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.  

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