Chicano is the Latino population of the Southwest United States that colonized the land in the XVI-XIX centuries during the Spanish colonization of America, creating Spanish missions in North America, and in the conditions of independent Mexico of the years 1810-1848. According to Charles M. Tatum, “the term Chicano is commonly used today for self-identification and frequently as a synonym for Mexican American” (Tatum 12).
By the beginning of the XIX century, Chicano had disintegrated into several ethno-cultural groups that were formed in different periods of the history and included different social classes. There are such ones as farmers, ranchers, and missionaries from California of about 4-5 thousand people; Texas Mexicans in an amount of about 4-5 thousand; about one thousand Mexicans in Arizona; numerous Hispanics and Métis of New Mexico and Colorado in an amount of no fewer than 30 thousand people. Thus, at the end of the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848 years, after the annexation of the territories of Northern Mexico by the United States, there were not less than 50 thousand Hispanics in the United States.
Their number was approximately equal to the number of French Canadians in the British Empire after the fall of New France. Being Hispanic Catholics, Chicanos, which includes the admixture of Indian (40%) and African (5%) blood, have been subjected to various forms of discrimination for a long time.
Despite the mass confiscation of land, Chicano was able to preserve their culture, language, and create a rich literature in Spanish and English. In the 1960s and 1970s, Chicano began to fight for their civil rights. The Chicano Movement and the group La Rasa were developed. Due to a massive influx of Mexican immigrants in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, Chicano culture received a new impetus. Although in many regions of the traditional existence, primordial traditions of Chicano have been gradually replaced by modern Mexican. Especially it concerns El Paso, where the proportion of Mexicans increased from 53% in 1950 to 82% in 2009 thanks to new migrants.
The plot unravels in Los Angeles, which is known as a racially diverse city, composed of huge numbers of immigrants. Meri Nana-Ama Danquah describes it as “a place where everything is subject to change, where even the land is not stable. It is a city of illusions; what you see is not necessarily what is… Far from being idyllic, it is a city at war with itself, a place where xenophobia and self-hatred run rampant”. Los Angeles history bears the marks of the skirmishes with Latinos. In 1943, for instance, sailors from the Los Angeles Naval Reserve Armory attacked Chicano youths, seeking revenge for the attack on an American sailor. As a result, a week-long ethnic conflict was sparkled, which is widely known as the “zoot suit riots”.
Police did little to stop violence and arrested Mexican-Americans for disturbing the peace. Some of them died in jail from injuries and many more were convicted of crimes they did not commit. It was probably of the brightest examples of racism against Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. The city does not embrace its multiculturalism, dividing people across color, status and income parameters. A significant proportion of the city’s population does not hold citizenship and, as a result, immigrant minorities live in close-knit isolated groups. The Chicano/Mexican population that inhabits the East of Los Angeles forms the largest ethnic group in the region.
In Havoc they are portrayed as an alien culture dominated by gangsters and drug dealers. Hector and his gang are well aware of their forefathers’ low social position, which resulted from illegal immigration, underpayment, poverty and poor living conditions. As a matter-of-fact, Latinos experience many hardships living in LA, such as language barrier, economic issues, isolation, prejudices, and discrimination, which stand in one row with the greatest challenge of all Latino immigrants – the desire to preserve their national identity, which is widely labeled as “Chicano”. The latter is a modern term for the assimilated Latinos who recognize their ethnic, racial, and cultural background in the mainstream American culture. Chicanos are “stuck” between America and the land of their origin, living on the border of two cultures and worldviews, which will never mix, blend, or mingle into a complete and harmonious whole.
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The Chicano Culture
The Chicano culture as a conscious phenomenon began to emerge in the 1960s of the last century. Southern California, Bay Area, and Los Angeles County, located on the border with Mexico, became its center. There were the important events in the social life, music, theater, literature, and visual arts. Demonstrations against the Vietnam War and for the Civil Rights were raging in campuses. Hippies advocated free love and the legalization of drugs. California became a Mecca not only for those who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star, but also for countless avant-garde poets, artists and musicians. Young Chicanos joined the boiling life with the hot Latin temperament. Luis Valdez created Teatro Campesino and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most interesting experimental film directors. His street performances impressed: tumbling angels and devils in the air; the Zapatistas-insurgents that were hung with cartridge belts; rumbled drums and wailing horns.
