The Mexican Americans have been segregated for a long time after Americans conquered Mexican lands in the Southwest in the 18th century. The Mexicans in the Southwestern region encountered numerous challenges, including working as laborers whose main activity was to works in derogatory jobs. They, therefore, felt segregated by being placed at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. As a result, the new members of the American society acquired a distinctive ethnic classification as “Mexican” in the people’s minds. To fight for equal space, the Mexican Americans have engaged in and organized various movements collectively referred to as the Chicano Movement.
The following sections present several formations that arose as part of the Chicano Movement. Each formation was engaged in advocating for the Mexican Americans’ better social, economic, and political rights.
Márquez states that the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s-1960s, was characterized by influential civil rights movements of various American immigrants. The movements significantly confronted the social, economic, and political formation in America. They formed the basis around which the old American society had to adjust and embrace the new block in chasing the American dream. According to Márquez, the civil rights movement generally emanated from World War II (WWII) events when young, energetic men from diverse cultural, racial, and social classes were recruited or volunteered to the battlefield.
They were urged to come out and defend the American Democracy that was being threatened by Fascist dictatorships led by Hitler and Mussolini. However, most of these young men, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and a few Native Americans, did not enjoy the democracy they were defending. At home, they experienced widespread segregation and discrimination, even in the military.
After defeating the Fascists, the young men returned home to their usual place in society. It dawned upon them that they were facing a different form of Fascism at home and felt agitated to commence the fight for their democratic space. As a result, many Mexican American veterans organized to advocate for equal rights. They chose to fight for liberation through various approaches that were generally called the Chicano Movement. The policies discussed below included fighting for equal opportunities in education, voting and contestation of political seats, and economic liberation by renewing their land endowments.
Dr. Hector P. Garcia was one of the first people to engage in the civil rights liberation struggle. Richard (16) showed Garcia’s role in 1948 when he founded the GI Forum that mainly operated in Texas. Garcia intended to ensure that Mexican American veterans were duly rewarded for their role in WWII by pushing the GI Bill. The law was meant to guarantee government support for education and the provision of finances for the veterans to buy houses. The system had been discriminatory towards the non-native Americans who did not enjoy the benefits of their military service. According to Benjamin (16), the movement gained traction by advocating for a decent burial of Felix Longoria, to be given a decent burial in Texas. He was eventually buried rightfully as a fallen American hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Richard (17) states that the struggle for education gained significant support from the young Mexican American adults. They demanded that universities and other learning institutions increase their enrollment of students from different races and develop learning programs in Chicano studies. The movements led by Mexican youth under the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) sought to reform the provision of education. In the Denver area, young people formed the Crusade for Justice to enhance their push for reforms in education. The organization was predominantly youth-based, including those in schools, working youth, and those out of the workplace.
The efforts culminated in the public presentation of the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán for the first time in the 1969 conference (Richard 18). It outlined the need for the sovereignty of the Chicano and their racial pride. The document also formed the origin of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlán (MEChA). The MEChA is the nationwide Latino student organization on university and college grounds; it has been active for over five decades.
Ngai writes that young Mexican adults challenged the domination of the white people in the political circles. The youths sought political offices, inspired by the strength of their numbers and the capacity to demonstrate and mobilize. The numbers gave them the confidence to contest electoral discrimination. There was fury over the dismal representation of Latino candidates, particularly in Texas and California. Led by the American-born Latino youth, the community organized themselves to recruit, register and mobilize voters independently. The La Raza Unida, a local Mexican American political party, was formed during this time. In 1972, the party set up a national convention and presented contestants for the rural and state offices all over the Southwestern region. Their efforts were rewarded by winning a few electoral seats.
Ngai also discusses the Alliance of Towns and Settlers’ (Alianza de Pueblos y Pobladores) involvement in the Chicano Movement in New Mexico. The group advocated for the enforcement of land claims by the children of Mexican citizens of the state. The descendants had been neglected from the time when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified. The Alliance of Towns and Settlers acted by confronting the state and federal authorities.
