Who/What Is a Chicano? Part One
Looking back at one of Ruben Salazar's most important and puzzling questions though my own journey and experience - part of a series on the Chicano experience.
Note: This is part of a series of essays I am writing for a book. It will chronicle my experience as a Chicano and the death of the Chicano Movement in the 21st century
I have not met that many Chicanos in my lifetime.
That might surprise you, but it’s true. That is to say that, I have met plenty of Mexicans, Mexicanos, Mexican-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Spanish, Latins, plain old Americans, Natives, Indigenous and more…but few bona fide Chicanos. Turns out, we are few and far between. Who knew?
And of the times that I have met Chicanos, rarely (if ever) do we agree on what it means to be Chicano.
That’s all considered part of the “fun” of the experience. Ha! It’s a close relative to the no true Scotsman fallacy.
I’d never considered the significance of this this until reflecting on the past couple of decades, and more importantly, on my own journey of self-determination and discovery.
I have, in a sense, painted myself into a corner with my identity and I am largely okay with that. I know who I am. It’s taken me a lifetime to arrive at this point. However, it’s not like a leopard can shed its spots - not that I have tried.
I am a Chicano, whether I like it or not.
Please understand that I cannot speak for anyone else. This is purely from my own experience. And I don’t know about you but I haven’t always been a Chicano.
Or maybe I should say, it’s entirely possible that I was born a Chicano but went years without knowing it. It was an awakening for sure.
These points raise several circle-jerking philosophical questions about the Chicano identity and experience. Is one born Chicano? If not, how does one become Chicano? Can anyone be Chicano or is it an exclusive club dictated by race, color, creed and nationality?
How does one know they are Chicano? Is there an official club membership and are there membership dues? Certificates of membership? Plaques? Ceremonies? Secret handshakes?
Ok, yes…there is a secret handshake but don’t tell anyone!
If you want to start a shitstorm of a debate, just ask any large group of so-called Latinos what is a Chicano and then wait for the fireworks. No one ever agrees. Feelings always get hurt and confusion (and anger) always remains. Again, all part of the “fun.”
In regards to these questions, many people (myself included) like to quote martyred journalist, Ruben Salazar:
“A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.” - Ruben Salazar, 1970
That sentence cuts through the bullshit with a machete. That is exactly what I am. No matter how many times I question and debate this issue, I usually come back to this quote as a summary of what a Chicano is and/or how I feel about it.
But the explanation is always more complicated. It only takes a couple of footsteps beyond this definition to get entangled in all sorts of other questions.
Is Salazar’s definition oversimplified? Yes and no. It is a complex issue.
Salazar himself knew this, which is why I like this quote by him even more than the previous one:
“What, then, is a Chicano? Chicanos say that if you have to ask you’ll never understand, much less become a Chicano. Actually, the word Chicano is as difficult to define as ‘soul.’” - Ruben Salazar, 1970
Beautiful. I would say that is spot on. However, it is quite hilarious to me that Ruben Salazar is credited with this affirmation when he did not identify as a Chicano himself! Again, ha!
I think he was close, however, to becoming a Chicano shortly before he was murdered. The fact that the government assassinated him tells me that they considered him a Chicano even if he did not.
Have you ever tried to define Chicano to a white person? A black person? A person from another country? To the youth of today who’s only sense of history comes from memes and YouTube and Wikipedia? It is frustrating.
More so if you do not really understand yourself, and this is common among us, especially now.
How then would you expect the media, politicians, corporations, academia, other nations, and anyone outside of our culture to understand what a Chicano is when so few among us understand it ourselves..?
And this is why we see the current bastardization of the word and the culture and why it is we are so lost as a people in this ridiculous era that we live in.
How can you expect others to know you when you don’t know yourself? And many would argue, this was all part of the plan to destroy the Movement. But I digress.