Identity and Movement: Understanding the Development of the Chicano Identity During the Chicano Rights Movement (by Chris Walters)


This lesson, which involves one class period and two outside activities, will prompt students to explore the relationship between identity and movement in the Chicano Rights Movement.   Through different activities, students will study the ways in which Corky Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquín” and other works helped to define the Chicano identity and impact the outcomes of the Chicano Rights Movement.


This lesson will broadly explore the relationship between identity and movement within the Chicano Rights Movement of the 1970s.  It will center on a primary source, Corky Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquín,” and its descriptions of the distinct Chicano character.  The lesson will be broken into four parts — each exploring a different aspect of the relationship between identity and the Chicano Movement.  Further, each activity will require students to practice different essential skills expected of high school humanities students.  For example, students will be asked to read and compare two primary sources — “I Am Joaquín” and “Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed.”  Through this activity, students will not only explore accounts describing the Chicano identity and the objectives of the Chicano Movement, but also critically engage with primary texts, exploring their basic meanings and implications.  Also, students will be given a broad lecture dealing with significant figures, organizations, and events within the Chicano Movement.  This lecture, which will closely follow the given introduction, is designed to give historical context to the primary source.

After the lecture, students will have small group discussions about how, if they were in Corky Gonzales’s shoes, they personally would have acted.  This activity will require that students engage with history in an empathetic yet fair way.  To participate in this activity, students must understand the actions and writings of a past figure, Gonzales, in their historical context, and critically evaluate them in the context of personal understandings.  A take-home activity will require students to rewrite a particularly machismo, patriarchal portion of Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquin” from the perspective of a fictional Chicana woman — Joaquina.  This activity will require students to think critically about the primary text and ask penetrating questions about flaws with Gonzales’s envisioned Chicano identity.  Through this exercise, students will not only practice tackling a primary source in a hands-on way, but also learning how to empathize with and further understand groups within larger groups — in this case Chicana activists.


The development of the Chicano identity both reflected and impacted the course of the Chicano Rights Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.


1.)  What were the defining characteristics of the “Chicano identity” as articulated by Corky Gonzales and other Chicano Movement leaders?

2.)  Why was developing a distinct identity so important for the Chicano Movement?  What did this identity add to the movement?

3.)  How did a legacy of colonialism and discrimination by the United States government and its Anglo citizens change the Chicano identity?

4.)  How did this identity influence the objectives and methods of the Chicano Rights Movement?

5.)  How did the machismo characterizations of Chicano activists exclude and put down certain groups within the Chicano community?


Colonialism: The control of government over a dependent country, territory, or people.

Nationalism: the spirit or aspirations common to a nation or group.

Radicalism: the holding of extreme or radical views that clash with the status quo.

Assimilation: to conform to the customs and expectations of another culture.


According to many scholars, the Chicano Rights Movement arose in the wake of the 1965-1967 Delano Grape Strike, led by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  The strike, which called for better wages, safer working conditions, and the right to unionize, was stubbornly economic in nature.  Rather than striving for the betterment of all Chicanos, Chavez and the UFW instead focused on gaining rights for Chicano farm workers specifically.  However, despite the non-racial nature of this strike, its astounding success encouraged many Chicanos to assert themselves and strive for equality.  Of course, in order to understand the origins of the Chicano Rights Movement, we must look back in time, far before Chavez and his strike in Delano.  As Ian Hanley López argues in Racism on Trial, Chicanos endured centuries of oppression at the hands of Anglo Americans.  Through segregated schools, political and legal exclusion, and rampant land theft, Anglo Americans effectively prevented Chicanos from sharing in the “American dream.”[i]  For example, Oscar Acuña points out that Mexican Americans in New Mexico “lost 2,000,000 acres of private lands and 1,700,000 acres of communal lands.”[ii]  Thus, in assessing the origins of the Chicano Movement, we must acknowledge a broader legacy of discrimination and eve, as Acuña considers it, colonization.

Around 1967, many important Chicano student organizations began to emerge in the U.S.  For example, the Mexican American Youth Organization, or MAYO, was formed at St. Mary’s College in San Antonio.  Founded by José Ángel Gutiérrez and four other student activists, MAYO hounded Chicanos to register to vote.  Further, they staged school walkouts to pressure school boards to include Mexican American members.[iii]  In Los Angeles, college students formed the United Mexican American Students to help to organize a growing Chicano student movement.  UMAS would play an essential role in organizing and facilitating the East Los Angeles high school walkouts of 1968.  The Brown Berets, a radical and militant group of youths, arose in 1968 through the efforts of David Sanchez and responded to widespread discrimination and police brutality.[iv]  Last, El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA, was founded in Santa Barbara in 1969 to organize and represent Chicano students around the Southwest.

While the Chicano Movement involved countless strikes, walkouts, rallies, and meetings, it also in many ways cumulated in a few of key events.  For example, the East Los Angeles student walkouts of 1968 dramatically altered the course of the Chicano Movement. The walkouts gained national attention for the Chicano Movement and mobilized a large and diverse group of people — from high school students to radical militants.  Of course, the walkouts led to other important events: the First Chicano Youth Liberation Movement, held in 1969 in Denver, Colorado, brought together many important Chicano leaders and activists from around the Southwest.  Organized by Corky Gonzales and MEChA, this conference produced some of the most influential literature and poetry of the movement, including “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” and “I Am Joaquín.”  Last, the 1970 Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles was a large-scale, mainstream protest of Chicanos against the Vietnam War and social injustices.  Although intended to be a peaceful demonstration, the Moratorium ended violently, with police officers arresting, beating, and even killing protesters — most notably journalist Rubén Salazar.[v]  The Chicano Moratorium and its violence demonstrated to Chicanos and the country at large many of the reasons for which they were protesting.

