The Struggles of Solidarity: Chicana/o-Mexican Networks

Soc. Sci. 2015, 4, 520–532; doi:10.3390/socsci4030520
social sciences
ISSN 2076-0760
The Struggles of Solidarity: Chicana/o-Mexican Networks,
Nydia A. Martinez 1,2
History Department, Eastern Washington University, 103 Patterson Hall, Cheney, WA 99004,
USA; E-Mail: [email protected]; Tel.: +1-210-508-8558
Chicano Education Program, Eastern Washington University, 103 Patterson Hall, Cheney,
WA 99004, USA
Academic Editor: Joanna Swanger
Received: 15 May 2015 / Accepted: 9 June 2015 / Published: 28 July 2015
Abstract: Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, members of the Chicana/o Movement reached
across class, borders, and ideologies to proclaim a political solidarity with the Mexican
Left. Both, Chicana/os and Mexican activists expressed a narrative of political solidarity
that encompassed a perceived shared experience of oppression and struggles for liberation.
I contend, however, that both groups saw the source of their oppression and forms of
resistance through different lenses. Chicana/o activists identified racism, discrimination,
and cultural erasure with oppression, and they retrofit Mexican nationalism with political
radicalism. In contrast, Mexican activists celebrated Marxist ideologies as radical political
resistance against an increasing authoritarian government and associated Mexican
nationalism with state repression and political manipulation.
Keywords: Chicana/o history; Mexican history; social movements; 20th century;
Mexican Americans
1. Introduction
It was in the global moment of Third World liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s that
Mexican and Chicana/o activists, politicians, and intellectuals set out to re-envision new forms of
transnational solidarity. These young activists imagined a Mexican nationalism that proclaimed unity
across borders despite a long history of Mexican American exclusion from Mexican historical,
political, and cultural narratives. While young urban Chicana/o activists were alarmed by racial
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discrimination and cultural erasure, urban students from Mexico were opposing an increasingly
authoritarian government whose legitimacy rested in an idealized revolutionary past. While Chicana/os
adopted Mexico’s state-sponsored revolutionary nationalism to their own cultural nationalism in order
to resist cultural erasure and racism, Mexican leftists identified those same ideas with government
repression. Whereas Chicana/o usage of Mexican nationalism was a radical assertion to demand equal
citizenship in the context of the United States, the same expressions of Mexican nationalism were
contested between the Mexican state and its political dissidents who looked to Marxist ideologies as a
political alternative.
The central argument of this article is that while Mexican and Mexican American communities became
disjointed by competing nationalisms and political identities, the historical global moment of Third
World liberation movements allowed both sides to re-envision a sense of political mobilization.
Despite desires to build international solidarity centered on an imagined sense of common struggles
and origins, the long seated emotional, ideological, and cultural walls between them continued to
separate these communities. Throughout this work, I use the terms like Chicana/o, Mexican American,
and Mexican, which require clarification. The plethora of labels used to identify the diversity of identities,
regions, and historical processes within communities on both sides of the border is confusing, even for
those within the communities. For people in the United States the labels include: Mexican, Mexican
American (non-hyphenated), Mexican-American (hyphenated), Indo-Hispano, Tejano, Nuevo Mexicano,
Californiano, Chicano, Chicana/o, [email protected], [email protected], Hispanic, and [email protected] Each of these labels
represents a specific historical moment and at times specific political identity or challenge. In the case
of the general term Chicana/o, its etymology continues to be debated. In the 1960s, however, it became a
signifier of political consciousness and cultural identity for young Mexican Americans [1,2]. Before
the 1960s politicization, the term Chicano was a pejorative that indicated people of Mexican descent
living in the United States Southwest of lower social class status. They were contrasted to middle-class
individuals who commonly identified as Mexican-Americans, with or without a hyphen [3]. Furthermore,
the presence of Mexican immigrants with different levels of U.S. and Mexican acculturation further
complicated the use of general labels like Mexican American, Chicana/o, or Mexican.
