhetoric has since grown to encompass immigrants in general, he started out specifically targeting Mexicans. When Scott and Steve Leader assaulted a homeless Hispanic man in Boston on August 19, 2015, Trump stated “the people that are following me are very passionate.” He later issued a perfunctory disavowal of the incident on Twitter (21 August 2015).

Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel earlier this year are what I find most repulsive. In his statements Trump implied that Curiel’s heritage (born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents) made him unqualified to be a judge. Trump actually stated that dispite Curiel’s “Spanish” and “Hispanic” heritage he had not asked the judge to be recused.

The promise to “Make America Great Again” means what? It harkens to the days when minority populations in the United States were second class citizens.When minorities were attacked and beaten by groups of white men and then arrested for disturbing the peace. The rhetoric against immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, has energized the overly racist thorughout the nation.

At this point we can only wait and see what happens next. I will pour my energy into making sure that any attempts to remake second class citizenship are met with stiff and effective resistance. I want to make one particular point explicit: do not think your citizenship or ideological perspective will save you from the racism that Trump and his cronies promote. White supremacy means that if you are not white, you belong to the underclass.