We are immersed in popular culture during most of our waking hours. It is on radio, television, and our computers when we access the Internet, in newspapers, on streets and highways in the form of advertisements and billboards, in movie theaters, at music concerts and sports events, in supermarkets and shopping malls, and at religious festivals and celebrations. It is found throughout our homes in the kitchen, the playroom, and a teenager's bedroom as posters of rock groups, actors, and sports heroes. Madonna, Michael Jordan, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Joe Montana, Sammy Sosa, and Jennifer López are all subjects of popular culture. In short, we experience popular culture with all of our senses almost every day of our lives.
Why is it important to study popular culture? One answer is that the popular culture that surrounds us can tell us a great deal about ourselvesour traditions, roots, history, economics, political life, prejudices, values, and attitudes. This is especially true when we examine aspects of popular culture analytically; that is, when we pause long enough to study it in a historical context. Such study can tell us much not only about the larger society we live in, but also about age groups, men and women, regions of the country, and ethnic groups. In this book, you will learn that Chicano popular culture is sometimes very different from and sometimes quite similar to the popular culture of other U.S. ethnic minorities and that of the dominant Anglo society. By studying popular culture, then, you will have a wide-open window of opportunity to learn about the uniqueness of the fastest-growing U.S. minority population.
Labels and Terms
In the chapters that follow, you will encounter a variety of terms of identification: "Mexican," "Mexican national," "American of Mexican descent," "Mexican American," "Mexican origin," "Spanish speaking," "Tejano," "Nuevo Mexicano," "Chicano" ("Tejana," "Nuevo Mexicana," and "Chicana," the grammatical feminine equivalents in Spanish, are also used in this book), "Latino," and "Hispanic." These terms can be confusing and misleading without a brief explanation of how they are used in this book. "Mexican," and "Mexican national," are synonymous terms that refer to a person who has retained his or her citizenship of the country of Mexico and resides in Mexico, is temporarily in the United States, or even resides in the United States without becoming a citizen. "American of Mexican descent," "Mexican American," and "Mexican origin" are also synonyms and therefore used interchangeably in this book. They refer to an American citizen who generally resides in the United States and whose parents (or only one parent) are of Mexican descent. Such a person may be a naturalized U.S. citizen, a first-generation citizen, or one whose family roots extend as far back as the sixteenth century.
"Chicano" is a very special term that deserves more explanation. Before about the mid-1960s, the term was used by some Mexican Americans to describe in a disrespectful way recently arrived immigrants from Mexico who were thought to be socially inferior, less educated, Mexican Indian, or mestizo (of mixed Mexican Indian and European blood). The term is derived from mexicano (Mexican), which is in turn derived from the Meshica Indians. According to Mexican legend, the Meshica founded Mexico City, the political and cultural center of the country. The use of the term by Mexican Americans had racial overtones because of the inferiority they attributed to immigrants of whole or partial Indian origin. Cultural nationalists and other activists in the mid-1960s adopted the term as an expression of ethnic pride and used it to identify themselves in a positive way as descendants of Mexican Indians. In the same way, black cultural nationalists adopted the term Afro-American (today usually African American) to associate themselves with their cultural and ethnic origins in Africa. The term Chicano is still commonly used today for self-identification and frequently as a synonym for Mexican American, the term preferred by many Americans of Mexican descent.
Others self-identify as "Latino" or "Hispanic," very broad and inclusive terms that refer to Americans of Mexican, Central American, South American, and even Spanish descent. These last two terms will be used from time to time in the following pages to characterize, for example, a popular culture form, trend, celebration, etc., that includes Americans of Mexican descent but is not restricted to this group.
Mexican Americans are but one of several minorities (e.g., African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Puerto Rican Americans) in the United States to be denied their civil and constitutional rights. As early as the beginning of the nineteenth century with the initial contacts with Mexicans on the frontier, Anglo Americans began to construct Mexicans, especially Mexicans of a mixed-race background, as members of a different and inferior race. This initial contempt became overt racism in the decades of annexation and conquest of Mexico's northern territories. Popular culture in the form of orally transmitted poetry, folktales, proverbs, and other sayings was already well established in Mexico's northern territories during the early part of the nineteenth century.
Mexico Loses Its Northern Territories
When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the present states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, as well as parts of Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas, became part of this new nation's vast hinterland. In the next thirty-three years they became, in turn, part of the United States.