A similar situation occurs with the label of “Mexican”, which indicates a nationality. It is an
identity, however, commonly associated with specific racial, linguistic, and cultural traits that have been
continuously promoted, adopted, and adapted by people on both sides of the border, but especially by
the Mexican state under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutionalized Revolutionary
Party, PRI). The label of Mexican also obscures racial, ethnic, linguistic, local, and regional diversities
within Mexico. People in Mexico like those in the United States also self-identified by their region or
town of origin such as “Regiomontano” (Monterrey), “Guerrerense” (Guerrero), “Oaxaqueño” (Oaxaca),
or “Chilango” (Mexico City) to indicate specific cultural and political identities. Throughout this
article, I use the labels of Mexican American (Chicana/os) and Mexicans as general terms for people
on both sides of the borders, a strategy used by the participants of these movements themselves. As
activists moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, their identities became generalized. For instance
Tejanos and Californianos who crossed into Mexico became Mexican Americans (Chicana/os), and when
Chilangos and Oaxaqueños cross into the United States, they all became Mexican.
Furthermore, the intellectual and political exchange that took place between Chicana/os and
Mexicans included a large variety of groups and individuals from both sides that represented a
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multiplicity of ideological and regional strands. For instance, Chicana/o groups who visited Mexico,
especially Mexico City, included university students from California and Colorado, labor activists
from Texas, political organizers from New Mexico, and artists mostly from the U.S. Southwest. These
groups themselves presented the Chicana/o struggles to their Mexican audiences in general terms,
which reinforced the idea that all Mexican Americans (Chicana/os) had a similar experience with
oppression despite their geographical location or social status. In the case of Mexican activists,
intellectuals, and politicians who collaborated with Chicana/os for the most part they came from
Mexico City and its surrounding semi-urban areas like Cuernavaca. This meant that the problematic
and ideas presented by Mexican activists and intellectuals to Chicana/os were shaped in great part by
the political activism taking place in Mexico City. However, that is not to say that Mexicans from rural
areas did not connected with Chicana/os, but their collaboration was more sporadic at this time.
2. Part I: Asserting Political Needs and Desires
For Mexican Americans, a sense of national identity and political subjectivity evolved through
experiences of ambiguous belonging. At times Mexican Americans were seen as valuable “patriotic
Americans” and economic subjects for the United States, while at other times they were despised for
their cultural and racial otherness. Although, Mexican Americans had been organizing to end
discrimination by advocating for assimilation, they were able to make only modest advances. By the
1960s, young Mexican Americans were seeking alternatives to assimilation and began contesting the
discrimination, exploitation, and cultural erasure that their communities had been enduring for over a
century in the United States.
Influenced by aspects of the Cuban Revolution, the long history of African American activism,
Third World ideas of political struggle, and their own traditions, they forged a movement known as
El Movimiento Chicano (Chicana/o Movement). Without a unifying political objective or origin,
young Mexican Americans conceived the Chicana/o Movement as a peaceful undertaking to advance
the political desires and needs of their communities. After decades of persistent psychological, emotional,
and political barriers erected around people of Mexican descent by a narrow U.S. nationalism built on
imagined ideas of racial purity and cultural homogeneity, Chicana/os proclaimed their own imagined
Mexican and Indigenous cultural values as superior to those of Anglos. By using aspects of Mexican
history and nationalism that exalted a glorious Mexican past, they forged a counternarrative that
allowed them to reconsider their political subjectivity.
Chicana/o cultural nationalism emerged to fulfill a psychological need and political desire to upend
the pervasive ideological, cultural, and emotional walls created by U.S. white supremacy while
promoting political unity across diverse regions, social classes, and political subjectivities. At the 1969
Denver Youth Liberation Conference, hundreds of Chicana/o youth debated the manifesto El Plan
Espiritual de Aztlán and asserted the ideological centrality of Chicana/o nationalism. In so doing they
began to realize a new political subjectivity. The emergence of Chicana/o nationalists seeking to carve
out a sovereign territory and political identity from a society that excluded them was expressed through
the idea of the “Nation of Aztlán”, which was conceived of as the mythical Mexica (Aztec) place of
origin from which they migrated southward to what is now Central Mexico. Chicana/os self-proclaimed
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their indigenous ancestry as part of their search for a political identity and declared the U.S. Southwest
(which had formerly been Mexico) the mythical homeland of the Mexica.
