Posts Tagged ‘chicano


Separate, Unequal, the Whole Thing

I don’t want to forget to thank Ankhesen, Michele, and Steven for their recent comments on my posts.

And speaking of forgetting, let’s take a second to reacquaint ourselves with an overlooked part of Latino history – indeed, an ignored part of American history.

Most of us remember learning about Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in public schools. It is justifiably remembered as a mighty blow against legal discrimination.

Like many Americans, I thought that Brown was the alpha and omega of school desegregation in America. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I only recently found out about Mendez v. Westminster School District. Why this case doesn’t even merit a passing mention in history classes is beyond me.

Because I assume most of you are as in the dark as I was, let me recap Mendez for you. Basically, in 1945, a few uppity Chicanos sued a California school district because their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” rather than the nice schools where white kids went.

To the shock of establishment types everywhere, the parents won. The school board appealed, and the parents won again. The disturbing aspect, however, is that the appeal relied on a technicality, which was that Latino kids weren’t specifically mentioned in the segregation laws of the time. Instead, the laws pinpointed “children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage” (yikes!).

But a win is a win, and the case seemed destined for the Supreme Court. However, California saw how this was going, got wise, and abolished the law, thus ending the practice of legal segregation in the state.

It wasn’t until seven years later that the rest of the country caught up, in the Brown decision. I will leave it to a lawyer to assess how important the Mendez precedent was to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. However, I think we can all agree that it certainly didn’t hurt.

In any case, the girl at the center of the Mendez case tells her story here. She may have been an unwilling pioneer, but future generations of Latinos can still thank her and her parents for standing up for civil rights.

And I would add that her place in history is secure, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.


Doesn’t Everybody Love LA?

I moved back to Los Angeles about six months ago. In the half year that I’ve been back, I’ve been most grateful to see old friends, to discover great places and events that sprung up in my absence, and to skip winter altogether.

But I’m also happy that my return to California has had a positive effect on this blog. In my previous hometown in the Midwest, Hispanics are still a fairly rare sight, so Latino-themed stories don’t pop up too often. But in LA, every other newsmaker has a name that ends in Z, or some debate gets going about clashing cultures, or there’s a new Hispanic-influenced restaurant, art form, or social movement taking hold.

For example, the Catholic Church recently named a new leader of the Los Angeles diocese, which has the largest concentration of Catholics in America. Archbishop Jose Gomez is now “in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.”

His predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, said he was “grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop” and said he personally asked the pope to supply him with a Latino replacement. Los Angeles has five million Catholics, over 70 percent of whom are Hispanic, so Gomez’s appointment couldn’t have been too much of a shocker. Even so, Mahony’s sentiments – thanking God for a Latino and pressing to replaced by a Hispanic – are somewhat rare occurrences in the United States, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it happens here in California.

By the way, Gomez was a member of Opus Dei, which according to several conspiracy theorists and best-selling authors, is really just a front for power-hungry zealots, albino assassins, and killer dwarves. If true, it could make the line for communion very interesting.

Another only-in-LA moment came when I saw the poster for an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. But this was not some bland, half-assed get-together with cheap tequila shooters, which you might find in other parts of the country. No, this party (called Cinco de Mayan), features “mucho sexo y violencia in the form of burlesque dancers, masked Mexican wrestlers, comedians, mariachi, Aztec dancers, and more.”

To be honest, I have no plans to attend this event. But just knowing that it exists here makes me smile.

Still, it’s not just traditionalist priests and masked wrestlers who get noticed in California. As the LA Times points out, Hispanic influence is part of an accelerating trend in this city, as “the power positions held by Latinos in the Los Angeles area are multiple and manifest. Besides the Mexico-born archbishop… there is the mayor. The speaker of the Assembly. The sheriff. A county supervisor. Several members of the City Council, of Congress, of the Legislature, of the Los Angeles school board…. All told, the taking of power has been stunning in its breadth.”

And that power can resonate beyond Latinos. This brings me to one more tidbit that made me happy to be in California. A UCLA professor, Don Nakanishi, is leading a movement to make East LA, which is 97% Latino, a separate city. I don’t agree with his position, but I have to respect his goals. I especially liked his comments about becoming politicized as a young man.

In college, Nakanishi “joined ten Latinos in forming a group called Los Hermanos, Spanish for ‘the brothers’.” He later formed an Asian American student group and said of the process, “We learned from the Chicanos.”

Yes, people learn from Latinos here.



