The person who is politically self-described as Chicano, mestizo in terms of race, and Latino or Hispanic in regards to his/her Spanish-speaking heritage, and who numbers in the millions in the United States cannot be summarized nor neatly categorized.
It is erroneous to categorize Chicano/as as immigrants (which implies that they are newly arrived and equated with those groups from Europe and other countries) who must only pay their dues as European immigrants did and over time they too, will become part of the U.S. social fabric. While there is admittedly an ongoing growing population migrating from Mexico (as from other parts of the world today), a large percentage of Chicano/as are not immigrants. In fact, the ancestors of many are from the Southwest United States and were not solely Spanish or Mexican but Amerinidan. The ethnic and racial definition of Mexic Amerindian is used here to assert both indigenous blood and the source, at least in part, of a particular spirituality.
As Mexic-Amerindians, Chicano/mestizos have descended from people with blood ties traceable on these continents for many thousands of years, people who left phenomenal records demonstrating artistic and scientific brilliance.
Chicano history is inextricably tied to United States history because of the Mexican-American war whereby half of Mexico’s territory was appropriated by the United States over one hundred fifty years ago in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848).
Hispanic as the ethnic label for all people who reside in the U.S. with some distant connection with the culture brought by the Spaniards during the conquest of the Americas is a gross misnomer. The word promotes an official negation of people called “Hispanic” by inferring that their ethnicity or race is exclusively European rather than partly Native American (as are most Chicano/as), or African American (as are those descendants of the African slave trade along the Caribbean coasts). Hispanic gives all one ultimate paternal cultural progenitor: Spain. The diverse cultures already on the American shores when the Europeans arrived, as well as those introduced because of the African slave trade, are completely obliterated by the term. It is important to remember the brutal and inhuman subjugation that not only Amerindians experienced under Spanish and other European rules in Mexico and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, but all those of mixed blood. Indeed, shortly after the Conquest of Mexico, Spanish rule set up a complex caste system in which to be of mixed-blood virtually excluded you from full rights as citizens and protection by the law. Jews and Moors in that Catholic society also experienced racist attitudes. Just as with today’s African-Americans, among mestizo/as and Amerindians, the result of such intense, legislated racism throughout centuries is demoralization. As one historian puts it regarding the Mexic Amerindian people, “Trauma and neuroses linger still, and may not be entirely overcome. For the Spaniards in Mexico did not commit genocide; they committed culturecide.”
Curiously, in Spanish, when a person has facility in a language to get by, Chicano/Latino/as will say they can “defend” themselves [me defiendo]; there are now a substantial number of Latinos who are defending themselves against Anglophile culture.
Chicanos have sometimes been called “countryless people” in the sense that they flounder between invisibility and a tacit hope that they may be accepted here and awarded the benefits of acculturation. Here is what Ana Castillo has to say:
“Looking different, that, is not being white nor black but something in between in a society that has historically acknowledged only a black/white racial schism is cause for great anxiety. Our internalized racism causes us to boast of our light coloring, if indeed we have it, or imagine it. We hope for light-skinned children and brag no end of those infants who happen to be born güeros, white looking; we are downright ecstatic if they have light colored eyes and hair. We sometimes tragically reject those children who are dark.
On the subject of color and internal conflicts there are those who, despite identification with Latino heritage are light-skinned because of their dominating European genes or because one parent is white. For some this may be an added reason for internalizing racism, particularly when young (since it is difficult to explain the world to yourself when you are growing up. But for others, while their güero coloring may cause tension for a variety of reasons in their home, chosen communities, and when politically active against racism….
To compound our anxiety over our foreign-like identity in the United States is the fact that Mexican Americans are also not generally accepted in Mexico. We are derogatorily considered pochos, American Mexicans who are either among the traitors or trash of Mexico because we, or previous generations, made the United States home. Unlike the experiences that many African Americans have had in ‘returning’ and being welcomed in Africa, many U.S-born mestizo/as have found themselves more unwelcomed by mexicanos than white gringos.
Aside from skin color, language can add to the trauma of the Chicano’s schizophrenic-like existence. He/she was educated in English and learned it is the only acceptable language in society, but Spanish was the language of his/her childhood, family, and community. He/she may not be able to rid him/herself of an accent; society has denigrated his/her first language. By the same token, we may also become anxious and self -conscious in later years if we have no or little facility in Spanish. We may feel that we have been forced to forfeit an important part of our personal identity and still never found acceptability in white society” (38-39).
Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, New York: Penguin, 1994