Identity Crisis: Chicano vs. Mexican-American (by Bianca Rodriguez)

Title

Identity Crisis: Chicano vs. Mexican-American

Standards

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies for Grade 6–8 Students

  1. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  2. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  3. Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Overview

The beginning of the Chicano Movement and the formation of the Chicano identity lead to a split within the Mexican community living in the United States: Mexican-American versus Chicano. These two identities, separated by political belief and social action, lead to an identity crisis in the Mexican community residing north of the Mexico-United States border.

Framework

This lessen will provide students a short introduction to the Chicano Movement and the identity crisis in question. Students will be asked to read and analyze two news articles regarding the two terms ‘Chicano’ and ‘Mexican-American.’ Students will be asked to define or summarize each term through group presentations, and then they will discuss and contrast the two identities. Students will be expected to annotate the text when formulating definitions and discussion points. Additionally, students will be asked to identify any potential bias on behalf of the author by deciding which identity the author might have claimed. A short biography of the author, Ruben Salazar, will be provided to end the lesson.

Essential Understanding

Although the Chicano and Mexican-American identities both describe persons of Mexican decent living in the United States, the two terms are distinct and describe differing social and political views.

Essential Questions

  1. What are key differences in the two identities? What people choose Mexican-American, and what people choose Chicano?
  2. What are the controversies between the two identities? What do Mexican-Americans think of Chicanos, and vice-versa?
  3. Is Ruben Salazar’s choice in identity transparent in his writing? What does this say about author-bias in these articles?

Glossary

Identity: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

Chicano Movement: also known as Chicano Civil Rights Movement orEl Movimiento, was a political movement spanning from the 1960s to the 1980s that extended the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (which began in the 1940s). The goals of the Chicano Movement were to achieve Mexican American empowerment.

Anglo: white, English-speaking American.

Mexican descent: either was born in or has ancestors from Mexico.

Introduction

The Chicano Movement

The beginning of the Chicano Movement and the formation of the Chicano identity lead to a split within the Mexican community living in the United States. People of Mexican roots living on the northern side of the border were then left to individually decide: were they Mexican-American or were they Chicano? The youth were especially troubled with this decision, as the Chicano Movement was highly prominent in schools and universities. Aware of the extreme racism and injustice, students faced the largest pressures in deciding whether or not they would stand up for change, and if so, how they would bring about that change.

This decision of belief and action was paralleled with a decision for identity, leading to an identity crisis. This crisis is highlighted in some of Ruben Salazar’s Los Angeles Times columns, including Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?[1] published on February 6, 1970 and Chicanos vs. Traditionalists[2] published on March 6, 1970, respectively. These two articles provide contrasts between the Chicano and the “traditional” Mexican American identities by summarizing how the two groups defined themselves and how each group viewed the other during the peak of the Chicano movement in 1970.

Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar was himself “a product of the US-Mexican Border,” as he was born in the Mexican border city of Cuidad Juárez, and was brought to the United States city of El Paso when he was eight months old. Salazar’s numerous Los Angeles Times articles offer an interesting perspective of the different stages of the Chicano movement. He began writing for the Times during the “pre-Chicano” Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in late 50s and early 60s and continued writing until his untimely death at the peak of the Chicano Movement in 1970.[3]

Salazar avoided being labeled as either Mexican American or Chicano for professional reasons, and he did not associate himself as an activist. The last thing he wanted was for his cultural identity to interfere with his credibility as a reporter. However, he did refer to himself as Chicano and believed that Mexican Americans should embrace their Mexican culture rather than destroy it.[4] [5] Salazar was more sympathetic towards the Chicano movement and his beliefs often aligned with those of the Chicano activist.[6]

Materials

Activities

Introduction and Reading

  • Introduce the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement and the Chicano Movement (see Introduction).
  • Have students read Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want? and Chicanos vs. Traditionalists. This can be done individually/silently or as a out-loud as a class.
  • When done reading, allow students time to ask for clarification on phrases or terms they may not understand. See the included Glossary if necessary.

Identity Presentations

  • Divide the students in to two groups: one group will represent the Chicano identity, and the other group will represent the Mexican-American identity.
  • Have each group re-read or skim the articles and circle words or phrases that describe the identity they are representing and underline any words or phrases that describe what people from their identity say or feel about the other identity.
  • Have each group prepare a short 1-2 minute presentation that summarizes their assigned identity and the way their identity views the other identity.

Class Discussion

  • Have the class regroup for discussion.
  • Discuss the two identities (see Essential Questions 1 and 2).
  • Lastly, ask the students what they think the author identifies as and why. End the class by telling a short biography of Ruben Salazar and the importance of his journalism during the Chicano Movement (see Introduction).

Additional Sources

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

Arturo Rosales. Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1996.

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

Ruben Salazar and Mario T. Garcia. Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1995-1970. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.


[1] Ruben Salazar and Mario T. Garcia, “Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?,” in Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1995-1970 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 235-236.

[2] Salazar, “Chicanos vs. Traditionalists,” in Border Correspondent, 243-244.

[3] Salazar, Border Correspondent, 5-13.

[4] Salazar, Border Correspondent, 16.

[5] F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1996), 205.

[6] George Mariscal, Brown-eyes Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975, (University of New Mexico Press, 2005), 251-252.

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