Latino Studies Chicano Movement
by
Ignacio Garcia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0092

Introduction

The Chicano movement was a social, cultural and economic challenge to the status quo that was long in the making, with some of its major demands coming out of the more traditional Mexican American civil rights movement. It expressed itself through the affirming of identity and the rejection of second-class citizenship. Its goals were to create a sense of peoplehood for those of Mexican descent; to make American principles applicable to the barrios of the United States; to empower Mexican Americans politically, and to do it both collectively and individually. It also sought to provide space for the development of Mexican American leadership. Chicano—an old barrio term often associated with lower-class Mexican Americans—became the self-descriptor of the individuals who promoted the movement, and history became the main weapon to fight internal defeatism and social alienation. Movement activists initially did this through a cultural nationalist ideological filter that embraced the arts and letters and promoted a racial and ethnic communal identity. The movement’s exact beginning is difficult to ascertain, though it likely began in the early 1960s with the rise of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union of César Chavez in California and the land grant movement of Reies López Tijerina in New Mexico. These organizations provided the earliest cultural and rhetorical foundation for the movement, but it was the establishment of La Raza Unida Party in Texas and the Crusade for Justice in Colorado that expanded the social movement across the nation throughout the Southwest and parts of the Midwest. From these organizations came numerous offshoots with different goals that made the movement a collection of struggles rather than one monolithic movement. The movement’s strength lay in its ability to combine the grievances of young people with the history of discrimination and racism that was ingrained in the memories of older Mexican Americans. Chicana/o intellectuals and activists were able to create a “historical narrative” that meshed all these experiences and feelings and created an indictment of American society over its treatment of Mexican Americans. Activists did this through journals, newspapers, and manifestos, and through their circuit speakers who went throughout the Southwest and Midwest preaching the “Chicano gospel.” From the movement came Chicana/o art, literature, and Chicana/o studies; self-help groups; feminists; and a new wave of Mexican American political and social leaders. A political and judicial backlash, ideological exhaustion, and an opening in the more mainstream political system let to its decline but did not diminish its legacy.

General Overviews

The first major books to depict what was happening in the barrios of the Southwest in the 1960s were Chicano Manifesto (Rendon 1971) and Chicano Power (Castro 1974), written by journalists attracted to the explosion of activism by Mexican Americans. They were popular accounts, with Castro using numerous quotes from movement leaders and rank-and-file participants to tell a dramatic story, while Rendon’s Chicano Manifesto was more of a personal journey and discovery that spoke in a raw fashion to the anger and frustration that Mexican Americans were feeling in the 1960s. Both authors saw the movement as a passionate social catharsis that was less politics and more outrage. The first works to come from scholars focused on the students within the movement and argued that it was they who were the major catalyst for the upheaval in the barrios. While not autobiographical, these works (Gomez-Quiñones 1978, Muñoz 1989) drew much from the authors’ own movement experience. In fact, personal experience was one of the bonds that connected many of the early authors of the scholarship on the movement. Thus, these works tended to be passionate, partly autobiographical, and often with recommendations or prognoses. While initial accounts tended to see the movement as almost monolithic, the filmmaker Jesús Treviño chronicled a much more diverse movement in his memoir (Treviño 2001), as did Hector Galán in the first major documentary on the movement (Galán 1996). But few spoke to the diversity and the complications of the movement as did Chicana feminists and other scholars who critiqued the movement’s nationalism and some of its sexist strains. These scholars sought not only to place women as early participants, but often as stepchildren of the male-oriented activism (see García 1997 and Chávez 2002). But whatever their approach to writing about the movement, most all of the scholars have shared the same view: that it was passionate, diverse, influenced by a myriad of ideologies, and in some ways radically different from movements of the past, even while retaining some of their activist strains.

  • Castro, Tony. Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America. New York: Saturday Review Press, 1974.

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    An outsider’s view of the Chicano movement that traces the Mexican American’s progression through disappointment, accommodation, and eventual radicalism.

  • Chávez, Ernesto. Mi Raza Primero! Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    Discusses four Chicano movement organizations in Los Angeles and their experimentation with cultural nationalism.

  • Galán, Hector. Chicano!: A History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement. 4 Videos. Los Angeles: NLCC Educational Media, 1996.

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    The first documentary to chronicle the Chicano movement from 1965 to 1975.

  • García, Alma M. Chicana Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    Selection of writings that chronicle and analyze the women’s struggle to find their place within the Chicano movement, and to challenge its sexism.

  • Gomez-Quiñones, Juan. Mexican Students por la Raza: The Chicano Student Movement in Southern California, 1967–1977. Santa Barbara, CA: Editorial La Causa, 1978.

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    Chronicles the Chicano student youth movement, its beginnings, internal struggles, and eventual demise.

  • Muñoz, Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power. London: Verso, 1989.

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    Personal account of the origins of the 1960s Chicano civil rights movement by an activist scholar.

  • Rendon, Armando B. Chicano Manifesto: The History and Aspirations of the Second Largest Minority in America. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

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    The first book by a major press in which a writer articulates the condemnation of American society for its treatment of Mexican Americans and previews the rise of the Chicano movement.

  • Treviño, Jesús Salvador. Eyewitness: A Filmmaker’s Memoir of the Chicano Movement. Houston, TX: Arte Público, 2001.

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    An extensive and expansive view of the Chicano movement from the eye of a camera and from personal experience.

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