Sunday, December 18, 2011

La Conclusión

allow yourself to be

The legacy of our ancestors

It is yours

to wear

And psychadelisize

To the inclinations

Of your present


-Alberto Baltazar a.k.a Alurista

When I was a child, my mother would walk me to the local public library that was a few blocks from our small home. I remember the long wall behind the checkout counter and the huge mural that decorated it. I must’ve spent hours starring at that mural, particularly at the man and woman at the center of it all. The brown, dark haired man with thick jet black mustache wore a white slingshot (tank top) and a blue bandana above his brow as did the woman standing next to him. Her black hair was almost animate as it rested on her chest plate. They both stared ahead, at me, with a fierce look of determination in their eyes holding there brown fists in the air? I was confused? They looked like the type of people my mother avoided when we walked to the nearby grocery stores. How could I understand what I was disconnected from? As a first generation Mexican-American, my parents were much more familiar to the ranches and dirt hills of Baja California than Aztlan. It all seemed so primitive and alien.

Many times our brains operate under the false assumption that we have the capability of understanding everything. As a vain reaction to something that is unfamiliar, we simply dismiss it as meaningless or non-sense cal. Though this is as natural as any one of our humanistic tendencies, this almost subconscious denial often prevents us from acknowledging that there is a world outside of our immediate surroundings. As I began immersing myself into these distinct works that are often generalized as simply "Chicano Literature", I realized that the experiences documented in these works are as distinct and complicated as anyone of us are from each other.

Admittedly I have only scratched the surface of the Xicano experience and in no way do I claim to have an all encompassing understanding of this genre. I don’t think anyone can claim that. If anything this experience will serve as a reminder that even the most seemingly trivial aspects of my existence require a deeper analysis than I am often tempted to give.

-Martin "Cito" Vela-Sanchez


Saturday, December 17, 2011


Here are few things to keep in mind as you start reading this entry

Xicanismo: Though the word Chicano is often written with a "C", when I write the word Xicano, I do it in two senses. First, as a homage to the Mexica and other pre-columbium cultures of the Americas. Second as a reference to the Algebraic variable that symbolizes the unknown, like Malcolm

Como-xingan-ca-nismo: A mish mash word combining the Word Xicano/Xicanismo with the phrase "como chingan", which loosely translates as "bitch, bitch, bitch". It seems that if we are not busy being criticized by "Puro Mexicanos", Mexican nationals that we as Xicanas/os fail in comparison to, we are busy arguing amongst ourselves in regards to who is the most Xicano, or not Xicano enough. This also refers to the atmosphere provided by the American Southwest that gave birth to the prevailing social inequalities that gave rise to Xicanismo. Sometimes the Beauty that results from a forced entry is amazing.

And now, with no further interruptions, I present to you;


"Spanish speakers, rather, seemed related to me, for I sensed that we shared-through our language-the experience of being apart from the gringos….Spanish seemed to me the language of home. (Most days it was only at home that I heard it.) It became the language of joyful return….My parents would say something to me and I would feel embraced by their words.

-Richard Ramirez, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

Years ago, during my last stay in the San Diego County Jail, ( what would any Xicano project be without a jail story, right?) I was sitting on a staircase watching Charles Bronson prize fight with bare knuckles on an oblong shaped television that was bolted high up on a wall. It was the evening, the last few hours before every man was to inevitably return to his bunk for the rest of the night. The day room had been a beehive of activity. While some inmates stayed in their bunks sleeping off any recreational substances left in their veins, most of us sat around playing cards, reading the paper, or just plain congregating, all while following the rules and racial guidelines implemented by the inmates. Though was forbidden for Chicanos to eat with, share food, play cards or gamble with the black and Asian inmates, we where more than free to do the same with the woods (peckerwoods, whites), and the paisas (paisanos, Mexican/South American nationals). If you ever find yourself  detained in one of these facilities, it would behoove  you  to follow these rules.