Chicana/os rooted their claim to sovereignty based on a longstanding residence in the areas of the
U.S. Southwest prior to European colonization and a claim to a Chicana/o identity through a blood
lineage. They asserted that at least one of their ancestors was of Mexican-Indian blood and lived in the
U.S. Southwest, an area that was within hundreds of miles from Tenochtitlan (today Mexico City)
prior to European domination. For Chicanos the percentage of native blood was not relevant to their
claims to be indigenous, but the growing awareness of historical and cultural heritage that evolved
through the Chicana/o Movement, led to a new sense of pride and political awareness. Chicana/os were
identifying more closely with their native roots than with their other ancestors. This new sense of
political radicalism based on their self-proclaimed indigenous ancestry led to a new political radicalism
that demanded the right to self-determination, nationhood, sovereignty, and reparations from the U.S.
government for crimes committed against Chicana/os and their ancestors. They declared that while
Europeans immigrants came freely to the United States, their ancestors did not chose to be invaded or
cross the border. Some Chicana/o radicals declared that they owed allegiance neither to the United States
nor to the Mexican nation. They asserted “indigenous right” to sovereignty under “international law”.
Chicana/os felt that their dual cultural identity gave them a legitimate claim to promote a political
project that retrofitted Mexican nationalism to demand U.S. citizenship. That said, the use of cultural
nationalism within the Chicana/o Movement did not go uncontested, especially by groups who subscribed
to more internationalist ideas like Marxism, which saw cultural nationalism as inadequate to eradicating
inequalities among Chicana/o communities. The strongest challenge to cultural nationalism, however,
came from Chicana feminists. Chicanas recognized that “cultural nationalism also served as a regulatory
apparatus to discipline deviant subjects who do not fit within those boundaries…imbedded in the
critique is a challenge to the ways in which culturalist arguments were used to support and give
historical weight to male dominance, supremacy, and sexual politics” [4]. In other words, the argument
against Chicana/o cultural nationalism was not just about the narrow ideological construction that
limited the formation of international solidarity movements but also about the ways that nationalism
operated to justify heteronormative behaviors.
Although, the complexities of the Chicana/o Movement cannot be reduced to cultural nationalism,
nonetheless, it was a central analytical framework for activists to understand their oppression and
frame their resistance. In the context of the United States, the retrofitting of Mexican state-sponsored
nationalism was meant to resist white supremacy and provide a sense of cultural pride and unity to
resist decades of oppression. The rejection of assimilation was at the center of Chicana/o nationalism,
which ranged from extreme militants advocating separatism to those fostering cultural essentialism.
The notion of mestizaje (the mixing of indigenous and Spanish ancestries) served as a central
strategy to challenge assimilation and promote, in the United States, indigenous ethnic pride. More
important, mestizaje stood as a radical and celebratory character for Chicana/o politics in direct
defiance of the U.S. notion of racial miscegenation, which white supremacy conceived as a detrimental
attribute. Although, the Spanish colonial project had been more tolerant than their British counterparts
towards racial mixing (mestizaje), nonetheless, mestizos held a lower rank than Europeans in the racial
and social hierarchies of the New World. In the twentieth century, the idea of mestizaje re-emerged
following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, at a time when the Mexican state and its political elites
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struggled to bring about national unity. Mexican philosopher, politician, and first secretary of public
education (1921–1924), under Álvaro Obregón, José Vasconcelos re-imagined the idea of mestizaje
through the notion of Raza Cosmica (Cosmic Race) [5].
Vasconcelos was a contradictory figure. On one hand he condemned the Holocaust and Nazism in
Europe while at the same time was a staunch anti-Semite who used ideas of racial-superiority in his
promotion of mestizaje [6]. He suggested that the mestizos (Cosmic Race) had been called to be the
leaders of the world [7]. In the context of the struggles for civil rights, mestizaje became a central
component of the Chicana/o political platform in the 1960s. Chicana/os embraced mestizaje as a
political strategy to challenge forced assimilation of their communities into Euro-American culture.
Ironically, in Mexico Vasconcelos’ idea of a “cosmic race” was an endorsement for a Hispanic mestizo
identity that privileged European culture and transformed the “Indian” into an idealized source of
national pride [8]. Both Chicana/o and Mexican ideas of mestizaje rested on hierarchical ideas of race
and ethnicity despite their advocacy for ethno-racial inclusiveness. Chicana/os wrestled with the paradox
of resisting discrimination and essentialism in the United States, while at the same time they retrofitted
Mexican state-sponsored ideas about Mexicanness, which valued a certain kind of historical amnesia
and ethno-racial exclusions for the sake of national unity.
