February 8, 2013

Whatever happened to the word "Chicano?"

When I was a kid, the Chicano Movement was a huge deal in Los Angeles. For example, in 1970 the local band El Chicano's instrumental Viva Tirado reached only #28 on the national Billboard chart, but it was #1 on KHJ-AM's Boss 30 Countdown for three weeks. It was ideal for blasting from the speakers of your lowrider as you cruised Van Nuys Blvd.
The point of the word "Chicano," which first shows up in Google's nGram around 1967 and peaked in 1976 before declining sharply, was that it referred to Mexican-Americans born in the U.S. The idea was to distinguish Mexican-Americans both from whites and from Mexicans, who often looked down upon Mexican-Americans as people who couldn't make it in Mexico. The Chicano Movement inspired a fair number of radical activists, such as Oscar Zeta Acosta, the original for Dr. Gonzo, Raoul Duke's "300-pound Samoan attorney" in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Whatever happened to Chicanos, anyway?

My guess is that despite the sizable outpouring of ethnic pride that the Chicano concept elicited from the Mexican-American masses, it didn't fit into elite plans for a broad Hispanic / Latino category, comprising both Mexicans and non-Mexicans and both immigrants and American citizens, whose vast numbers could be used to demand more Hispanic / Latino immigration, thus generating more jobs for Hispanic / Latino elites. "Chicano" was too particularist to be politically attractive to the top guys. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, can plausibly present himself to Republicans as the voice of Hispanic opinion, but the Cuban could hardly present himself to even the clueless GOP as the authentic leader of the Chicanos.

45 comments:

elvisd said...

Chicanos were eliminated in the Attack of the 30 Foot Chola.

FredR said...

They still use Chican(o/a) at the small liberal arts college I attended in Southern California.

Anonymous said...

If only we knew what happened to the words "mami" and "papi" we would be able to battle the invading hordes.

Dahinda said...

When I was a kid my hometown outside Chicago had a large Mexican American population that was made up of people who came from Texas or New Mexico. They were pretty much assimilated. Somebody at this time went around the town and spray painted "Viva Los Chicanos!" on various buildings. Later Mexicans from Mexico started to pour in to town and the faded "Viva Los Chicanos!" slogans on the buildings that were never removed, seemed like fossils from another era.

Anonymous said...

I think Chicanos were too Americanized, and the new group that came after then were more real Mecians that idenfied with Mexico not the US.

Joel said...

"Chicano" was a tool of the patriarchy. These days it's "Chican@"!

e.g. http://www.chicla.wisc.edu/mission.html

Benjamin I. Espen said...

My sister once referred to one of our upper middle class Mexican friends as a Chicana. Our friend reacted with horror, "I'm not low class!"

Rubio can't pretend to lead Chicanos for the same reason working class whites didn't support Romney.

Matt said...

Chicano is too set-apart; it is good for Mex-Ams to emphasize their distinctiveness as a population, but that both doesn't include the other "hispanics" and tends to lead to anti-immigration backlash. The new meme is that hispanics are basically bourgeois Americans prevented by some nebulous "institutional racism" from being properly bourgeois.

A similar narrative prevails for blacks, but experience has dimmed it somewhat.

Mr. Anon said...

"Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, can plausibly present himself to Republicans as the voice of Hispanic opinion, but the Cuban could hardly present himself to even the clueless GOP as the authentic leader of the Chicanos."

I don't know. He could try making public appearances cruising around in a low-rider, wearing a white T-shirt and a hair-net.

Anonymous said...

http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/02/best-movie-critics-of-all-time/wesley-morris

http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/morris/

James O'Meara said...

"The idea was to distinguish Mexican-Americans both from whites and from Mexicans"

Well, there's your problem. Enlightened progressive minds reject the very notion of "nations" and borders. Now we're all the same, hence open borders and amnesty.

Anonymous said...

Seems to have roughly coincided with Cesar Chavez's 'crusade' to organize the poor, downtrodden vegetable picking masses of California, and had really been a localised Californian term, loaded to indicate a particular caste of worker sheared off from the mainstream.
Of course, the forces of big business and the immigrationists (often of the hard left, ironically), combined to destroy all of chavez's efforts.
Perhaps the death of the word is related to the transformation of Mexicans from a caste apart to the dominant force in California. Now they hardly need to emphasise their separateness. It's more a case of 'Anglos' (another rubbish term)being forced to like it or lump it. "We're Mexicans we're here and F- you!".