Texas was the first territory to go, a process that began with the arrival in 1821 of four hundred non-Hispanic Catholic families as part of an agreement signed between Stephen F. Austin and the new Mexican government (Mexico had just won its independence from Spain). The Anglo population grew to about twenty thousand by 1830, and began to agitate for an independent republic. Many had strong feelings that the Mexican government's Spanish-language legal procedures and general neglect of their concerns placed Anglos at a distinct disadvantage in their relationship to the Spanish-speaking Mexican population. In 1836, Anglo as well as some Mexican Texans declared their independence from Mexico and established the Republic of Texas (also known as the Lone Star Republic). Anglo Texans defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna and his Mexican troops at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Mexican officials never recognized the Republic of Texas and were fearful that the U.S. government had conspired with the rebellious Texans as part of a long-term political and military strategy to take over much of the rest of Mexico's northern territories. The Mexicans' fears were confirmed when in 1845 the U.S. Congress ratified a treaty to annex Texas. The expansionist war against Mexico began in all of its intensity shortly thereafter when U.S. President James K. Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to block the mouth of the Rio Grande River (known then and still today in Mexico as the Río Bravo). Mexican troops retaliated by crossing the river, attacking U.S. troops, and inflicting heavy casualties. Polk then requested and was granted support from Congress to officially declare war on Mexico. U.S. troops invaded Mexico in four different directions, and over the next three years bitter battles were fought in Mexican territory, culminating in the invasion and occupation of Mexico City. The Mexican government reluctantly signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848, officially ending the war and ceding to the United States for a modest payment of fifteen million dollars the territories of New Mexico, Arizona, California, and parts of Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. In 1853, the Mexican government sold additional lands in southwestern New Mexico and southern Arizona to the United States under the provisions of the Gadsden Purchase treaty.
The Denial of Civil and Constitutional Rights
The 1836 Texas Constitution, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the Gadsden treaty all were supposed to protect the civil and constitutional rights of Mexicans in the newly acquired lands, but the historical record offers abundant examples of how these rights were routinely violated and how Anglo racism toward mestizo and Indian-origin Mexicans and Mexican Americans created a legacy of bitterness and conflict that has lasted to this day. Of the tens of thousands of Mexicans living in the newly acquired territories, only about three thousand took advantage of the Mexican government's offer to repatriate them to Mexico. The rest stayed and became U.S. citizens.
Due in large part to the refusal of Anglo Americans to accept the majority of these new citizens as equals, U.S. officials at all levels of government often ignored treaty agreements that gave Mexican Americans the same rights as all U.S. citizens under the Constitution. Even in New Mexico, where a sizeable Mexican American population in comparison to the Anglo population allowed Mexican Americans to retain much political power and forge coalitions with Anglo leaders and power brokers, the Spanish-speaking population fared poorly. Many Hispanic communities in New Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest held communal land grants that the Spanish crown had given them many decades before in an attempt to encourage the settlement of New Spain's northern territories. In the nineteenth century Anglo political, legal, and banking rings conspired to deprive them of these lands. The many Spanish-language newspapers that were founded in the second half of the nineteenth century amply documented cases of injustice and protested insidious discrimination and racism perpetrated against Mexican Americans.
As land values rose with the dramatic increase in the Anglo population, competition for landownership became more intense. Ownership of land for grazing livestock, farming, and mining inevitably became caught up in a web of intrigue and corruption as Anglo (and even some wealthy Mexican American) political, financial, and legal power brokers conspired to force community and individual Mexican American landowners to give up their lands due to bankruptcy or the inability to satisfy deed requirements in a new and often alien legal system. The requirements for proving landownership in Mexico and the United States differed considerably, putting Mexican Americans at a great disadvantage in their new country. When Congress passed the 1862 Homestead Act, many of the original landowners, especially those in California, suddenly found that Anglos had settled on their land and that they had little recourse through the courts to remove them. To add to the Mexican Americans' legal difficulties, the court proceedings and trials were often conducted entirely in English, a language that most of the Southwest's recent U.S. citizens did not understand or speak well enough to effectively defend themselves.