Chicano had a vivid memory of what they had been the second-class citizens. They did not forget their revolutionary heroes. Artistic groups with loud and provocative names were created: Mexican-American Liberation Art Front (MALAF), Concilio de Arte Popular, Los Angeles’ Communist Establishment (LACE) and others. Their members glued street posters with images of Che Guevara, Mao and Marx. Rock band Los Lobos (“The Wolves”) and Los Illegals demanded to introduce the direct democracy immediately. There was more noise than any revolutionary action. However, Rupert Garcia, the author of numerous political posters later became a prominent American painter.
Whatever it was, Chicano artists attracted a lot of attention. Initially, experts on the contemporary art reacted to them as exotic. The time of multiculturalism had not yet arrived. The city government interested in them and offered to paint the walls of houses. The authorities were guided by the fact that it was necessary to send a tireless energy of these guys in the right direction. Also they remembered that there was a strong tradition of murals in Mexico.
Mural themes run from dramatizations of the Mexican Revolution to depictions of the Chicano experience too abstract expressionism. Things form of visual expression is a true people’s art, oriented toward the many of the community rather than the few in the art gallery. (“A History of Mexican”)
In the 1930s, the Mexican government spent large sums of money from the budget on the orders of muralizma’s masters, i.e. Diego Rivera, Alvaro Siqueiros, and José Orozco. These artists professed radical communist views and covered the walls of government buildings, universities and banks with giant paintings on the theme, scourging colonizers and exploiters. Chicano of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco got down to business with eagerness. Their paintings were strange. On a huge firewall, they portrayed an awkward uncle standing in the building background with the inscription of Victor Clothing Co. Someone took it for advertising of the company, producing the finished dress. Someone wondered. They painted the Mother of God on the background of the banner of the Stars and Stripes. They painted Jesus Christ, leaning on the hood of an old Chrysler. However, the cities in California become prettier and funnier thanks to Chicano absurdity. And rebels gradually turned into very good artists. They created their own, not unlike any other, universe of images, where echoes of ancient Indian myths, Catholicism, aesthetics of “fast food” and the memory of the expanses of the Mexican desert were combined.
Chicano’s Art Phenomenon
Important museums and prestigious art magazines continued to ignore a Chicano’s art phenomenon. The situation began to change in the mid-1980s. By the Olympic Games of 1984, Los Angeles authorities had ordered a huge mural along the highway connecting the city with the airport to several artists, once reputed to be radical. In 1987, Washington Corcoran Museum arranged a large exhibition “Hispanic Art in the U.S.A.” Then, it was successfully demonstrated in the Art Museum in Houston.
However, the real fame came to Chicano artists from Europe. The Old Continent, which felt the need to look at the world, not only through the usual Eurocentric optics, longed for new impulses. “Globalism,” “mondializm” and “multiculturalism” became fashionable words. The French art critic and curator Pascal Letellier had spent over a year in the “city of angels.” He communicated with artists, writers, sociologists from the Chicano community. It resulted in the exhibition “Angels’ Demons,” shown with the triumph in Nantes, then in Barcelona, and then in Stockholm. However, a sensational rise of Chicano artists was rapidly chopped off. The reason is simple: multiculturalism has become the property of masses. In Norway, girls paint hair in blue-black in color and try to move like Gypsy women from Andalusia. Everyone began to drink tequila and snack with sharp corn tortillas. The time of ethnic interests was gone into show business. The whole world dances lambdas. Strange Chicano artists from the Bay Area are seemed to be forgotten. In fact, this is not true. The virus of rasquachismo, which was launched by them, introduces deeper into the world culture. Their style is everywhere – in bars, clubs and restaurants from Sydney to Belgrade. Carlos Francisco Jackson states that the Chicano community and artists have made significant contributions towards striving for the self-determination, equality, and social justice (Jackson 197).
The Chicano Literature
The literature of Chicano plays an equally important role in shaping of the cultural space of postwar America as the literature of writers, who immigrated to the United States from Europe.
In 1993, Mexican Americans were 64% of the U.S. Hispanic population; their population was 14 million. Mexicans formed a hybrid culture based on mestizo or mixed ancestry. Especially brightly cultural dualism is manifested in the border area, where two competing cultures form a bizarre mix. There are two Mexico for Mexicans: real Mexico and abroad Mexico (Mexico de Afuera), consisting of Mexicans living in the United States. The awareness of the duality combines Chicano literary works, originating from 1960. The works of immigrant-writers reflect the extreme situation, in which each of them adjudges due to the cultural duality.