Anonymous said...

After hearing the El Chicano instrumental, I am wondering what happened to instrumentals.

I vaguely remember that on the east coast you had Puerto Ricans and on the west Chicanos. As a curiosity the Hispanic on LA based tv show Sanford & Son was mysteriously Puerto Rican not Chicano.

Guest speaker explains aversion to ‘Chicano’
http://thedailycougar.com/2013/02/06/guest-speaker-explains-aversion-to-chicano/

Anonymous said...

Good jam. Hadn't heard it before.

Silver said...

"Chicano" was too particularist to be politically attractive to the top guys.

That may have something to do with it, but if you speak to Mexicans they'll tell you that its use as an ethnic identifier has fallen off a cliff even among themselves.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but whatever happened to the word Oriental? Or for that matter Occidental? Now we have to call Orientals "Asians". But what about brown people from India or Pakistan? Isn't that part of Asia too? Or how about white Russians in Siberia? About 80% of Russia is actually located in Asia.

Heh said...

"Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, can plausibly present himself to Republicans as the voice of Hispanic opinion, but the Cuban could hardly present himself to even the clueless GOP as the authentic leader of the Chicanos."

I don't know. He could try making public appearances cruising around in a low-rider, wearing a white T-shirt and a hair-net.


Campaign theme music: The Champs "Tequila"!

Anonymous said...

I wonder what would have become of the Mexican-American population if no other Mexicans had arrived since say 1980? (Legal or illegal). Would they be more assimilated? Would they be more English-speaking? Would there be more inter-marriage? Would their socio-economic situation be better or worse?

Anonymous said...

Chicanery, anyone?

Anonymous said...

I don't know. He could try making public appearances cruising around in a low-rider, wearing a white T-shirt and a hair-net. The white t-shirt and sometimes the hair-net was popular in the 1970's with Mexicans I think less so today. Most looked like they cross the Rio Grande or copy black dress and style.
2/8/13, 7:58 AM

David said...

No one has mentioned that when Freddie Prinze (star of TV's "Chico and the Man") died, all the steam went out of the appellation "Chicano" literally that night. Without Freddie, there was really no one in the broad popular culture who symbolized "Chicano." (Gregory Sierra, aka "Chano," vanished from "Barney Miller" the previous year.) I don't count females in this, since the appeal of Hispanic cuties is perennial in North American culture.

Baloo said...

Anon, "Oriental" is said to be a slur, now, and, consequently, we have to use "Asian," which is stupid, because in the UK, "Asian" refers to Indians/Pakistanis, and NOT to Chinese/Koreans, etc. So if you want to be clear, use Easasian or Mongoloid, I guess.

Anonymous said...

No one has mentioned that when Freddie Prinze (star of TV's "Chico and the Man") died, all the steam went out of the appellation "Chicano" literally that night.

That's funny. As a child of the 70s, when I think "Chicano", I think of Freddy Prinze and that's pretty much it.

Anonymous said...

I second the Freddie Prinze association with the word I had as a kid. He was the living embodiment of Mexican-American...the ur-Chicano. I seriously did.

It wasn't until later that I learned that Frederick Karl Pruetzel was the son of a German immigrant father, and a Puerto Rican mother.

john marzan said...

Is "latino culture" compatible with american culture, or rivals?

Anonymous said...

Where is our resident expert Nick Diaz? I am sure he has some theory related to the 1924 Immigration Act.

Anonymous said...

Baloo said..

"Oriental is considered to be a slur now..."


I can't understand why? I wouldn't take offense to being called an Occidental. What strange times we live in. Blacks long ago decided they no longer wanted to be called Negroes. But we still have monikers like the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

The white t-shirt and sometimes the hair-net was popular in the 1970's with Mexicans I think less so today."

Yeah, I haven't seen it since the 80s. I never got the hair-net thing.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but whatever happened to the word Oriental? Or for that matter Occidental? Now we have to call Orientals "Asians". But what about brown people from India or Pakistan? Isn't that part of Asia too? Or how about white Russians in Siberia? About 80% of Russia is actually located in Asia.

Both terms seem overly vague and obsolete. What's the point of lumping Saudis, Indians, and Japanese into a category too heterogeneous to mean anything? Asian and oriental mean completely different things depending on the country one is in. Orient literally means east... east of what though? Power and influence is now distributed across the planet in such a way that Europe cannot pretend it is the "center" of things without being laughed at.

ben tillman said...