The widespread loss of land was a grave injustice, but there were other more egregious racial crimes against the Mexican American population during the nineteenth century. For example, Texas Anglos commonly lynched blacks, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans, a practice that increased significantly after the Civil War and continued until the end of the century. The Chicano historian Arnoldo de León, who has studied this and other forms of Anglo racism in Texas, states, "Lynchings of blacks and Mexicans were accompanied by ritualistic tortures and sadism not displayed in other lynchingssuch treatment being justified by reference to the supposed sexual threat posed by the blacks and the cruelty and depravity of Mexicans" (De León, 1983, 91). In California and Arizona, Anglo vigilante groups also took the law into their own hands and hanged Mexicans and Mexican Americans. When they were tried in the criminal justice system, members of the Spanish-speaking population received poor legal representation and disproportionately long sentences.
Resistance to Injustice
The loss of land and other injustices perpetrated against Mexican Americans from the nineteenth century forward were not passively accepted by the Mexican-origin population. For example, in New Mexico Mexican Americans organized into bands of hooded night riders known as Las Gorras Blancas (The White Hoods) who harassed Anglo land developers by destroying their fences and even derailing their supply trains. These bands in New Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest have been thoroughly studied by contemporary Chicano historians, who have named them social bandits because they often led the resistance against Anglo oppression. Some of the best-known social bandit leaders were Juan Nepomuceno Cortina and Joaquín Murieta. Cortina, a landowner in the Brownsville, Texas, area, frequently led raids against Anglo landowners and the officials who protected them. He also vigorously defended Mexican Americans against other injustices and openly urged the Spanish-speaking population to defend itself by taking up arms. Murieta was a Mexican miner who came to California shortly after the 1848 gold rush. Like Cortina, he became the leader of a small guerrilla band that would target Anglos who had been identified for their mistreatment of Mexican and Mexican American miners and others. Popular culture in the form of newspapers and music amply documented the exploits of Cortina and other social bandits during all of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.
Along with resisting economic and political domination, Mexican Americans in the Southwest actively struggled to maintain their culture, and as F. Arturo Rosales has pointed out, "The most crucial measure for resisting cultural domination for Southwest Mexicans was the maintenance of Spanish" (Rosales 1996, 17). The most effective vehicle for doing so was the Spanish-language press that thrived across the Southwest from the mid-nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century. This topic will be discussed in detail in chapter 4: "Newspapers, Radio, and Television," but it is important to note here that the maintenance of Spanish through the Spanish-language press formed part of a general campaign by Mexican Americans to resist both injustices and the loss of their unique identity as a people of Mexican origin.
Up until about the 1890s, there was little immigration from Mexico across the U.S.--Mexican border to the United States. This began to change as both the Mexican and the U.S. railroad systems expanded, thereby affording a large number of Mexican workersmany of them from deep in Mexicorelatively inexpensive and readily accessible transportation to the border and within certain regions of the United States. By 1900, 127,000 Mexican-born immigrants had added significantly to the approximately 200,000 Mexican Americans native to the Southwest (Rosales 1996, 20). Mexican immigrants or seasonal workers from Mexico along with the native population became the main sources of labor for the growing commercial agricultural businessfarms and ranches owned by corporations rather than by individual landowners or families. This was especially true in Texas and in the fertile central valleys of California, which the availability of water for irrigation had transformed. Industrial mining in California as well as Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico also attracted skilled Mexican miners and unskilled laborers.
The violent revolution that erupted in Mexico in 1910 dramatically increased the flow of Mexican immigration to the United States. The tyrannical thirty-year regime of Mexican President Porfirio Díaz came to an end with the election of Francisco Madero, a liberal and reform-minded intellectual. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1911 by Díaz supporters. During the next seven years, the entire country suffered through a violent and bloody struggle as the presidency changed several times and revolutionary and government forces fought numerous battles throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of men were enlisted to fight on one side or the other, leaving women and children to fend for themselves. In addition, the civilian population in several regions of the country was frequently caught in the political and military cross fire between opposing forces, adding to their suffering and distress. Many civilians and military deserters took flight, seeking refuge along the U.S.--Mexican border and eventually in the United States itself. Some returned to Mexico after the revolution ended, but the majority stayed, adding significantly to the immigrant population that had formed in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1910, 210,000 Mexican nationals lived in the United States but by 1930 there were approximately one million (Rosales 1996, 43). The flight of Mexicans from Mexico to the United States was fictionalized decades later by many Chicano writers including José Antonio Villarreal, whose novel Pocho is discussed in the chapter on popular literature (see chapter 5).