Suddenly  the huge door that divided our housing unit on the 8th floor unlocked and opened. In entered to men, illegal’s as they revealed, caught driving on a free-way the day before. They had just foregone the tedious 12 hour booking process g and where frightened and hungry. After a quick conference with the Xicanos (southern ethnics), the men were giving two extra rations of food that had been stored in one of the bunks. Though the thought of the bland mush heated in a plastic plate covered in laminate doesn't sound so appealing now, the men ate it like comfort food. In a sense it was. They began telling me that they had toured other county jails in the Midwest as they washed down their meals with small cartons of milk. They explained that they had often been the targets of Latino detainees in other facilities. They continued they were greatfull for  the courtesy extended by the Xicanos. How strange. I thought. We’re supposed to look out for each other, aren’t we?

When I was a kid, I knew I was Mexican, just like the other kids in my neighborhood. We were mostly all decedents of immigrants, and most of us first generation. Spanish was the first language spoken by many of us. Most of us attended bilingual classes at the local elementary school. This was the tower of language that connected us. We were all the same. Weren’t we all Mexicans? I t’s funny how some of the innocence and ignorance of culture stay with us into adulthood, even as inmates. The next morning, as I toweled myself off after a quick shower before my release, s I saw these two men again in passing. They were on their way to board an INS bus that would leave them in Tijuana. They once again thanked me and promised to repay the favor. Admitedly, I was overtaken with a sense of pride

Years later I was a student on a community college campus participating in a fundraiser for an academic club I belonged to. Though the tin foil package containing corn chips drenched in lemon juice, hot sauce tamarind and strips of pig skin disgusted me, it was a snack that the predominantly "Mexican" student population seemed to enjoy. I was standing behind a table counting our earnings when I young women approached the table. She was a short round student with long jet black dark hair and a beautiful face. She had walked across the lawn from where the more affluent, upper middle class, Tijuanense (Tijuana residents) students hung out chain smoking. She asked us for change for a five dollar bill in perfect English. I responded that we did speak Spanish, In perfect Spanish. She snapped to me in the same tongue, "Well, you’re the ones who think your gringos!"

Though this is not the first time a beautiful women has spoken to me in this manner, I was taken back. Once Again I was one of many victims of chingancanismo,  the constant jugement of who is most Mexican and or Xicano when most of us don’t agree or understand on what constitutes either. It is for this very reason that many of us are automatically labeled pocho. For those of you who are unaware, as most of us are:

Pocho/a (adj): 1.) a person of Mexican ancestry living in the United States 2.) a person of Mexican ancestry who does not speak Spanish 3.) A rotten or spoiled piece of fruit.

Renowned writer Gloria Analzaldua gives some insight into this Pochismo when she writes:

"‘Pocho’ Cultural traitor, you’re speaking the oppressors language by speaking English, you’re ruining the Spanish language,’ I have been accused by various Latinos and Latinas. Chicano Spanish is considered by the purist and by most Latinos as deficient, a mutilation of Spanish….
With Chicanas from New Mexico or Arizona I will speak Chicana Spanish a little, but often they don’t understand what I’m saying. With most California Chicanas I speak almost entirely English (unless I forget). When I first moved to San Francisco, I’d rattle something in Spanish, unintentionally embarrassing them. Often it is only with another Chicana Tejana that I can talk freely.:

Though Anazaldua has a clear understanding of this phenomenon that occurs when we try to outdo each other culturally she seems to fall into the same sense of superiority. I can imagine lame publishing houses slapping shinny stickers declaring Anazaldua work as a quintessential Xicano gospel and naïve faux intellectuals and Anglo readers as accepting her the end all be all authority on the issue. I shudder, I quiver. Ironically Anazaldua seems to have her own prejudices which are admittedly easy to fall into. Within the last few years I had come to terms with my prejudice towards Mexicans (Xicanos), whom don’t know how to speak Spanish, which I adopted from my mother. It wasn’t until I could put these in a historical context did I understand that in most cases of early Mexican settlers, assimilation was not a choice.

In Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuna writes of the state of the cultural identity of the Xicanos of the 1920’s:

"The masses of Mexican Americans remained nationalistic. They called themselves Mexicans and kept up the Spanish Language. However Mexican American organizations, dominated by the middle-class, assimilation continued to be the main objective; in public some middle class often referred to themselves as Latin or Spanish."
This of course heightened tensions between Mexican Americans residents and newly arrived immigrants nationals who did not speak English who were already competing for living space and work. Ironically Anaya offers, "…most outsiders never made the distinction between Mexican born and the Mexican American, they were all greasers to them". Though many of these attitudes between these two similar yet contrasting groups are still prevalent, many of us don’t understand that in many cases these conflicts go as far back as the turn of the century.

Eventually, in an attempt to favor the economic interest of the Euroamerican elite, Americanization programs where implemented throughout the American Southwest. According to Historian Gilbert Gonzalez:
"Americanization programs based upon academic and popular literature that tended to reinforce the stereotypes that of Mexicans as dirty, shiftless, lazy, irresponsible, unambitious, thriftless, fatalistic, selfish, promiscuous, and proned to dinking, violence, and criminal behavior."

The purpose of these programs was to civilize Mexican immigrants by having them their tradition customs and language to fit the mold by perpetuated by the Gods of industry and American profiteers. As I delve into history, the effects of these programs begin to manifest themselves in the stories my grandfather told me as a child. According to him, while he was working as a cook at an upscale Manhattan restaurant in the 1930’s, anyone caught speaking Spanish in the kitchen would be slapped in the face with a fish by the head chef. I can only imagine the confusion of barefoot children slapped in the mouth in those cold institutions, the unassuming rural school houses, for communicating the only way they knew how. It’s a wonder their decedents speak at all.

Around the same time as these programs where being implemented, the more affluent and thus more educated European and Mexican National began writing their tirades as a result of the birth of a new tongue. Case in point:

 Do you Speak Pocho...?  by Jorge Ulica (1924) excerpt translated from Spanish

The pocho is extending itself at an alarming manor.  I am referring to the dialect spoken by many of the "Spanish"
that come to California and in one mishmash  become more entangled in spanish words, english vocabulary, popular expressions and terrible "slang".
At this rate, it will be necessary to fund an Academy and publish a dictionary in spanish-pocho, so we may.


It is no wonder that this sense of cultural inferiority is and ever present element in Xicano Literature. Many authors have expressed the anguish of not understanding a language that is as foreign to them as Japanese or Portuguese is to an Anglo-American. As judgmental as I was unintentionally raised to be, many times have I held my silence when visiting my family in Baja California, Mexico, terrified at the thought of revealing myself to be a rotten piece of fruit because of a mispronounced word, phrase and accent. With a lack of knowledge of History, this would certainly be taken as an offense.

Writer, lawyer, and Xicano activist gives great insight into this anguish when he recalls:

They all are speaking the language of my youth; the language which I had stopped speaking at the age of seven when  the Captain (father) insisted we couldn't learn English unless we stopped speaking Spanish...I hadn't heard the language spoken in public with such gusto since I'd left El Paso as a boy.  I had personally stopped speaking Spanish in front of Americans or Oakies after Mr. Wilkie, my grammar school principal, had threatened to expel me....He came right up to me and whispered, "But you can't speak Spanish Oscar.  We don't allow it....This is an American School..we want you boys to learn English.  If you want to stay in this school.  Yes, you boys will have to speak English while on school grounds.

Perhaps if I had not been in love with madly in love with Jane Adison I might have fought the tall man, but I didn't want to get kicked out of school, so I didn't speak In the language of my parents until that night in Juarez, some twenty-odd years later.When the thick guard in uniform approached me I felt a tingle in my neck.  I had no passport, no identification, of any kind whatsoever.  I had lost my wallet in Taos several months prior to my entry into Juarez....I was certain he’d interrogate me...Where have you been?  Just who are you muchacho?  And just how would I explain to him about Mr. Wilkie If I couldn't speak Spanish?  And would they provide an interpreter? Por Favor? No knew it wouldn't do.  I knew I'd be arrested...Impersonating a mexicano?  Is there such a charge?

