“We are the schizophrenics of this society. We have guys walking around like John Wayne and singing like James Brown. They don’t know who in the hell they are…The fact is they are not identifying with their historical roots.” Rodolfo “Corky” González part of a speech given at Arizona State University [October, 1970]
A recent Pew Research Center “8 facts” about so-called “U.S. Hispanics” posted to Twitter on August 19, 2014 indicates that of the so-called 54 million “Latinos” in the United States, only 20% identify as such. In fact, most so-called “Latinos” (54%) prefer to identify with their specific nationality: Mexican, Salvadoran, Peruvian, Boricua, etc.
It is puzzling, then, that a mere 1,080,000 identify as “Latinos” yet the pseudo pan-Latinist identity is pushed as an accepted label onto the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o people by organizations, government, media, corporations, politicians and educational institutions from coast to coast.
It is for this reason that the very term “Latino” can be viewed as a dangerous proposition. As a term of both colonization and so-called pan-Latinist identification, “Latino” (and its cousin “Hispanic”) is a direct threat to the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o people.
For Chicanas/os-Mexicans/os, to identify with pseudo-identities and/or to have them violently imposed on us, is to lose our national sovereignty and autonomy as stipulated in several international agreements, including the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which ended the U.S. War on México.
Despite “establishing patterns of inequality” and a “lopsided relationship” between Americans and Mexicans, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo clearly protects the rights of the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o people and not any of the pseudo-identities, such as Latino and Hispanic “peoples.”
This fact is important yet is knowingly ignored by those pushing false identities onto us.
Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os have protective rights that maintain, promote and adhere to civil, political, linguistic, cultural, and spiritual collective rights as a national minority under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 27, Ratified in 1976 by U.S.A. Senate), Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Anti-Genocide Treaty (U.N. 1948, U.N. 1951- Ratified 1988 by U.S.A. Senate), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966 not ratified), and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Corpus Christi Independent School District vs. Cisneros, 1971 (Mexican Americans are a national minority entitled to the 1964 Civil Rights Protections).
In the 1960s & 1970s, several Chicano Movement organizations, including La Alianza Federal de Mercedes Libres, the Crusade for Justice, and the Brown Berets, among others, redefined the political position of Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os vis-à-vis American society while at the same time demanding the United States uphold the “promises” in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at a time when Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os demanded their right to reclaim stolen lands (Aztlán).
Roots of Pan-Latinism
The roots of pan-Latinist ideologies and identities are not a recent phenomenon and date back to at least the mid-nineteenth century when pan-Latinist intellectuals close to Napoleon III invented the concept of “Latin America” to “justify French intervention in Mexico in the 1860s by asserting solidarity between France and México based on shared belonging to the Latin race.”
Only after the French had invented the concept of “Latin America” did Spanish-speaking intellectuals begin adopting the geopolitical term for themselves during the 1860s.
Aims McGuiness, in Searching for Latin America: Race and Sovereignty in the Americas in the 1850s, describes the geographical creation of “Latin America” as a distinct conceptual geopolitical entity as opposed to an “extension of Latin nations of Europe.” McGuiness contends that pan-Latinist ideologies predate French aggression in Mexico in the 1860s.
McGuiness makes it evidently clear that the pan-Latinist project promoted by the Spanish-speaking and French intellectuals of the 1850s and 1860s excluded Indigenous peoples from so-called visions of Latin unity.
Moreover, those Indigenous and African peoples that might be included in a “Latin American” body politic needed to be properly “civilized.”
It is this legacy of Indigenous and African exclusion that is promoted by government institutions and leaders, officials, scholars, academics, students, etc, who knowingly and unknowingly use “Latino” and “Hispanic” as a melting pot label of identity to force assimilation onto our people so that we fit the construct of Eurocentric acceptability.
The Chicana/o-Mexicana/o people is historically and culturally rooted to the Indigenous peoples that were here prior to the invasion of the Europeans. As Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os people, we reject the labels of “Latino” and Hispanic” as symbols of colonialism.
Pseudo Term: An Assault on Chicana/o-Mexicana/o Sovereignty
The pseudo term “Latino,” and by extension “Hispanic,” aim to market Chicana/o-Mexicana/o-Indigenous peoples as economic commodities ready to be neatly packaged, bought and sold. “Latino” and “Hispanic” are an assault on our dignity, which refuses to recognize our historical and cultural experiences as rooted in the advanced civilizations of pre-Columbian society.
To be Chicana/o-Mexicana/o is to recognize that we resist further colonial encroachment upon us and our self-identity is our call to self-determination that says YA BASTA to further dehumanization of our people and the destruction of our land.
As professor Rodolfo Acuña asserts in his book, Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles, the “Latino” middle-class sought to package “their group in ways furnishing them maximum leverage in economic and political markets.”
As such, no longer were human and civil rights a priority. The defining element of the so-called “Latino” and “Hispanic” was purely profit.
The current market commodification stems from the so-called “Hispanic Purchasing Power,” which is projected to be nearly $1.5 billion by 2015. Mexicans make up about 65% of the so-called “Latino” and “Hispanic” population in the United States.
Thus, it makes marketing and profit sense for Corporate America to create a monolithic, pan-Latinist community that socio-culturally, politically and economically does not exist.
Most recently, UC Berkeley sociologist G. Cristina Mora invested herself in the promotion of false identities and histories pushed onto our people with her new book, Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New America.