Many who stayed were drawn by the promise of employment in the booming war economy; the United States had entered the war against Germany in 1917, and key manufacturing industries needed to replace the hundreds of thousands of able-bodied American citizens who had joined the armed forces. The war economy also afforded U.S.--born Mexican Americans the opportunity to improve their employment status and overall economic situation. Mexicans and Mexican Americans alikewho until World War I had been employed primarily in agriculture, mining, and the railroads in the Southwestnow were pulled to midwestern industrial cities such as Chicago and Detroit to work in skilled positions in such sectors as the rapidly growing automobile industry and meatpacking. It was at this time that Mexican/Mexican American communities began to form in large cities outside of the Southwest, communities that are still growing and vibrant today. Popular culture in the form of music and newspapers thrived among Mexican Americans in urban sites throughout the Southwest and the Midwest during the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Despite the great opportunities that an expanding U.S. economy offered both Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans, both groups suffered greatly at the hands of Anglo society even during the best of times. During downturns in the economy after the end of World War I, the U.S. government, which had been eager to attract workers from Mexico during boom times, made it difficult for Mexican citizens to cross the border or to become U.S. citizens. The rise of nativism, especially along the U.S.--Mexican border, singled out Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans as targets for vicious and often fatal attacks and blamed them for depriving Anglo Americans of jobs. Such nativist attitudes are unfortunately still prevalent today and are manifested officially in legislation such as California's Proposition 63, making English the state's official language, California's "light up the border" campaign supposedly intended to deter illegal immigration, and the vigilante groups that have surged along the Arizona-Sonora border to discourage Mexican undocumented workers from crossing into the United States. Nativism reached its most extreme expression during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when about 600,000 Mexican nationals (even children born in the United States and therefore citizens) were deported to Mexico. This represented about a third of the total Mexican national population residing in the United States (Rosales 1996, 49).
"The Other Mexico"
The Mexican immigrant population that remained in the United States in the 1930s developed a somewhat separate identity from that of Mexican Americans. Whereas many Mexican Americans seemed eager to try to assimilate into the dominant Anglo culture by, for example, insisting that their children speak only English, the immigrant population for the most part closely identified with Mexico, its history, traditions, and language. This cultivation in the United States of all things Mexican was known as México lindo (beautiful Mexico) and the immigrant community saw itself as El México de afuera (the other Mexico).
It was the mutualista, or mutual aid society, that provided most immigrants with a connection to their mother country and served to bring them together to meet their survival needs in a new and alien country. Cultural activities, education, health care, insurance coverage, legal protection and advocacy before police and immigration authorities, and anti-defamation activities were the main functions of these associations. Mutualistas, which formed in all the major cities in the Southwest and Midwest, also succeeded in bringing together Mexican nationals from different social classes to form a common bond, a feat that no organization had been able to achieve in Mexico.
Beginning in the 1940s and gaining strength in the 1950s, Mexican immigrants gradually surrendered their México de afuera ideology for one that identified them as permanent residents of a new country, residents who could now freely and eagerly join with the U.S.--born Mexican American population to create a powerful social and political force with which the dominant society would have to reckon. This new ideology, commonly referred to as "Mexican Americanism," was actively promoted by new organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and, after War World II, the GI Forum. LULAC was founded during the Great Depression and has functioned as an effective civil rights organization mainly on behalf of Mexican Americans.
World War II (1939--1945) was the key event that gave Mexican Americanism its strong impetus and urgency. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans from rural and urban areas throughout the Southwest and Midwest joined the various branches of the military and went abroad to serve their country bravely in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war. Meanwhile, at home in the United States, Mexican American womenmost of them for the first timeassumed major family financial responsibilities and took jobs in war and other industries. Hispanics in general, and Mexican Americans in particular, were highly decorated and suffered casualties in numbers disproportionate to their population.
