By Wendy Davila
The 1960s was a prominent year for the United States, the world was on the brink of war and the Civil Rights Movement was ignited for everyone to join in and fight for their human rights. What we usually skip out on during History class in High School is El Movimiento, or better known as The Chicano Movement.
The term Chicano was predominantly used by wealthier Mexican Americans to describe Mexican-Americans who were on the lower end of the social spectrum. It was just another way of putting down those who were born here yet stuck close to their roots. Being called a Chicano was almost the equivalent of being called a “beaner” or a “wetback”.
During the uproar of the Civil Rights Movement, Mexican Americans started to have their walkouts in Texas and Los Angeles, California then joined in on the protests and fighting for their rights. Latinos were going through their fair share of racism and segregation, and it’s rarely spoken about. The same unfortunate events such as African Americans had to be segregated and drink from different water fountains happened on the West coast to Latinos. They received the same cruel treatment that was occurring in the rest of the country, a treatment fueled by racism and discrimination.
Chicano was a term first-generation Mexicans snatched back and made it their own, proud to be of Mexican descent and born in America. It can be hard finding your identity when your household resembles one culture and your social life represents another. Some feel intimidated not being “Mexican enough” for their family or speaking with an accent when they're out with their friends. Being called Latino meant that you could be from anywhere in Latino America and Hispanic simply labeled you as Spanish speaking, but Chicano means so much more. It is a term that first-generation Mexicans can claim to feel connected to both their heritage and overall their new and individual identity.
Newfound leaders and justice seekers within the community found inspiration to take back their Mexican legacy and found hope for a better future. Amongst those stood David Sanchez, the creator of the Brown Berets which is a pro-Chicano movement. The Brown Berets became the symbol for Latinx social justice, which led to the Chicano Blowouts of 1968, also known as the East L.A. walkouts. These walkouts consisted of 15,000 to 22,000 students presenting 39 demands to the LA Board of Educations. After constant resilience and protests, more Latino educators were hired, created bilingual classes, and improved the student environment. Chicanos then felt the encouragement to enroll in school and a year after the walkouts occurred enrollment jumped 1,800 percent. Brown Berets are still prevalent and some wonder why they aren’t fighting for current issues such as immigration and police brutality. Sanchez announced that the organization is still here and ready to fight the great fight but they have to get organized to make a stand. Other organizations such as “Mijente” and “Moviemento Cosecha” are currently the organizations that are paving the way for justice within the Latino community.
The Chicano movement wasn’t only to create an identity and fight for social justice alongside our sisters and brothers but also to fight for our farmworkers. Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta became the visionaries for United Farm Workers. Immigrants who have just crossed the border fled to the fields to look for work but were met with underpaying jobs, racism, discrimination, and unmet promises. Many farmworkers were afraid of even joining the meetings let alone the protests because they were afraid of losing their jobs and being deported back to their country of origin. Chavez and Huerta were in the midst of a 25 day fast and people were losing hope of even getting a little of the demands they were asking for when the phrase “Si Se Puede” came to be. It translates to “Yes we can”, three simple words that pushed the movement forward. Three simple words that ring to this day when Chicano’s demand change, it's a phrase that reminds them that they can do anything against any odds. United Farm Workers created many changes when they first started and continue to make them now thanks to Huerta who stands with resilience to make the change. “Si Se Puede” became so famous that many other moments started to adopt it because it encouraged hope and pride for what their cause was.
Some people are afraid of the word Chicano, it’s much more assertive, proud and even some would say a political statement. Chicano Culture is a movement of pride, it started with demanding change and respect and now it’s the acceptance of both cultures becoming one. It is no longer a slur but a word of pride and hope for a better future. Chicanos deserve a place in History where their triumph is put on a pedestal and admired, they fought for peace and human rights alongside other movements such as Martin Luther King did. When someone says they are Chicano, they are simply stating that they are proud to be Mexican American and will continue to fight for justice and what their people deserve.
Wendy Davila is an editorial intern who is knowledgeable in all things environment, sustainability and arts and culture.