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How the Chicano Movement Championed Mexican-American Identity and Fought for Change

September 18, 2020 in History

By Karen Juanita Carrillo

Chicano activists took on a name that had long been a racial slur—and wore it with pride.

In the 1960s, a radicalized Mexican-American movement began pushing for a new identification. The Chicano Movement, aka El Movimiento, advocated social and political empowerment through a chicanismo or cultural nationalism.

As the activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales declared in a 1967 poem, “La raza! / Méjicano! / Español! / Latino! / Chicano! / Or whatever I call myself, / I look the same.”

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales speaking outside a police building to members of his organization, the Crusade for Justice, 1969.

Leading up to the 1960s, Mexican-Americans had endured decades of discrimination in the U.S. West and Southwest. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo put an end to the Mexican-American War in 1848, Mexicans who chose to remain on territory ceded to the United States were promised citizenship and “the right to their property, language and culture.”

But in most cases, Mexicans in America––those who later immigrated and those who lived in regions where the U.S. border shifted over––found themselves living as second-class citizens. Land grants promised after the Mexican-American War were denied by the U.S. government, impoverishing many land-grant descendants in the area.

READ MORE: Hispanic Heritage: Full Coverage

Not White, But ‘Chicano’

Throughout the early 20th century, many Mexican-Americans attempted to assimilate and even filed legal cases to push for their community to be recognized as a class of white Americans, so they could gain civil rights. But by the late 1960s, those in the Chicano Movement abandoned efforts to blend in and actively embraced their full heritage.

By adopting “Chicano” or “Xicano,” activists took on a name that had long been a racial slur—and wore it with pride. And instead of only recognizing their Spanish or European background, Chicanos now also celebrated their Indigenous and African roots.

Leaders in the movement pushed for change in multiple parts of American society, from labor rights to education reform to land reclamation. As University of Minnesota Chicano & Latino Studies professor Jimmy C. Patino Jr. says, the Chicano Movement became known as “a movement of movements.” “There were lots of different issues,” he says, “and the farmworker issue probably was the beginning.”

Chávez Leads Fight for Farmworkers’ Rights

UFW co-founders Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, 1968.

César Chávez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became United Farm Workers …read more


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