By war's end, the wave of Mexican American soldiers who returned to the United States, together with those at home who had proudly served the war effort through their civilian jobs, had developed a very different set of expectations of U.S. society than those that had predominated before the war. Mexican Americans in great numbers now demanded their full due as citizens, citizens who had fought, died, and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Anglo citizens whose rights had always been guaranteed. Discrimination and racism remained the greatest obstacles to full citizenship, and LULAC, the GI Forum, and other organizations such as the Mexican American Movement (MAM) provided advocacy on behalf of Mexican Americans who now demanded a much greater share of the American Dream. MAM, formed in the 1930s in California under the auspices of the YMCA, had as its goals "to improve conditions among our Mexican American and Mexican people living in the United States" and to pursue "citizenship, higher education . . . and a more active participation in civic and cultural activities by those of our national descent" (quoted in Gutiérrez 1995, 136). The organization's newspaper, The Mexican Voice, effectively propagated the view that Americans of Mexican descent needed to improve themselves in order to be accepted and to succeed in the United States (Rosales 1996, 101). Although this may strike us today as a conservative political stance that did not challenge the status quo of the exclusion of minorities from full participation in U.S. society, MAM's views were typical of the postwar period, at least for many middle- and upper-class Mexican Americans. The tension between Mexican Americans eager to assimilate into Anglo society and those who chose to remain more faithful to their Mexican roots is reflected in the different strands of music popular with each group after World War II. Spanish-language radio stations were important in popularizing these divergent musical tastes.
After World War II the struggle against rampant discrimination against all minorities in employment, housing, and education became a major rallying cry for Mexican Americans. Organizations, associations, and legal defense committees began to systematically challenge racist practices. For example, a LULAC--sponsored initiative succeeded in desegregating many schools in southern California in 1946. LULAC was also instrumental in desegregating public schools in Texas, where it already had a good record of success from before the war. Under pressure from Mexican American groups, some Arizona schools ended segregationist practices (Rosales 1996, 104--5).
Mexican Americans also enjoyed some successes in electoral politics, as leaders and political strategists began registering a larger number of Mexican-origin citizens and encouraging them to use their collective power at the ballot box in municipal, state, and federal elections. Edward Roybal won a seat on the Los Angeles City Council and would go on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Voting as a block, Mexican American voters in El Paso elected Raymond Telles as mayor in 1957, and Eligio "Kika" de la Garza and Henry B. González were elected to the House of Representatives in the 1960s. The electoral obstacles were not as formidable in New Mexico as elsewhere due to the large concentration of Mexican Americans; candidates had enjoyed success there since statehood in 1910. In 1919, Mexican-born Octaviano Larrazolo was elected governor of New Mexico; Dennis Chávez served in the U.S. Senate from the 1930s until his death in 1962, and Joseph Montoya was elected to the Senate in 1964 and stayed until the 1970s.
The Chicano Movement
The 1960s brought a dramatic shift in Mexican American politics with the rise of the so-called movimiento chicano (Chicano Movement), a term often used to describe a highly complex social and political process that manifested itself in several different ways during the 1960s and 1970s:
There were many other leaders, occurrences, variations on the preceding, and expressions of protest, but what they had in common has been described by one perceptive Chicano social critic in the following way:
Anguished by a lack of social mobility, frustrated by insensitive institutions which fostered discrimination and racism, and exploited in economic terms, the Chicano community engaged in a total evaluation of its relationship to the dominant society. The development of an assertive stance and mobilization towards a new style of political activity were the beginnings of a new social, economic, and artistic resurgence. (Ybarra-Frausto 1977, 82)
Much of Chicano popular music, radio, newspapers, and literature reflected the deep discontent of the Chicano Movement and the resulting artistic resurgence.
The Chicano Movement took place against a backdrop in the United States throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s of a general discontent among a sizeable part of the population with established political and social institutions (e.g., government and the two-party system, the nuclear family, schools, and churches). The Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Black Power, the American Indian Movement, feminism, and other militant forms of political protest played key roles as well. During much of the latter part of the 1960s, social unrest, demonstrations, and riots in large urban areas heightened tensions between minorities and Anglo society. Finally, the profound discontent surrounding the war in Vietnam on the part of millions of Americans of every race and sector of society led to a general sense of disillusionment and loss of faith in the U.S. government that had repeatedly lied to its citizens about many different aspects of the war.
Different Manifestations of the Chicano Movement
César Chávez is generally recognized as the first leader of the Chicano Movement. He was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1921 to poor farmworker parents. As a child, he labored beside them in the fields of California and very early developed a strong sense of social justice. As a young man, he was trained by the Community Service Organization (CSO) in the tactics of organizing. He cut his teeth as an organizer among California's meatpackers but soon turned to organizing farmworkers. His efforts and those of other organizers such as Dolores Huerta, also CSO--trained, began in 1962. Over the next three decades, the union he helped to found, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) enjoyed many successes in their dealings with large growers and other agriculturally related businesses. Through union-negotiated contracts, labor conditions and wages for thousands of farmworkers across the Southwest improved dramatically.