3. Part II: Chicano-Mexican Relations
Inspired by movements of decolonization and national liberation in the Third World, Mexicans and
Chicana/o activists participated in new forms of political solidarity across national borders.
Internationalism and third world consciousness served as new ideological platforms for Chicana/o
activists, many of whom coordinated cultural and political exchanges and travelled to Mexico for the
first time. This new consciousness coincided with the political turmoil of the Mexican Dirty War,
which took place under the one-party regime of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional
Revolutionary Party, or PRI) against urban and rural political dissidents [9].
The 1970s were a formative decade for Mexican–Chicana/o relations, which led to the Mexican
state’s reconsideration of its political and cultural sovereignty beyond its national borders. Chicana/o
political activism was organized to address issues of discrimination, equal access to education, political
participation, police brutality, the Vietnam War, and regaining control of the Southwest, which was lost
in the Mexican-American War. Building on the long historical legacy of community activism of other
communities of color such as African Americans, young Chicana/os took on more confrontational
strategies. In 1967, in East Los Angeles, 18-year-old David Sánchez established Young Chicanos for
Community Action (YCCA), which soon became known as the Brown Berets [10]. The Berets
demanded an end to police brutality, equal access to education, and the liberation of the Southwest
from Anglo domination.
Distinguished by their militaristic brown uniforms and use of paramilitary watch patrols that resembled
the Black Panthers in style, the Berets claimed to represent “street youth” from East L.A. (el barrio) as
the “Liberation Army” of the Chicano people [10]. The group was influenced in part by ideals from
third world liberation movements, but despite their resemblance to the Black Panther Party, the Brown
Berets did not follow a Marxist trajectory [10]. On the contrary, their ideological perspective focused
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on cultural nationalism, linking their political struggle to nationalist movements fighting for
self-determination and autonomy in the Third World [11].
The Brown Berets led thousands of Chicana/o students to walk out of East Los Angeles high
schools in March 1968. The students demanded bilingual education, more Latina/o teachers, better
facilities, and the revision of textbooks to include Mexican American history [12]. The walkouts,
otherwise known as the “Blowouts”, inspired a chain of similar protests among Chicana/o high school
and college students across the Midwest, West, and Southwest. Their actions prompted a backlash of
school administrator disciplinary measures, police violence, and the arrests of leaders under criminal
conspiracy charges. Chicana/o and Mexican American organizations responded with rallies in support
of the students and their demands. Their responses shaped the Chicana/o Movement and its claims
for self-determination.
The East Los Angeles Blowouts were the equivalent of the student movement in Mexico City,
whose watershed event was the student massacre in Tlatelolco 10 days before the 1968 Summer
Olympics in Mexico City. Similar to the Mexican student movement, Chicana/o student-led Blowouts
in Los Angeles inspired young Chicana/os throughout the Southwest and Midwest to stage walkouts
and similar protests. While the success of the Blowouts helped to anchor the rhetoric of self-determination
in the Chicana/o Movement, the devastation of the Tlatelolco massacre became the perpetual focus of
the Mexican left’s rhetoric against the Mexican state. Both the Blowouts and the Tlatelolco student
massacre had enormous political repercussions within their communities, but while the Blowouts were
a source of inspiration, Tlatelolco was a cautionary tale of the oppressive power of the state. The tragic
death of dozens (probably hundreds) of students in Tlatelolco made them into martyrs, while the use of
police brutality and arrests of Chicana/o students made them into heroes. Unlike the apathy of Mexican
civil society for the excessive use of violence against students, the police force against and detention of
Chicana/o students generated large support across most of the Mexican American community.
