Chicano Cultural Nationalism: A Quest for an Identity and its Limitations (by Adriana Esquivel)


This lesson is designed for three days to engage students in critical thinking about the use of cultural nationalism in the Chicano Movement and explore its benefits and limitations. Students will analyze a primary resource collaboratively to explore cultural nationalism and its masculine overtones.


In the following lesson students will be asked to analyze a primary resource using the knowledge of its context, which they will gain through the introduction piece and the teacher’s introduction. Students will work in collaboration with their peers to dissect the language being used in the primary resource. Students will draw connections between the message being conveyed in document and the Chicano Movement. Students will gain skills in working collaboratively to arrive at meaning. In addition, students will gain analytical skills by doing a close reading of a small section of a primary resource and drawing connections between the movement, cultural nationalism, and masculine overtones.

Essential Understanding:

Although the Chicano Movement relied on cultural nationalism because it unified groups of youth around one identity, cultural nationalism was limited due to its patriarchal ideologies and practices that excluded Chicanas from the Chicano movement.

Essential Questions:

-How did the Chicana/o identity develop and what role did “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” play in shaping this identity?

-Why was it important to solidify an identity in the Mexican American community and the Chicano Movement?

-What inferences can we make about what it meant to be Chicana/o in 1969? How was a Chicano defined?

-What were some advantages and limitations about the Chicano identity and cultural nationalism in terms of the movement? Why did the Chicano Movement rely on cultural nationalism?

-How were cultural nationalism and the Chicano Movement limited in terms of gender? Who was excluded?


-Assimilation: The process in which a minority group adapts the language, cultural practices, values of the dominant society.

-Cultural Nationalism: A political identity, which focuses on the cultural identity of a group.

-Patriarchy: It a system in which men hold more power than women. The father is seen as superior in the family, while the women are seen as depending on him. Women are largely excluded from positions of power under this system.

-Self-determination: It is the idea that members of a given community should have control over their own community.


In the beginning of the twentieth century Mexicans living in the United States were introduced to the Americanization process. During this time Mexicans in the United States were segregated in housing and schooling. Americanization programs would visit “Mexican” schools and homes and try to eradicate Mexican cultural values and the Spanish language. Although many Mexicans in the United States maintained their cultural values and were opposed to the Americanization process, there were other Mexican Americans who did not oppose it.[1] For instance, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was a group of educated middle class Mexican Americans in Texas who supported the assimilation process. LULAC stressed assimilation and citizenship to gain political power and demand constitutional rights.[2]

From 1930 through 1950 there were a few Mexican American movements that sprung across the Southwest. There were several court hearings that challenged segregation in schools, such as Mendez V Westminster (1947). A migration of Mexican Americans, from rural regions to urban areas, also took place around this same time. Acuña argues that Mexican youth were becoming more urbanized, which made their assimilation easier. Although some Mexican Americans were becoming more assimilated, they were still at the margins of society and treated like second-class citizens. Even after coming back from World War II the condition of the Mexican Americans did not improve. The realization that, even after assimilating and proving their patriotism by fighting in the war, Mexican Americans were still seen as an other and were treated unjustly, sparked a political consciousness in the Mexican American community.

By the 1960s the Mexican American population in cities like Los Angeles was increasing. As cities in Los Angeles, like East Los Angeles, became more populated by Mexican Americans, schools began receiving less funding. Thus, “a growing number of Mexican Americans became aware of the inferior education they received. Overcrowded classrooms, double sessions, a lack of Mexican American teachers, and a general neglect of their schools encouraged pushouts (dropouts).[3] Other issues such as the high unemployment rate and tension between the police and the Mexican American community made Mexican Americans more politically conscious.

By 1967, youth in California became involved with groups such as the Mexican American Movement (MAM), the Community Service Organization, and the Young Chicanos for Community action (YCCA). In higher education youth became involved with the Mexican American Student Association and the United Mexican American Students (UMAS).[4] Then in 1969, after considerable organization among high school students, college students, and Sal Castro, a high school teacher, students in East Los Angeles walked-out from their high schools to protest educational inequalities. Students demanded several things from the school board like, bilingual and bicultural education, more counselors, smaller class sizes, abolishment of corporal punishment, and the opening of restrooms for students, among other things.

Soon after, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales the leader of the Crusade for Justice organized the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado. The Youth Conference was significant in establishing an identity for the movement. In this conference youth from across the Southwest discussed issues of identity. Thus, “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” was adopted, establishing cultural nationalism and self-determination as their ideological orientation.

Part of the Chicano Movement was a quest for an identity and an affirmation of their brown power and beauty. Adopting the term Chicano was a form of “cultural resistance”[5] because they were reclaiming a derogatory term referring to recently arrived immigrant farmworkers. As Muñoz argues, “Chicano youth radicalism represented a return to the humanistic cultural values of the Mexican working class. This in turn led to the shaping of a nationalist ideology, which although anti-racist in nature, stressed the nonwhite indigenous aspects of Mexican working-class culture.[6]” This Chicano nationalist identity called for control of what made up the Chicano community.