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, another early Chicano leader, was born in 1928 in Denver, Colorado, to migrant-worker parents. He took up boxing at age fifteen in order to escape the despair and unpromising future of growing up poor and Chicano in an urban barrio. Gonzales became a very successful professional boxer after World War II but retired in 1953 to launch a political career first in organized politics and later as a Chicano activist. He held several important Democratic Party positions, including becoming the party's first Mexican American district captain in Denver. Gonzales eventually became disillusioned with the political process and the inability and unwillingness of established Democratic Party officials to deal meaningfully with minority rights. He left the party as his stance against discrimination became more radical. In 1966, he founded the Crusade for Justice, a service-oriented cultural center that challenged the Denver city government and the Democratic Party to become more committed to eradicating poverty and dealing effectively with racial injustice. The Crusade for Justice sponsored the First Annual Chicano Youth Conference in 1969, which was attended by more than fifteen hundred Chicano community and university activists from throughout the Southwest. Through his organization and its sponsored events, Gonzales encouraged young Chicanos to join the struggle to claim their rights as American citizens.
Reies López Tijerina, a Tejano born in 1926, was trained as a minister and in the mid-1960s organized a New Mexico--based movement, the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, whose purpose was to regain the lands that Spanish-speaking New Mexicans had lost in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries due to the legal, political, and economic deceit discussed earlier in this chapter. A charismatic orator and persuasive leader, Tijerina established a following mainly among northern New Mexico's rural Mexican Americans. Although he was not ultimately successful in restoring land to the original owners, he did galvanize a militant group of loyal followers who for a time seemed on the verge of creating an effective political force, particularly in the rural communities of Tierra Amarilla and other northern New Mexican counties. Tijerina was indicted and convicted of several alleged crimes against the state of New Mexico and the U.S. Forest Service. He served his time and faded from the public eye. The Alianza became overwhelmed with legal problems and eventually disbanded in the 1970s.
La Raza Unida Party (LRUP), founded by José Angel Gutiérrez and other Tejano activists, was probably the most successful example of Chicano Movement participation in electoral politics during the 1960s and early 1970s. The underlying ideology of LRUP relied heavily on cultural elements with which Texas Chicanos could identify: the role of the family, Tejano music, Mexican history, and the Spanish language. It was a pragmatic nationalism that distanced itself from counterculture identification and Marxist rhetoric (Rosales 1996, 233). In 1970, Gutiérrez and other LRUP leaders targeted the Crystal City school board and city council for the party's first incursion into electoral politicsthey succeeded in electing their candidates to both. LRUP also enjoyed more modest gains in neighboring counties and municipalities. In later years, LRUP broadened its participation in Texas by fielding a gubernatorial and other candidates in the 1972 statewide election. Although this effort ultimately did not succeed, it did give the party the opportunity to take its message of change to Mexican Americans across Texas. LRUP did garner some modest electoral victories in California and in other states but never became a national political force that seriously challenged the two-party system.
Along with their teachers and professors, high school and college students were at the forefront of the movimiento, stamping it with a strong imprint of cultural nationalism, political radicalism, and militancy. For example, in March 1968, a loosely organized group of Chicano high school students staged a coordinated walkout in several Los Angeles high schools, demanding among other things, curricular reform. José Angel Gutiérrez and other activists who were instrumental in founding LRUP had cut their political teeth in the mid-1960s in the Texas-based Mexican American Youth Association (MAYO). Student groups, such as southern California's United Mexican American Students (UMAS), were formed on high school and college campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s throughout the Southwest. In March 1969, Gonzales's Crusade for Justice convened the Chicano Youth Conference, which brought together students and other Chicano youth to celebrate and promote their separateness and cultural nationalism. One of the concrete achievements of the conference was the decision to hold a national protest day against the war in Vietnam.
A second conference held at the University of California, Santa Barbara scarcely a month after the Denver gathering provided a concrete agenda for curricular changes in higher education, including a call for the creation of Chicano Studies programs on high school and college campuses across California. The participants in this conference issued a cultural manifesto, "El Plan de Santa Bárbara" (The Plan of Santa Barbara). "El Plan de Santa Bárbara" and a handful of other documents and declarations of the late 1960s had a profound influence on the Chicano Movement's political, educational, and cultural nature. This influence will be seen clearly in the following chapters.