More recently, in a poem titled OAXACA, 1974 Author, and Xicana Lorna Dee Cervantes writes:

I look for you all day in the streets of Oaxaca.
The Children run to me, laughing,
Spinning me blind and silly.
They call me in the words of another language.
My brown body searches the streets
For dye hat will color my thoughts

But Mexico gags,
On this blanned pochaseed.

I didn’t ask to be brought up tonta!
My name hangs above me like a loose tooth.
Old women know my secret,
"Es la culpa de los antepasados."
Blame it on the old ones.
They give me a name
That fights me.

Nearly a century later, we find ourselves here, bickering over the same idnetty issues  that stems from an igorance of history. Two cultures, from the same point of origin pressed against each other, confused and conflicted by ourselves  while the while the hands that apply the preaasure prevail.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

State of the Union Adress

"It’s in the blood now and not just my blood… Someone has to answer to all the smothered lives of all the fighters who have been forced to carry on, chained to a war for freedom just like a slave chained to his master. Somebody has to pay for the fact that I’ve got to leave my friends to stay whole and human, to survive intact, to carry on the species and my own Buffalo run as long as I can." -Zeta

A man stands in front of a group of students in a classroom with theatre style seating. His back is to the audience as he stretches his arm up towards the projection of two pictures of a man on a white screen. Two men actually. His palm is adjacent to the wall and his long fingers spread out as if he, through some form of telekinesis, where holding up the four walls in the classroom. He is tall and wiry, brown with and arrowhead nose. He wears a blue suit and a tie stars and stripes. He looks gaudy.

On the left, the a black and white picture of a young man in with jet black hair dark frames standing proudly staring ahead him and away from the camera. He is surrounded by students that look just like him, undeterred, staring straight past an invisible line of scrimmage into the eyes of an opponent who is everywhere, the uninviting future. We are told that this is the same man in the picture on the right, though I have my doubts. The man on the right stands by idlely with an overfed look in his eye. He stares straight ahead at the camera and rests his conjoined hands on his belly. Underneath this photo, after his name it reads "PHD."

Arrowhead nose continues with his sermon; "Notice the transition, the transformation from…activist student to a professional Chicano. A Doctor no less. This is what this organization is about, helping Chicanos focus their energy in positive ways, to put you in these seats of power. At this moment all of you, my brown brothas and sistas of Aztlan, are making this transformation as you choose to accept the challenge of a college education." I shudder. I quiver.

What happened to our anger, the kitchens where two parts gasoline where mixed with one part oil and one part soap, chasing money changers out of churches, protecting ourselves and protecting each other. Lives are still being smothered under the hot sun where an invisible line dictates life or death, the cold nights where the barefoot venture out onto the sides of dark highways, children being shot in the back for pulling their pants up. No wonder there has always been a mistrust of the academic sector. These theories of self-improvement and gospels of solidarity conceal more or as many subliminal messages as the Evening World News or a fucking State of the Union address. It somehow stings more when it’s through the lips of "one of our own". No wonder I’m on my one. We are currently undergoing the process of being fixed, that is castration from ourselves and each other, and are to numb to feel a thing.

A man in the front seat interjects, "Well, when I think of MECHA, I there seems be a negative connotation to the name. I think of low riders." FUCK. That’s what that is. Mentally I’ve checked out, but I stay in my seat to not attract attention to myself. "What will I become?", I think to myself. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a College Professor. I’ve already learned to adjust my inflections and speech patterns, perhaps I should grow my hair and change the way I dress if nothing more, as a subversive act. I could shave of my mustache and goatee. Maybe I should allow the woman at the barber shop to trim my eyebrows. She says a trim would make me look less angry. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset anyone with the way I look, let alone my thoughts. Maybe I could go by my middle name, Brian, that sounds much more acceptable. Maybe I should smash this mirror. Maybe I should tell these Chicano professionals that they’re full of shit.

