Guest speaker explains aversion to ‘Chicano’
The term “Chicano,” which originated in California during the 1960s, was generally accepted when referring to Mexican-Americans, but only among themselves within the privacy of their homes.
When “Chicano” began to gain recognition from political activists and by the public to describe these Mexican-Americans, opposition arose.
“The term was fine in private, not the public,” said Jose Limon, University of Notre Dame professor of American Literature. “To see it used as a public utterance was perplexing.”
Limon was a guest speaker Tuesday for The Center for Mexican American Studies’ 40th Anniversary Speaker Series. He spoke to a crowd of students and professionals from his lecture, “Chicano Revisited: Politicizing the Practices of Everyday Life.”
Limon was a member of the Mexican American Youth Organization — founded in San Antonio in 1967— which included a group of young educated men determined to improve Mexican-American rights.
Eventually, the group joined the Chicano movement, and the journey to publicize the word began. Its widespread rejection led Limon to apply his training in anthropology to find out why Mexican-Americans did not approve the term. Limon said his research initiated several arguments, including one that started at his parents’ dinner table.
“I remember telling my father,” Limon said, “You know what Dad? You’re a Chicano.”
Limon attempted to convince his father that he was a “Chicano,” but his father refused, identifying himself as Mexican-American even though a “Chicano” person is considered as someone living in the U.S. but is from Mexico.
Limon went on and explained how many Mexican-Americans refused to be called “Chicanos” and considered themselves Mexicans even though they were living in America.
Other options are continuously being considered; “Hispanic” is winning the majority’s consent. The overall opposition of the term originated to reference U.S. citizens born from Mexican parents, and Limon said Mexican-Americans have yet to agree on a word that could be used to categorize themselves.
As the culture continues to evolve and Mexican-Americans gain more positions among the nation’s higher-educated and middle class, Limon said that even political activists who coined the “Chicano” term are laying it to rest.
“For the most part, they are giving up on the term ‘Chicano,’” Limon said. “They’re not giving up on the politics, but they are starting to let go of that term.”