By 1970, mass demonstrations against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam were occurring all across the country. Chicanos joined this wave of protests in August 1970 by holding the National Chicano Moratorium march in Los Angeles and simultaneously in other southwestern cities. On August 29, more than thirty thousand protesters marched through the streets of Los Angeles and later congregated in Laguna Park in East Los Angeles. The largely peaceful meeting ended tragically when police charged and dispersed the crowd. Three people were killed, many more were injured, and hundreds were arrested. Rubén Salazar, a prominent Chicano reporter for the Los Angeles Times, was killed in a separate but related police action. The Moratorium and the confrontation with the police served to galvanize the Chicano community throughout the Southwest against the war in Vietnam.
Chicanos Since the Chicano Movement
On the positive side, more Chicanos have attended and graduated from college and received postgraduate degrees than before 1970. They are consequently more highly represented in the public, professional, educational, and business sectors than previously. For example, the Clinton administration appointed several Chicanos to cabinet posts: Henry Cisneros, Federico Peña, and Bill Richardson. Manuel Pacheco served as president of the University of Arizona and as chancellor of the University of Missouri system, the first Chicano to be selected for such a prestigious post. As you will see in the following chapters, Chicanos are also more visible in areas such as radio, television, newspapers, the literary world, and the music and film industries.
On the negative side, the high school dropout rate for Chicanos has not improved appreciably over the past three decades and the percentage of Chicanos living at or below the poverty level has actually increased in the "new economy" of the 1990s, in which the gap between rich and poor has widened and deepened. Nativism has persisted against immigrants from all underdeveloped countries including Mexico and Central America. California's Proposition 187 denying health and educational services to undocumented immigrants passed in 1994 bolstered by attacks on Mexican nationals and poor Chicanos. In 1996 California also passed Proposition 209, which went far in dismantling the state's commitment to Affirmative Action that had aided thousands of Chicanos, women, and others advance in education and employment.
Organization of This Book
The book you are about to read and study is organized into six chapters, and each chapter is in turn divided into short sections designed for reasonable reading assignments. Chapter 1 presents some widely accepted definitions of popular culture as well as some of the most interesting and provocative theories of popular culture, including some recently developed by Chicano scholars. An understanding of definitions and theories will assist you in gaining a deeper appreciation for and being better prepared to discuss the material covered in subsequent chapters. Chapter 2 traces the history of Mexican American popular music from its origins in the sixteenth century through the end of the twentieth century. Chapter 3 provides a background to contemporary Chicano cinema, beginning with a summary of the stereotyping of Mexicans, Latinos, and Chicanos in U.S. cinema over the past seventy-five years. Most of the chapter is about the development of Chicano cinema in the past thirty years. Chapter 4 covers three important media: radio, television, and newspapers. Each medium could easily fill an entire chapter, but the interrelationship among the three lends itself to discussion in one chapter. Chapter 5 deals with a small but representative sampling of Chicano literature: those works and authors who have been popular among Chicano and non-Chicano readers alike, with an emphasis on novels, short stories, theater, and poetry published during the past thirty years. Chapter 6 takes a look at popular religious and secular celebrations, festivals, and art. Mural and graffiti art is discussed in considerable detail due to the prominent role it has played in Chicano cultural expression since about 1970. A short conclusion is followed by a reference list that is designed to provide you with many resources for further study. In addition you will find a short list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter.
A brief word here about why some forms of Chicano popular culture are not covered in this book. The limitation of space was a major consideration; not everything could be included without significantly adding to the book's length. The decision was made to include popular culture forms about which a great deal is known and consequently about which a full and informed discussion could be provided. Correspondingly, certain forms were excluded because they have not been carefully studied. Other forms were excluded because they appeal to a relatively narrow audience. For example, Chicano comic books are not included because they have neither been studied very thoroughly nor are they read extensively outside of certain urban areas such as Los Angeles. Humor was excluded because it has not been systematically studied and would have required substantial research in order to be discussed intelligently and sensitively as a chapter in this book. Another excluded topic is food, undoubtedly an important form of popular culture. However, there is little typically Chicano about the food one finds in homes and restaurants in the Southwest or wherever there are concentrations of Chicanos. The varieties of cuisine we find are really Mexican regional foods. Food is simply too vast and elusive a topic to be handled in a single chapter. You will probably think of other forms of popular culture that might have been included and perhaps a future edition of this book will include some of them.Copyright © 2001. Arizona Board of Regents.
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