Maybe for, just for now, I will hold my peace. One day I will be in front of the classroom with my palms in the sky and I will give my sermon, I will cause tension in the mind by distorting the distortions, altering the shape and characteristic of the seat of power. I won’t even sit in that arm chair.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Somtimes it's Hard to Meditate

In the poem Meditaions of The South Valley, Jimmy Santiago Baca gives a eulogy of sorts to his friend Eddie, a multifaceted young Man who died of a gunshot to the head. There does seem to be contrast to this character, but only to the reader who does not understand that all things are not either white or black.  Eddie is described as the type of man who would walk to the store with his grandmother but at the same time would also stand on the frontlines with his carnales when it was time to do so.  Though there are some references to drug use and what is largely reguarded as "Gang Activity", Baca does not present them as a crtiticism, rather more as a simple newsreport of what was going on in this young mans existance and how it is a reflection of what occurs in many of our communities.
I recall a friend of mine named Charlie who was recently killed by police officers in after stealing a car. When I frequent the Colonia he once lived in, I walk past his eulogy. Black writing on a white wall "Zapata 13". Like Baca, I dont bother myself with looking at people the perspective of morality, rather I look at Charlie much as Baca looked at Eddie, just another young brotherwho left us much to soon. Rest in peace to both of these brothers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading in Public

The day is unseasonably warm
 I walk into a dark tavern with air conditioning
Mid day, Sunday, right bbefore kickoff
I sit anywhere
And they sit everywhere

I turn a page and look off into empty space
Confusing them
Why wold anybody read a book here
Why would anybody read a book?

The table I'm sitting in is suddenly occupied by women
Bleached hair, gaudy colorfull tatoos
They sit and laugh at the men that admire them
I can tell they want me to leave

In the cold confines of stone buldings
They want too sit next to me in the suns warmth
I let them sit at my table
But I keep one foot on chair and refuse to interact

I am in Cuernavaca looking for Traven
I am in Tenochtitlan being massacred alonside the Mexica
In slotitary confinement in New Mexico
In the court room with a red, white and green briefcase adressing the judge
I am evrywhere and so are they

Friday, November 4, 2011

In the Begining There Was Flatulence and Pesticides

On Sundays, I take a Hawaiian outrigger canoe class at my community colleges aquatic center located on the strip of beach and highway connecting the South Bay and the more affluent Coronado Island. The core exercise provided by paddling through the water at high speeds serves two purposes.  First, it’s an easy way to raise a grade point average if you don’t mind waking up early on a Sunday morning and stepping into thigh deep frigid waters.  As a potential transfer student I need any boost I can get I get.  Second, it provides a mandatory weekly work out to counter the effects of hours of physical inactivity that being a student entails.

Most times I arrive to the site at Silver Strand State Beach early, about an hour before class starts, to enjoy the gentle pouring sounds of the current swaying and the tides stretching themselves onto the shore then pulling themselves back.  The ringing of metal shackles knocking against the masts of beached sail boats, the salty smell in the air, and the solitude provide the perfect environment for recreational reading and the thoughts it perpetuates.

 For weeks I had immersed myself in the works of such distinct and diverse writers as Rudolfo Anaya, José Antonio Burciaga, Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, and Gloria Anzaldúa and other books borrowed from the menageries of titles accumulated in the offices of Professor English Professors Francisco Bustos and Phillip Lopez.  Being that I was to be the first Southwestern College student to ever attempt an honors project in Chicano Literature, I knew that I had to come up with something special. 

On this occasion I was reading Working in the Dark by Jimmy Santiago Baca.   I sat on a bench in front of the bay in perfect concentration as I read Bacas’ anguish and personal account of what he refers to as, “The war between the two countries in America.”  Baca explains:

 “ …a country of the poor and deprived ,and a country of those who had a chance to make something of themselves.  Two societies, two ways of living, going on side by side every hour of every day.  And in every aspect of life from opportunities to manners and morals, the two societies stand in absolute opposition.  Most Americans remain ignorant of this, of the fact that they live in a country that holds hostage behind bars another populous.”    