However, although this cultural nationalist ideology was meant to be a common denominator among the Mexican American community, many groups within the Chicano Movement had differing interests. Therefore, different interests and ideologies contributed to the lack of unity.[7] In addition, cultural nationalism was not simply an ideology of cultural pride and self-determination, when put into practice cultural nationalism tended to support male dominance and supremacy. Blackwell argues that Chicanos in the movement claimed that cultural survival could not come with a redefinition of gender roles. This redefinition of gender roles would contradict the traditional cultural practices of la familia.

La familia defined the father as the breadwinner and the mother as the holder of cultural traditions and values. This limited the role of Chicanas in the movement. Thus, the use of maintaining cultural traditions, like la familia, constrained Chicanas to a traditional role. Moreover, Blackwell explains that Chicanas who were challenging patriarchy in the movement were seen as opposing the Chicano Movement. Further, she adds, that the figures that were celebrated and seen as revolutionary were all heterosexual males and “thus, they became figures of resistance representing self-determination, and Chicano-ness (or peoplehood).”[8] This manifested itself in the actual “leaders” of the Chicano movement, which included Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, César Chávez, and Luis Valdez, among others. Thus, although cultural nationalism engendered the Chicano identity it was limited in its inclusion of Chicanas.


-Primary Resource: “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, Denver, Colorado, March 1969. Public Domain. Or

-Chicano! Taking back the school Film


-Vocabulary List

-Access to YouTube

-Butcher Paper


-Index Cards (for exit ticket)


Part 1 – Introduction to the Chicano Movement Context

20-30 minutes: The day before this class the teacher will give students the introduction piece provided here. The first day of class the teacher will introduce the students to the historical context of the Chicano Movement. The teacher should address the americanization process, identity crisis, frustrations in the Mexican American community, cultural nationalism, and self-determination. Teacher should briefly remind students of the other movements that were in full effect during the Chicano Movement, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Farmworkers Movement, and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Finally, teacher should address some of the gender tensions in nationalist movements.

30 minutes: Students will watch the first 30 minutes of the film Chicano! Taking Back the Schools. This film will introduce students to the Chicano student movement and the context during which “El Plan” was adopted and when cultural nationalism was evident.

5-10 minutes: Before the students leave class they will be asked to turn in an “exit ticket.” In an index card students must write an understanding students took from the introduction and the film or a question that they may still have. They must turn this in before they leave class, thus it is an “exit ticket.” With the “exit ticket” teacher will be able to check for understanding.

Homework: Students will be given “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” to take home and read before class. Students will also be given the vocabulary list (provided here). Students will be assigned to bring one question about the reading and one thing they found interesting. This will prepare students for next class activity.

Part 2 – Analyzing Primary Resource: “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán”

10-15 minutes: Teacher will ask students to share with the class the question they brought. Teacher will clarify any questions students may have (context, terms, etc.).

45-50 minutes: Students will break up into groups and be divided according to sections of the primary resource. Students will only read the preamble of El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán. There will be six groups. Two groups will be assigned to read and analyze the first paragraph of the preamble. Two other groups will be assigned the second paragraph. Finally, the last two groups will be assigned the third paragraph. Students will be given butcher paper and markers and will be asked to answer the following questions on that paper (below). Students will be encouraged to share what they wrote for their homework assignment with their group.

Students will answer the following questions:

What is the main idea of the passage you have read? (Give two to three examples supporting your claim)

What are the key terms that appear repeatedly in the text? What are some of the meanings we can derive from these terms? Are these terms masculine or feminine?

Where do we see cultural nationalism in this text? Give examples.

Where do we see self-determination? Give examples.

Part 3 – Carousel Activity: Student Presentation and Discussion

10 minutes: Carousel Activity – Students will walk around and read the posters that were created by their classmates.

20 minutes: Students will present their poster to the rest of the class.

30 minutes: After the presentations students will gather around in a circle and,  along with the teacher, will begin to discuss the essential questions provided here (above).

5 minutes: Exit ticket activity – students will be asked to answer the following question in an index card: What were some of the benefits and limitations of cultural nationalism in the Chicano Movement?

Additional Sources:

Primary Resource:

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez, “I am Joaquin”, Literatura Chicana: An anthology in Spanish, English, Caló. (New York; London, Garland Publishing Inc, 1997). Or

Secondary Resources:

Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. 2000.

Blackwell, Maylei. Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movements. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2011.

Muñoz, Carlos. Jr. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. New York: Verso, 2007.

Rodriguez, Richard, T. Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. North Carolina: Duke University Press. 2009.


Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Science 6-12

Key Ideas and Details

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Craft and Structure

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

Historical and Social Sciences Analytical Skills

Historical Interpretation

3.Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

[1] Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. 2000.

[2] Ibid, 195.

[3] Ibid, 344.

[4] Ibid, 361.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Muñoz, Carlos. Jr. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. (New York: Verso, 2007). 26.

[7] Ibid, 147.

[8] Blackwell, Maylei. Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movements. (Austin: University of Texas Press. 2011) 97.

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