Of course, the Chicano Rights Movement extended well beyond these organizations and events.  Activists employed a diverse assortment of strategies and techniques to achieve equality.  First, through the efforts of MAYO, Chicanos created their own political party, La Raza Unida, to maintain a Mexican American presence in government.  In the early 1970s, La Raza Unida won impressive victories in Texas and California, and succeeded in mobilizing thousands of Chicanos to vote.[vi]  Beyond the political realm, Chicano activists explored the Chicano identity and the goals of the movement through art and literature.  In the tradition of Siqueiros, Rivera, and Orozco, Chicano artists painted murals that dealt with themes of pre-Columbian America and the harmful effects of colonialism.  Also, activists wrote poems, articles, and essays to support the movement, such as Gonzales’s “I Am Joaquín” and Alturista’s “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.”  Last, the Brown Berets published a popular newspaper — La Causa — that reported on the movement and commented on the status of Chicanos in America.  Through these forms of art and literature, Chicanos asserted themselves as a distinct and worthy group in American society.



  • Louis Valdez’s video adaptation of “I Am Joaquín,” found in Part 1 and Part 2.


Before Class:

Students will be asked to read Corky Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquín” and the “Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed.”  They will then be asked to compare and contrast the two primary documents, examining each source’s main ideas and goals, as well as their characterizations of Chicanos.  They will do this through either a Venn diagram or short lists–this activity is aimed at understanding, not beauty of prose.  Bare bones analysis–including diagrams and bullet points–will be expected, not paragraphs.  In completing this activity, students should also look for and write down key words and phrases that might reveal the author’s ultimate intentions.  After this exercise, students will not only have a surface-level understanding of the texts, but also will have read between the lines to some extent and explored implicit meanings within the primary sources.

In class:

To begin class, students will informally share their responses to the first activity.  This quick exercise will not only serve as a warm-up for later discussion but also as a way for them to share distinct perspectives about the Chicano Movement.

After 5-10 minutes, the teacher will begin a short, 15-20 minute lecture about the Chicano Rights Movement.  This lecture will introduce the key figures, organizations, and events of the Chicano Movement.  The lecture will be purposefully broad: it is meant to give basic context to the primary sources, so that students will be able to make connections and draw inferences about the Chicano Movement in relation to the primary source.

Afterward, the class will break into groups of three to five for a discussion that will last the remainder of class.  Students will discuss how they personally would have acted if they were in Corky Gonzales’s shoes.  How would they have defined Chicano in “I Am Joaquín?”  How would they have organized the Chicano Movement if they were in a leadership position?  What kinds of goals would they have striven for?  Through this discussion, students will accomplish two important goals: first, they will critically evaluate Gonzales’s words and actions in their original context; and second, they will look for biases and injustices within the Chicano Movement.


At the end of class, the teacher will give students a handout containing a particularly machismo, sexist excerpt from “I Am Joaquín,” shown below.  The class will be asked to rewrite this section from a Chicana woman’s perspective and title the poem “I Am Joaquina.”  Students should think about how Gonzales describes gender roles in the Chicano community and whether his descriptions are fair or consistent with the goals of the Chicano Movement.  Further, students should practice empathy toward Chicana activists in completing this exercise, thinking critically about their needs and goals.

My blood runs pure on the ice-caked
Hills of the Alaskan isles,
On the corpse-strewn beach of Normandy,
The foreign land of Korea
And now Vietnam.
Here I stand
Before the court of justice,
For all the glory of my Raza
To be sentenced to despair.
Here I stand,
Poor in money,
Arrogant with pride,
Bold with machismo,
Rich in courage
Wealthy in spirit and faith.[vii]

Extra Credit:

An optional activity for students will be to watch Louis Valdez’s dramatic reading of “I Am Joaquín” on YouTube and write a short response essay afterward.  The 1-page response essay should discuss how this video medium changed or emphasized different parts of “I Am Joaquín.”  In completing this optional activity, students will question and evaluate the way in context and medium can affect the way we understand a primary source.  This will prompt students to think about the ways in which we can use primary sources to understand history, as well as their limitations.


Primary Sources

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

McCurdy, Jack. “Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed.” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1968.

Secondary Sources 

Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation. San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1972.

Hanley López, Ian F. Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Mariscal, George. Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Muñoz, Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989.

Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.


1.)  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.

2.)  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.

3.)  Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

4.)  Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

5.)  Students identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.

6.)  Students recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect.

7.)  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.

8.)  Students understand the meaning, implication, and impact of historical events and recognize that events could have taken other directions.

[i] Hanley López, Ian F. Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, ch. 2.

[ii] Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation. San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1972, pg. 62.

[iii] Acuña, pg. 229.

[iv] Hanley López, pg. 178.

[v] Hanley López, pg. 194.

[vi] Muñoz, Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989.

Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009 pg. 100-1.

[vii] Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez, “I am Joaquin”, Literatura Chicana: An anthology in Spanish, English, Caló. (New York; London, Garland Publishing Inc, 1997), lines 201-17

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