While the Chicana/o Movement was taking shape across the United States and the Mexican state
was increasing its repression against political dissidents, the Vietnam War and other Cold War struggles
continued to affect the Third World. The use of minorities as cannon fodder gave thousands of young
Chicana/os a better understanding of how racism, U.S. foreign policy, and Third World liberation
movements were interconnected, and Chicana/o opposition towards the Vietnam War grew. Activists
argued that “Chicanos and the Vietnamese were both members of the Third World in that both were
non-white people suffering from the exploitative nature of U.S. imperialism and capitalism. [Therefore]
…the Chicano claim to the land was an anticolonial struggle similar to what the Vietnamese were
waging” [13]. As Chicana/os drew parallels with the cultural, political, and territorial struggles of
Vietnam, they also rejected ideas from early generations of Mexican Americans who promoted American
patriotism, whiteness, and the value of military service as strategies to end with racial segregation [13].
Mexican students became aware of the Chicana/o Movement gradually. Their attention had initially
been to promote the Cuban Revolution and to a lesser extent a better understanding of conflicts in
Africa, Asia, and struggles against racism in the United States. Nonetheless, in response to the U.S.
occupation of the Dominican Republic (1965), the war in Vietnam, and increasing racial upheavals that
were polarizing the United States, Mexican students and intellectuals, especially those on the Left,
became increasingly critical of U.S. imperialism, its reliance on military force, and the continued strength
of racism in everyday life. Both Mexican leftists and Chicana/o activists were disillusioned with their
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societies and endorsed the need for more radical forms of political mobilization. Both idealized
revolutionary political mobilization, although neither was clear in how to achieve it.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, Mexican and Chicana/o activists travelled across Mexico,
Europe, and the United States sharing ideologies and experiences. In the course of their political battles,
they learned about each other’s struggles, mutual experiences of repression, and the proliferation of
political movements by marginalized communities across the globe. Their awareness of shared
experiences generated the conditions for political solidary between Mexican and Chicana/o activists.
As the Chicana/o Movement emerged in the United States in the 1960s and began to capture the
attention of Mexican activists, the Mexican government also became interested in knowing more about
Chicana/o political upheavals. The Mexican government guarded against outside influences that could
exacerbate domestic political instability. The primary intelligence gathering institution in Mexico, the
Dirección Federal de Seguridad (Federal Security Directorate) or DFS, conducted a study about
Chicana/os titled, “Political and Social Investigation of Current Principal Problems in Mexican-American
(Chicano) Communities” [14]. The data for the study were gathered from the mysterious Centro
Cultural Mexicano-Americano, a place where Mexican American university professors from various
disciplines contributed to the analysis of Chicana/o communities [14]. The report addressed a series of
questions about the nature of the racial, cultural, and ethnic identity, social status, and diversity within
Mexican American communities. The recognition of regional, economic, and political diversity did not
prevent them from using the labels of “Chicano” and “Mexican Americans” as synonymous for all the
people of Mexican descent living in the United States. While the study focused on the issue of the
nature of the Chicana/o community and their struggles as an ethnic, racial, and cultural group,
nonetheless, it missed the local nuances of the communities. The use of the generic labels “Mexican
Americans” and “Chicanos”, however, was not restricted to people in Mexico; Chicana/os themselves
presented their movement as the embodiment of the experiences of their entire community.
Reading like a Marxist analysis of class oppression, the report argued that “Mexican-Americans,
although they identified as part of the proletariat, are not an oppressed social class, but rather an
oppressed ethnic group” [14]. The implication of identifying Chicana/os as an “ethnic group” rather than
a “social class” suggested that a proletarian revolution could be connected with Chicana/os. The report
concluded, “Mexican-Americans have ideals, material influences, and socialist dreams; but the most
important motives that frame their activities are…poverty, social exclusion and persecution” [14]. The
report by the DFS provided a broad understanding of the nature of the Chicana/o Movement’s aims,
but the use of Marxist analysis to characterize Chicana/os seemed to have been a litmus test to assess
the potential of Chicana/os aligning with Mexican communists.
Besides the DFS, throughout the late 1960s and 1970s Mexican periodicals informed Mexican
audiences about who the “Chicana/os” were, their struggles, and their conditions in the United States.