The Chicano movement, which appeared during the struggle for the civil rights in the 1960s, is presented in prose and poetry. Two authors were able to express the most formal and ideological Chicano poetry priorities. They are Gary Soto and Jimmy Santiago Baca. The features of their work are the clear, simple language, a bright express of image, personal communication with the public, and the autobiographical history. Gary Soto writes about personal experiences (“Braly Street,” 1977), a family (“The Cellar,” 1978), and the Mexican community in the United States (“Kearney Park,” 1985).
Outlines of the border area (la frontera), missing in the poetry of Soto and Bucky, appear in the works of a Mexican poet Lorna Dee Cervantes. Like other Chicano poets, she feels what is lacking for Mexicans, who are living in the U.S. Understanding the contradictions within the Mexican culture in the United States is typical for Cervantes. These contradictions are associated with what is called the “machismo”, a tradition of the male domination. Sometimes she portrays these contradictions in a simple understandable way as in the poem “Macho” (1991). In other cases, she connects them with the ideas about a struggle as the basis of all existence. The enemy can show the way. One, who is an opponent, can enslave or release. On a personal level, under “foreign,” Cervantes understands men; in the national sense – “machismo”; in the public sense – whole English-speaking America; in the aesthetic sense – English. In the simplest level, she understands the nature under “foreign”. In all cases, the choice is either subordinate to the enemy or interacts with him, which ultimately can lead to harmony and unity. In one of her best poems, “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway” (1981), she shows this process. On the one hand, she glorifies the family consisting of several generations of women, who were trying to survive in the shadow of their overwhelming social forces. This represents the male principle. On the other hand, Cervantes glorifies her own life and art.
In prose, the emergence of truth in the Chicano literature is associated with the work of Jose Antonio Villareal. The events of the novel Pocho cover the Mexican Revolution (the beginning of the mass immigration of Mexicans in the United States) and the Second World War. The story, the fate of two characters, Juan Rubio and his son Richard, is in the center of the novel. Juan does not feel an attachment to Spanish civilization, nor to the world of “gringos.” He adheres to the principles of honor and courage, i.e. “machismo.” Juan becomes a homeowner, being convinced that people, who pushed around in the rest of the world, have come to America in the hope that they would have the opportunity to do the same with other people. However, he does not realize that by doing this he closes the chain of events that would tie him to America and the American way of life. In his youth, Richard Rubio tries to resist changes; such a strange metamorphosis that occurs with Juan and other members of his family.
Nevertheless, by the end of the book, Richard also has to go through the experience of acculturation. Sharing the military virtues of his father and the inherent sense of patriotism, he goes as a volunteer in the U.S. army.
On the opposite position, the assimilation topic is discussed in the novel of Raymond Barrio Plum Pickers. As in Villareal’s Pocho, the action of the novel takes place in the Santa Clara Valley in California. However, Barrio writes about the radical resisting to assimilation. Being a highly experimental work, the novel combines documentary realism, political allegory and satire.
Two works, which were published after Plum Pickers in the early 1970s, marked the beginning of Chicano prose in the American literature. In the book And the Earth Did Not Devoir Him (1971), Thomas Rivera tells about 10 years of life of immigrant workers. Rivera refers The Earth to social problems, but the novel is not a work that should be attributed to social realism. The book is a rather complex presentation of subjective impressions. The plot consists of 12 short stories or estempos in the spirit of Latin prose, interspersed with 13 essays. The absence of a linear plot development, fragmented character of The Earth in some sense, reflects the fragmentation of immigrants’ life. Instead of operating by understandable to all and opposite in meaning concepts “assimilation” and “resistance,” Rivera analyzes a complex multi-level concept of the Mexican-American identity.
In the novel by Rudolfo Anaya Bless Me, Ultima (1972), the myth and magic, dreams and reality are being mixed. The book tells about the life of Antonio Marez, who goes to school at the end of the Second World War. The Mexican culture is shown by the author as a combination of elements of the Native American culture of the pre-Columbian and Spanish “Golden Age.” The central character of the novel, Antonio serves as not a carrier of autobiographical traits, but as the cultural composite, a mix of cultures, combining Indian and Spanish. Therefore, the border territory includes not only all Mexican Americans in a spiritual sense, but the intercultural interaction of all people, in general.
According to Carlos Francisco Jackson, Chicano movement was struggling for self-determination and reclamation of the community’s history and culture (Jackson 60). Being a unique part of the United States, Chicano culture interacted with American and became its essential part.