It took advantage of the widespread activism to bolster the claims by being more brutal and using strategies such as occupying the federal courthouse. Furthermore, the United Farmworkers heightened the fundamental issue of California’s Latino agricultural workforce to the national level. The Latinos, including Mexican Americans, had been pushed to the second-class status.
According to Ngai, the Chicano Movement primarily advocated for more inclusion using legal mechanisms enshrined in the United States Constitution. The movement desired to certify equality of every American citizen, although the major focus was on cultural identity. The Chicano Movement succeeded in creating new opportunities for Mexican Americans given the various seats won in elections. Moreover, the Mexican votes have become part of the American political conquest after they helped John F. Kennedy win the presidency in Texas in 1960. John F. Kennedy earned the votes by expanding the voting space for Mexican Americans.
The strategy offered him the platform to campaign for the Mexican Americans to vote for him. Richard Nixon also relied on Mexican votes to win his presidency. Richard Nixon went further by secretly funding the La Raza Unida.
Jiménez outlines the opportunities in social institutions underlined by the establishment of research institutions led by Mexicans to document and express their issues. With the help of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the indigenous Mexican American organizations could nurture and increase service delivery to the locals. It also enabled the organizations to build their capacity. Further, the NCLR moved to escalate the issues and needs identified to the regional, federal and national levels through advocacy.
Jiménez indicates that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) was formed to help the people in advocating for justice. The MALDEF was principally involved in agitating for equal employment prospects in private and public institutions, reducing children’s discrimination in schools, tendering, and providing government services to the people. MALDEF pushed for the proper legislature on voting rights so that Mexican Americans could vote for the leaders they want to represent them.
They also advocated for the rights of Mexican immigrants through legislation. Ultimately both the NCLR and the MALDEF expanded to represent the interests of the larger Latino community, including the Cuban American and Puerto Rican people. The developments could not have been possible without the struggles of the Chicano Movement.
Telles and Ortiz argue that the critical issue of concern was the desire to end the Mexican Americans’ social disparity and unending discrimination. Most of the units established in this period were more confrontational in pushing their agenda. There was extra accord and enthusiasm to cast-off imbalanced treatment centered on people’s race and ethnicity. There was massive fury over state-sanctioned inequality, and renunciation of rights was at the center of their organization. The movements, including the GI Forum, the MEChA, and the La Raza Unida, were spread in the Southwestern part of the country with a high concentration of Mexican Americans.
Although they concentrated on serving Mexican Americans, more institutions such as the NCLR and the MALDEF emerged to form the national Latino movement as it is known today. The bodies embraced and advocated for the acknowledgment of the common practices of Latinos nationally. They also laid the basis for the pan-ethnic Latino politics that arose in the post-civil rights period.
The Chicano Movement did not achieve much in advocating for the education of Mexican Americans. Their educational standards have not improved and have remained low judging by the United States standards, especially Black Americans and non-Hispanic Whites. The low levels could be due to the effects of the discrimination of Mexican immigrants in education. However, this has persisted and does not show any sign of improvement.
The era of the WWII and post-war marked a momentous agitation for civil rights liberation encompassing political and economic freedom among the Mexican Americans. During this period, the Mexican Americans increased their effort in pushing for equality and fairness. They organized and formed political, economic, and social groupings to agitate for their agenda. The push was fueled by the returning war veterans who fought for democracy at home, having defeated the Fascists striving to stifle democracy in the world. The Chicano Movement realized their plan to increase education opportunities, contestation and winning political seats, and economic empowerment through renewed land grants.
- Márquez, Benjamin. LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization. University of Texas Press, 2016.
- Valencia, Richard R. Chicano Students, and the Courts: the Mexican American Legal Struggle for Educational Equality. New York University Press, 2018.
- Ngai, Mei. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton University Press, 2020.
- Jiménez, Thomas. Immigrant Replenishment: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity. University of California Press, 2018.