Mora argues that her work is a “story about people being disadvantaged, being a statistically reliable group and being consumers. All of these elements came together in an almost perfect storm in the 1970s when activists, the media and government bureaucrats learned how to work together to put out this pan-ethnic message.”
Mora’s pan-ethnic argument of unity is riddled with falsities about “activists” coming together to create a “pan-ethnic message.” Mora must be referring to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the American G.I. Forum, and others who in the 1980s formed cozy relationships with governmental, “philanthropic” entities, and corporate America to dismantle the Chicana/o Coors Boycott in 1984 at the height of the so-called “Decade of the Hispanic.”
Yet Mora astutely acknowledges that Corporate America saw Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os as a “statistically reliable group” and as “being consumers.”
It is no coincidence, then, that Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os were de-politicized and de-culturalized by governmental and business entities in order to subvert the collective identity and power of a people.
During the early 1970s, the Richard Nixon Administration developed a “Hispanic Strategy” aimed at courting Chicana/o middle-class individuals and organizations with the promise of governmental appointments.
In addition to profit, the use of umbrella terms has been exceedingly political. Political in the sense that terms are–superficially–thrown around by political parties, with the sole purpose of winning elections, while simultaneously “de-nationalizing” and removing any bond to the region of the world which we hail from, thus placing an emphasis on assimilation.
Identity Problematic: Who Are We?
At the height of the Chicano Power Movement, young Mexican-Americans played a significant role in developing a radicalized political and ideological framework, challenging racist structures in the United States, as well as opposing the assimilationist politics and rhetoric of the Mexican American Generation of the 1940s and 1950s, such as those promoted by the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the American G.I. Forum.
One key development of the Movement was the shaping of a non-Eurocentric identity: Chicano. Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar magnified the dilemma facing Chicana/o identity with his February 6, 1970 column: “Who is a Chicano? And What is it the Chicanos Want?”
For generations, Mexicans have been taught to believe that our identity is inferior as a result of the consequences of 500 years of colonialism. Mexican identity has been violently encroached upon by the labels “Latino” and “Hispanic” in order to deny our dignity, sovereignty, and rightful ownership of our lands that pre-date any European by thousands of years.
Salazar asserted that Chicano identity was an “act of defiance and a badge of honor.”
Chicanas/os, more than any other ethnic/racial group in the United States, have been given a multiplicity of identity labels. Professor Carlos Muñoz calls this phenomenon the “identity problematic.” It begs us to ask the inevitable question: who are we?
It does not help our community that Chicana/o Studies, namely through its intellectual arm the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) willingly promotes a pseudo “Latino” identity through its various course offerings, research projects, and book titles on “Latino” and “Hispanic” communities in order to make Chicana/o Studies more marketable at a time when, for instance, budget constraints put Chicana/o Studies on the academic chopping block because of low-enrollment in some cases.
NACCS has failed to protect and defend the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o people at its most basic level: the right of our people to self-identify with a non-Eurocentric label.
Latina/o Studies, which recently launched the International Latina/o Studies Association, does not shy away from promoting its methodology. That many “Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os” are part of this academic organization should be a wake up call to NACCS and to the Chicana/o community.
We as Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os shouldn’t shy away from proudly proclaiming our historical and cultural roots in academia, business or the streets.
The “identity problematic” has fragmented the Mexican community since its incorporation into the American polity in 1848. It is no coincidence, then, that the Chicano Movement, especially in California, was forged on building unity through a non-White identity by rejecting previous imposed identities.
According to professor Deena J. Gonzales, the various identity labels that have been forcibly imposed on our people have led to our disunity and thus a Chicana/o identity remains elusive for many of us.
Chicana/o identity is a marker of self-determination, and while historically, Mexicans have autonomously created Chicanismo to define ourselves, it was not necessarily a Mexican specific identity, but one based on a state of mind to dismantle racist, sexist, and classist structures. One of the leaders of the Chicano Movement was La Raza newspaper editor, Blowout participant, and chair of La Raza Studies at Fresno State College Eliezer Risco was a Cuban national who clearly articulated the goals of the Chicano Movement.
Being Chicana/o is not divisive. In fact, it is “Latino” and “Hispanic” that are divisive.
In the 1967 edition of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, both Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton called on Blacks to reclaim their history and identity from what must be rightly called “cultural terrorism” that emanates from a paternalistic and racist American society.
Ture and Hamilton, furthermore, added that the term “Negro” was an “invention of our oppressor; it is his image of us that he describes…”
Similarly, “Latino” and “Hispanic” are Eurocentric inventions perpetuating historical erasure, labor exploitation and segmentation, and patriarchal attitudes that are used to marginalize and criminalize Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os within American society.
“Latino” and “Hispanic” is the image of the oppressor. We must stop trying to be a carbon copy of our oppressor.
In Anything But Mexican, Rodolfo Acuña states that the lack of Chicana/o self-determination stems from American racism as well as a clear sense of identity preventing us from “developing a unified and cohesive force for political and social change.”
This, of course, is by design with “Latino” and “Hispanic” ideology and identity, along with White supremacy reinforcing our lack of political direction.
Indeed, the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are a very dangerous proposition to our people, which negates our historical connection to the land with adverse psychological consequences. By minimizing our ties and sense of allegiance to the country of origin, seldom will we question the motive or aims of US military intervention in Latin America. This is particularly convenient as the US shares a border with México.
It is time to reclaim our identity. It is time to re-declare our self-determination. It is time decolonize.
– by David