I read this passage three times over.  I put the book down in my lap and stared at the pastel morning mist that was floating above the water. I became consumed with an inexplicable sense shame, the Shame that I had the privilege to sit peacefully on bench reading on a Sunday morning.. I was a scholar now.  Though I was all too aware of this opposition, and the struggle between two societies, I had exiled myself from it all.  I had exchanged the unforgiving places I once inhabited to rub shoulders with affluent school administrators at scholarship breakfasts and fundraisers.  All the praise and awards I had received since I made this transition had only compounded the sense of indignity I tormented myself with.  In my mind I could hear the voice of Lorna Dee Cervantes telling me, “Martín, Just because they are not shooting at you doesn’t mean they aren’t shooting.”

This silence was brief and fleeting as it was disrupted by the arrival of the other students of the canoe class.  They were an older well-heeled group. They wear designer sunglasses and sportswear made of breathable fabric and nylon, a far cry from the Polynesian barbarians who first braved the shark infested waters of their islands to create this custom that was now sport for the wealthy.  They seem unaware that they are wealthy.  They always go to great lengths to preserve the dignity and superstitions of an alien culture.  “No Bananas on the boat!”  They speak in high tones and there is always a sense of optimism when they great each other. Some are kind and others speak to me with a  sarcastic condescending inflections.  Amongst them, I am a separatist.  I stand alone reading or starring of into the bay waiting to stab my oar into the water and propel their vessels forward .

Because of my build, they always sit me in the power seats, the fourth and fifth seats of the canoe.  These seats are known as the engine room.  They are also a focal point of the canoes equilibrium.  Any sudden shift of weight to either side can cause the whole thing to Huli ,a Hawaiian word for when a boat flips over. The chain of command dictates that anyone sitting in these seats must row with the maximum amount of strength while keeping their mouths shut.  I do and quietly ignore them when they yell instructions while fantasizing of a Huli. Ironically, I am often told I physically resemble them.  I certainly resemble them more than I do the Polynesian Barbarians.

On this occasion I am greeted by a slim older man with gray hairs growing out of his face.  He resembles an albino raisin.  Perhaps he has a medical condition.  I responded by mimicking the high tones they speak in. 
“Hey, how ya doin'?”
“Beautiful morning isn’t it”
“Yeah, reminds me of a small motel my grandparents once owned in San Quintin.”
“Oh, San Quintin,” he says.  “ I have friends who own some of the agricultural turbines out there.  It is such a beautiful place.  The rich land and water make it an ideal place for farming.”

 I am convinced that he has a medical condition as he begins repeatedly farting but continues speaking undeterred. I am distracted, not by his flatulence, but by his perceptions of beauty.  While he imagines San Quintin as a haven for oyster slurping gringos and American profiteering, I am thinking of forgettable short brown figures hunched over picking the ripe strawberries and grapes, and the pesticides that cause deformities in their children.   These are the faceless second class citizens of Mexico; the Oaxacos (wa-ha-cos), or, as I’ve heard Caucasian crusaders refer to them, the Mixtec Indians.  There is a saying amongst the Mexican working class, “Support Mexico, kill a Oaxaco.”

It dawned on me that war between two societies in America that Baca explains is just the small part of something greater, a gorge that transcends all prison cells and international borders. This is the chasm between the sentient and the supremely unaware.  Within the sentient lies a struggle between the urge to yell at the top of ones lungs and  rattle and smash cages with provocative language against the instinct to please the world around us by forever holding our peace.  This is the endemic conflict that fuels much of what is classified as Chicano Literature, conflicts in identity, culture, education, faith, language and socioeconomic consciousness. The conflict between the comforts of earnest conformity versus terrifying paroxysms of opposition.
             This marks the Beginning of my Xicanisms Blog, a documentation of my immersion into these works and investigative report identifying  that  parallels between words  printed on a page and the environments in which I am reading them. A combination of theoretical analysis, social experiment and unsettling rant.  Through the use of provocative language, popular consensus will be challenged and sensibilities will be hurt. Though this might occur at the detriment of my academic objective,  the relevancy of the project demands it.