INTRODUCTION TO CHICANO POETRY
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
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!
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
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.
A NOTE ABOUT LANGUAGE:
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
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.