The ever-angry, eye-poppingly-furious BF has returned (see my previous two posts and the comments). This time BF says that I am, more or less, a traitor to my race and don’t have any balls.

Yikes. Why all the rage, BF?

Sounds to me like someone needs a hug.

Regardless, I have no intention of continuing this flame war with BF, otherwise we run the risk of it turning into some cyber form of brown-on-brown violence.

So I’m going to let my last word (at least for the time being) on the topic come from the cartoonist Darby Conley, who writes “Get Fuzzy.” It seems that Conley is aware of the touchy subject that my previous posts addressed.

Hispanics can get very defensive if you get their country of origin, or preferred ethnic identity, wrong – even if that Latino is of the canine persuasion:



As I Was Saying

Broken Forum has taken me to task for my previous post, in which I dissed a guy who was wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed his Chicano identity (see BF’s comment in the post below). BF says the guy was right and that Chicanos “have nothing in common” with Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc.

I must admit that I thought these groups shared at least a few traits. But now that you mention it, Chicanos apparently have more in common with Germans, Poles, and Serbs, in that all of them are inexplicably fascinated with accordion music. Really, you’d never get a Puerto Rican to pick up the squeezebox.

Without even getting into the many cultural and racial similarities – or the shared challenges that Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and so on face in American society – I’ll just point out that people aren’t described as Chicano unless it is through self-identification or via a demand for acknowledgement. The larger U.S. population sees only “Hispanic” or “Latino,” and we are lucky if we get those descriptors, rather than being referred to as “that Spanish guy” or having other, more colorful terms tossed at us.

BF also disputes that the shirt was meant to be confrontational. But my point is that the message didn’t say “Chicano Pride” or something positive like that. The shirt was about exclusion, defining the person by what he is not, and by extension, implying that the wearer’s group (in this case, Chicanos) is superior to the dreaded Others (ie, Hispanics or Latinos).

BF also says that I have “cultural insecurities.” This is incorrect.

What I have is cultural schizophrenia.


“Dude, I Hate to Tell You This, but You’re Hispanic”

So I was standing in line at a theme park, waiting to jump on a monsterously huge rollercoaster, when I noticed a swaggering young hombre in front of me. He was hanging with his girlfriend, a cute little Latina. The guy was obviously Chicano, and if anyone doubted the joven’s ethnicity, it was right there, spelled out on his t-shirt.

The words on the back of his shirt read

“Hispanic: No!

Latino: No!

Chicano: Yes!”

The wording was all-caps, for damn sakes, to minimize the danger of subtlety escaping. The front of the shirt featured the standard eagles and snakes and La Virgin imagery.

I lost sight of the guy by the time I got on the rollercoaster, and I forgot all about him for the two minutes of whiplash speed that I received in exchange for my hour in line (this was very poor ROI).

But I thought about him later, and I realized that the shirt pissed me off. This hombre was adamant, a walking billboard, in fact, for the idea that Chicanos are completely different from the rest of the Hispanic world. I had run into this mindset before, but not so explicitly. The implication, of course, is that they are better or superior to, say, Nicaraguans or Cubans or Peruvians.

I could understand if someone asked the guy if he was Bolivian or Colombian. In that case, maybe he would just want to be clear and/or take pride in his ethnicity. But instead he was performing a pre-emptive strike on anyone who would think, for a split second, that he could be part of the larger Hispanic or Latino tribe. He didn’t want to be included with me or anyone who didn’t have roots in Mexico.

What is the point of this demand for separation? Is it like the paper-thin differences emphasized by, for example, the British and the Welsh? And if so, will there be any involvement from women as hot as Catherine Zeta-Jones (she’s Welsh, not Hispanic, you know).

In any case, it was yet another example of our human capacity to emphasize differences over similarities. It’s little wonder that we get into crazed debates over larger, more ambiguous definitions (eg, who is a real American?) when we can’t even agree that Chicanos are Latino. It’s also symptomatic of Hispanic culture’s inability to coalesce, which is one reason the political power of Latinos is one notch above the lobbying strength of Idaho beet farmers.

Despite my annoyance, I wish no ill harm to the young Chicano. I hope the guy enjoyed the rollercoaster. But I also hope that at some point during the day, when he was strolling hand in hand with his girlfriend and eating cotton candy and handing stuffed animals to her, that she looked deep into his eyes and said, “You know, honey, that’s a really stupid t-shirt.”

August 2019
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