A slur is an insinuation or allegation about someone that is likely to insult them or damage their reputation. There is no way "Oriental" can qualify as such. It is, however, verboten for other reasons. It provides a way to identify those whose reprogramming is not up to date.

Anonymous said...

The real test of whether "chicano" has dropped out of the lexicon is whether a public figure or teacher can be fired for using the word "chicanery".

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

What's the point of lumping Saudis, Indians, and Japanese into a category too heterogeneous to mean anything?"

To distinguish them from whites. That's ultimately the only thing that matters to those who decide such things: white - horribly, horribly evil white, and non-white.

stari_momak said...

The 'Chicano' culture could legitimately be seen as a uniquely American phenomenon, because after the 1930s the US government stopped the mass migration of Mexicans into the US that had started with their Revolution, and even reversed it somewhat. So Chicanos were left to adapt to their new country without a lot of input from the 'homeland'.

We the resumption of mass immigration in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then the amnesty of 1986 and it's aftermath, most of what was uniquely American has simply been swept away by purely Mexican culture. The situation now is more like mass movement of language and cultural frontiers (with isolated Anglo islands), rather than an isolated 'ethnic' population. In short, the expansion of Mexico and Mexicans across the border swamped Chicanism.

I thnk the Garfield=Roosevelt football game is still a big deal, however.

Anonymous said...

Or for that matter, Israelis, even the most white Ashkenazic ones, are Asians. So are Armenians. So are the Russians, Kazakhs, Turks, Georgians, Azerians living in a certain part of their countries.

Anonymous said...

Well, Chicago was one of the few places that had a good size Mexican population even for the 1070's at 10 to 15 percent. Maybe because it was a large city. Obama mention in his book hanging around Chicano types in College which means we should have known that Obama would be bad on immirgation. The Clintons also had a tie with El Paso because Hiliary did some social work there. The Clintons did some legalization of illegal Hispanics as well.

Anonymous said...

Now, the Repubicans like the Bushes and Reagan had contacts with Mexicans as well. Reagan believe it or not thought they were natural Republicans similar to the Vietnamise who in Reagan time supported the Republicians because of the anti-communists but the Vietnamise like other asians and Hispanics moved toward the left because of government goodies.

Anonymous said...

MCCain also had contacts with Mexicans and pushed the legalization. The winning Candidate on the democratic side or Republican side usually had a Mexican connection. The one most against cheap labor on the Democratic side was John Edwards who lost big and on the Republican side you have Tom Tancredo in 2008.

ironrailsironweights said...

Oriental is considered mildly derogatory when applied to people, but it can be used for things, especially rugs.

I should point out that a similar situation exists with respect to an unquestionably white group of people: Scotch whiskey is perfectly acceptable, but calling a person Scotch is an insult.

Peter

Steve Nicoloso said...

It would be great if we could plot ngrams in log-scale...

Jason Hops said...

The anti-Whites have been surprisingly vocal. This may throw a wrench in elite plans to build weird racial/categories that don't make sense. Instead of the Left and anti-Whites quietly accumulating power, there has been a lot of "suck it white boy", attitude.

White liberals will be shocked in the coming years to learn that their faithful friends, the people of color, ain't got no use for them.

Anonymous said...

To Jason Hops:

White liberals are the racial equivalents of Lenin's "useful idiots" - the capitalists who would sell the Soviets the rope they would use to hang them with.

Anonymous said...

In elementary school in suburban L.A. during the 80s I remember seeing "Chicano" a lot in our textbooks (and random insets of Dianne Feinstein wearing a hardhat). But it's so closely associated with Boyle Heights Mexicans that it's no surprise the Nuyoricans, Florida faction, and Central/S. American demographics never liked it.

Chicane Destination said...

I like the "chicanery" theory above. This is what happened to "Negro" and it will probably conquer other innocuous words soon, such as "kite" or "ragged" or "speck"

David said...

AFAIK no one lifts the lid off hell because of "the chink in your armor."

Maybe the reason is that Asians tend to have a respect for literacy?

David said...

PS: Note the names of those two iconic TV characters. From "Chico and the Man," we have CHICO. From "Barney Miller," we have CHANO. Put 'em together, kids, and what do they spell? No, not CHICOCHANO. CHICANO.

The media aren't controlled, no, not at all (sarcasm).

Btw, the date of Chano's leaving "Barney" is 1976; and Prinze Sr. shot himself in 1977. A fellow conspiracy scientist might investigate those years and see if there were any related coincidences then.