8 Inspiring Ways the Chicano Movement Changed the United States
The Chicano movement was a civil rights movement birthed by the resistance of Mexican-Americans who endured structural racism, partial education, and impoverishment.
They fought hard to create and embrace a new identity that was a “nation within a nation” with enough voice and self-determination to make their own decisions, according to Chicano and Latino Studies professor Jimmy Patino.
Empowered by this new identity, Chicanos started to organize, mobilize, and raise awareness by opposing a system that had taken advantage of them. Defying US society and beliefs was the only way to claim what was theirs and redefine who they were as a community.
They worked together with the Black Power movement since they shared goals and experiences. Many demonstrations and activist gatherings were led by both groups.
Read this article to discover the relevance of the Chicano movement, why they used “Chicano” instead of “Mexican,” the facts on their quest for identity, and their role in history.
Table of Contents:
- What Caused the Movement
- 8 Accomplishments of the Chicano Movement
- Was the Chicano Movement Successful?
What Caused the Movement
Chicano history started after the Guadalupe Hidalgo (GH) treaty in 1848. Many Mexicans decided to stay in the territory that Mexico gave to the U.S.
Their new government promised a number of rights that guaranteed they would become citizens, such as “the right to their property, language, and culture.” They later discovered that the U.S. had no intention of respecting the agreement when they were treated as second-class citizens.
More than 100 years after the treaty, Mexican-Americans decided to raise their voices to stop discrimination against them by organizing a rally to protest their lack of civil rights.
The Purpose of the Chicano Movement
In sum, the main purpose of the Chicano movement was to regain political power and civil rights so that the US government and people would start to see them as residents and equals. What’s more, they took the racial slur—Chicano—and turned it into an identity they wore with pride.
8 Accomplishments of the Chicano Movement
The Chicano Movement addressed many issues to reclaim Chicano power, especially in the fields of labor, land, education, politics, civil rights, art, and feminism.
1. They Fought For Farm Workers’ Rights
During the Chicano movement, farmworkers fought to create and secure unions through boycotts, strikes, and organization. Their triumph took five years from 1965 to 1970 and was supported by Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta were the founders and leaders of the National Farm Workers Association, later named United Farm Workers (UFW).
Chavez had been born into a farmworker family, so he had experienced and witnessed impoverishment and unfair socioeconomic conditions that this sector suffered.
Chavez lent his social grip to other similar causes where minorities were targets of discrimination, like the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) of Filipino activists.
2. They Reclaimed the Land that Was Theirs
Members of the Chicano Movement saw land not only as a profitable living, but also an ethnic, historical, and spiritual heritage. López Tijerina put in motion strategies to reclaim the land that Anglo settlers held, violating the GH treaty.
People called Tijerina the Malcolm X of the Chicano Movement. He was the founder of the Federal Land Grant Alliance in the early 1950s and led an armed raid in New Mexico. One of his goals was to mobilize and raise awareness among the younger generations, so they would never forget that the U.S. took land from Mexico and didn’t respect the agreement that both countries had signed.
3. They Pushed for Better Chicano Education
Strong social movements are typically followed by student movements. This one was initiated in 1969 with the National Youth and Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado, organized by poet Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and attended by the United Mexican-American Students and the Mexican American Youth Association.
During the gathering, students protested the Eurocentric curriculum, the social stigma, the ban on speaking Spanish at school, and the dropout rates of the Chicano demographic.
They also delved into their ancestors’ history and the mystic “promised land” of the Aztecs, Aztlán, which comprises Mexico and today’s southwestern United States. The students saw this as a homeland, and their manifesto, The Spiritual Aztlan Plan, claims social, political, economic, territorial, and cultural independence for Chicanos within the U.S.
Student walkouts started to take place in the name of the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, as well. Students belonging to the Brown Berets–mirroring the Black Power Movement—and many other organized groups found their voices and identities via these events.
As part of the Chicano movement, they organized mass mobilization and awareness. They created bicultural and bilingual programs, hiring Chicano educators.
Soon, it was illegal to not provide education to students who were not English speakers, according to the Supreme Court.
But education reforms weren’t enough, so Chicanos founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to protect Mexican-American civil rights.
4. They Promoted Feminism and Chicana Empowerment
As happened with other minority movements, women were often overlooked despite being a key part of the Chicano Movement. Their presence ensured the inclusion of women’s rights, racial inequality, and LGBT+ issues on the agenda.
Machismo meant to force traditional feminine roles on them. Many experts addressed how the Chicano movement overlooked some of the issues that represented half their demographic.
For example, in the 1970s, many Mexicans women had to face forced sterilization, among other types of gender discrimination. Organized Chicana groups who raised awareness about it were constantly targeted as anti-family groups even though they were pro-women’s rights.
The women of the Chicano Movement brought specific and urgent subjects to the table such as patriarchalism, intersecting identities, imperialism, colonialism, and social inequality.
5. They Participated in Anti-War Activism
After the student Chicano movement, many people organized protests against the Vietnam War through demonstrations in Mexican-American neighborhoods.
Protesters focused their agenda on the high death rate of Mexican American soldiers as well as discrimination inside and outside of the military forces. Many of these demonstrations ended in police riots.
6. They Created the Chicano Press
Back in the day, the press could be the game-changer that made a movement happen (or not). The creation of the Chicano Press Association helped a great deal in the birth of the Chicano Movement and their identities through the Southwest.
Chicano students launched their own newspapers to spread awareness and to call for unity, some of them even merged with larger organizations. More than 300 newspapers were created linked to the Chicano Movement.
7. They Birthed Artistic Expressions
Within the Chicano movement, the arts also flourished. Cultural expression through art—visual, theater, literature, music, and dance—became a powerful source of identity and unity. New artists found their voices and artistic movements spread throughout the communities.
One of these is called rascuachismo. Something that is rascuache is of low quality. Members of the Chicano artistic movement took that concept and gave it a second meaning, just like they did with the term “Chicano.”
8. The Chicano Movement was a Political Force
The American G.I. Forum launched campaigns to persuade Mexican Americans to vote. When they did, they elected Latino representatives in Texas and California.
The United Race political party raised their voices so that Hispanic issues could be a subject matter in national politics. These seeds led to a more solidified and influential political bloc.
Was the Chicano Movement Successful?
We still see the results of the Chicano Movement today.
Chicanos constitute the largest minority in the U.S. The rest of the country cannot deny their wide influence as a voting bloc and a demographic in general.
Daily challenges continue, as Chicanos still face police brutality, discrimination at all levels, racism, and other social phenomena.
But looking forward, they’re more organized than ever. Their past and recent efforts and triumphs continue to inspire the younger generations of Mexican Americans as well as civil rights activists around the world.
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