July, 2000

What is a Chicano?

There are several theories concerning the origin of the term Chicano; the most prominent is that it is derived from Mexicano, which comes from Mexica (pronounced "meshica"). Whatever its origin, the term was in widespread use by the 1950's and gained popularity in the 1960's. It is also during this time that the term ABlack@ gained popularity in place of the terms Negro and Colored People. It was the young black community angry at the racism that was being perpetuated against them who burned and destroyed several cities.

Some historians called it Athe riots@, others called it Athe Black Revolution@. ABlack is Beautiful@ was slogan that gained popularity during this time. . However many older black people wanted to be called ANegro@ or AColored@ because they did not wish to be identified with the word black which for some represented the turmoil of the times. So to, many older Mexicanos refused to accept the term Chicano, instead proudly identifying themselves as Mexicano!

Many Chicanos, Mexicanos born on this side of the border, suffered an identity crisis, they did not want to recharsar (throw away) their proud Mexicaness instilled by their parents and yet they were not from Mexico. Building on that cultural pride many responded by identifying themselves as Chicano. This auto-identification became an important part of our lives.

Armando B. Rendon in his book A Personal Manifesto, defines Chicano in this way:
Chicano is a beautiful word. Chicano describes a beautiful people, Chicano has a power of its own. Chicano is a unique confluence of histories, cultures, languages, and traditions. Chicano is the one unique word of the Mexican American people. Its derivations is strictly internal; it owns nothing to the Anglo penchant for categorizing ethnic groups.

Some people felt that if the word was not in Webster=s Dictionary then Chicanos did not exist. It is my contention that we do not need Webster to define who we are. Chicano is a word in the process of being defined. Some feel it is a word, that is indefinable but must be lived rather than placed in a dictionary. Armando continues . . .
perhaps the answer to developing a total Mexican American concept must be left in the hands of the artist, the painter, the writer and the poet, who can abstract the essence of what it is to be Mexican in America . . . When that understanding comes . . America will have been aculturized by the Chicanos

Another definition found in The Dale Gas Art Catalogue defined Chicano as a:
Mexican American involved in social political struggle to create a relevant contemporary and revolutionary consciousness as a means of accelerating social change and actualizing an autonomous cultural reality among Americans of Mexican decent to call oneself Chicano is an overt political act!

Chicano Literature

Beginning in 1960's there was a burgeoning literary movement which found expression in such publications as EL MALCRIADO (The Brat), the official publication of the United Farmworkers Union; CON SAFOS (an idiom meaning - this is the last word; EL POCHO CHE , (the reference here is to the Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara).

These newspapers and magazines often carried poetry which expressed the context, aims, and passions of the Chicano struggle . . . that was inseparable from the Chicano social and political movement of the same time. A struggle for social and economic empowerment as well as the fierce assertion of dignity and self-identity, the Chicano Movement found vocal expression

The period of the 1960's has been termed the Chicano Renaissance, for it signals the beginning of the contemporary period in Chicano literature. Ricardo Sánchez, Corky Gonzalez, Alurista, Angela de Hoyos, Jose Montoya, Jose Montalvo are a few of the poets being recognized at this time.

The word Chicano has always been used by Mexicans in Mexico, It is not new. In the past it was applied to lower class Mexicans by the upper class. The term Chicano has been chosen by Mexican Americans to identify themselves. The Chicano is basically any person of Mexican ancestry who calls himself a Chicano, it provides a sense of identification not given to them by the majority of people in the U.S.

A Chicano is proud of his heritage, a person who is responsible and committed to peace and justice willing to help all people, especially those of his or her own community. A Chicano because he is not ashamed of his heritage nor does he aspire to be what he is not or can never be--Anglo. Once the word is accepted, the person who accepts it philosophically accept his heritage, his brown skin without shame or reservations.


There is no single Chicano spoken language; there are several . . . predominately Spanish and English, however many Chicanos, especially in urban area, speak and understand a variation calo pocho or pachuco. This mixes English and Spanish grammars, structures, and vocabularies to form a hybrid language; it combines both languages, while adding new words and structures.

There are poems completely in English and others entirely in Spanish, but many employ both languages and even include all variations. Frequently a poet will use these different variations in the same poem and just as frequently, in the same line, thus reflecting a natural phenomenon in chicano speech called code-switching. This occurs in the speech of bilingual; people because a word or phrase in one language most readily occurs to a speaker at the moment of utterance.
This code switching is not because of a lack of knowledge of the other language.

Adapted from: Understanding Chicano Literature by Carl R. Shirley & Paula W. Shirley, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1988.

The following collection of poems in this workbook was selected to be used with the students. These poems have been chosen because of the content as well as the form that the poem takes. They are examples of the different styles of writing which hopefully will encourage and inspire the students in their own writing.