The common denominators across most of these articles were Chicana/o experiences with racism and
violent discrimination by “Yankee imperialists”, the effects of the War of the American Invasion or as it is
known to most U.S. citizens, the Mexican American War, on their community, and their unbreakable
connections with Mexico. In an article headlined “CHICANOS: EXTRAÑOS EN ‘EL PARAISO’”
(Chicanos: Foreigners in “Paradise”), the author described the Chicana/o’s connections to Mexico in
part to “The pride in their Indian blood and its dignity is the umbilical cord that unite [Chicana/os]
with the Spanish speaking raza’…” [15]. Reports on racial discrimination against and discussions of
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Chicana/os framing their connections with Mexico through their indigenous and geographical origins
were common in Mexican periodicals. The leftist Mexican journal Por qué? reported: “They call
themselves ‘La Raza’. They are proud of being the Mestizo race from Indian and Spanish and they
have also the honor of being the most hated national minority by the North American ‘anglo’…because
they carry on their shoulders the hatred of the North American for the Spanish” [16]. Por qué?, typical
of much of the independent press, supported the struggles of the Chicana/o Movement by describing
its historical background, supporting the Chicana/o use of cultural nationalism, and recognizing
Chicana/os as part of the Third World.
[Chicana/os] are of Túpac Amaro blood, of Quatemozin, of Quetzalcoatl and Jerónimo, of
Joaquín Murrieta, of Benito Juárez, of Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa, have resisted
dissolution…isolated in the vast West, dedicated to agricultural work, the Hispano-Americans
did not have general contact with revolutionary propaganda, leftist groups from industrial
cities, with exiles, and students of the “third world.” Therefore, the movements of “Chicanos”
are in many cases in a primary stage of their ideological anti-imperialist struggle [16].
On the one hand, the article lent aid to Chicana/os in their struggles and encouraged the Movement
to make connections with Mexico and the rest of Latin America. On the other hand, the description
that the Chicana/o Movement was isolated from “revolutionary propaganda” created an image of the
Chicana/o Movement as consisting of rural peasants. This inaccurate and condescending description of
the political activism of Chicana/os was an example of Mexicans’ limited understanding of Chicana/os.
Por qué? explained why the Chicana/o emphasis on indigenous and revolutionary identities was
revolutionary and connected to “more revolutionary” struggles taking places among other groups. The
editors clearly expressed a preference for “advanced revolutionary ideology”—Marxist, Maoist,
Trotskyist, or other theoretical ideas of revolution—over the cultural nationalism of Chicanos who
evoked a romantic past.
More conservative Mexican commentators harshly criticized and despised Chicana/o expressions of
“Mexicanness.” Such was the case of an article that appeared in El Nacional about the distortion of the
Spanish language among Chicana/os in the United States.
For those of us [Mexicans] who learn the [Spanish] language in our homes…for many
generations…it is sad to view with impotence its death on the other side of the border,
although, Chicana/os defend it with their tooth and nail. But what can they do? Nothing.
Poor illiterate in their great majority! It would be different were they intellectuals…If
instead of being Chicanos they had been Germans from Sudetenland or the Volga region;
then they would be a pistol pointing at the heart of the United States. But they are not, not
even a sling, an arch, or the ax of the Homo erectus of the caves. The end of the Spanish
language in [the United States is looming]…First, the impoverishment of their vocabulary
will diminish the possibilities to express ideas. And let’s not say elevated ideas! Second is
the reduction of the space for communication. Third, the borrowing of words from other
languages [or pochismos]…and fourth…crack! the total break [17].

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The working class and rural origins, the Spanglish, and the Indianness that Chicana/os embraced
with pride and used as a resource for political mobilization were the same qualities that Mexican elites
used to denigrate Indians, the working classes, Afro Mexicans, Asian Mexicans, and Arab Mexicans.
Ironically, most politicized Chicana/os who tried to reconnect with Mexico were university students.
However, Mexico’s urban middle and upper classes enforced a high linguistic bar against their
countrymen and Chicana/os as well.
Mexican intellectuals strongly influenced exchanges between Mexicans and Chicana/os. The work
of Mexican sociologist Jorge Bustamante, who conducted his graduate work at the University of Notre
Dame at the height of the Chicana/o Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, focused on Mexican
immigration to the United States [18]. He played a leading role in bringing attention to issues affecting
undocumented migrants to Mexican scholars and institutions like UNAM and later to President Luis
Echeverría [19,20]. In the late 1960s, while carrying out research at Notre Dame, Bustamante posed as
an undocumented migrant to get firsthand experience of the lives of migrants crossing into the United
States. Throughout the 1970s, at the height of the Chicana/o Movement, he published scholarly articles
both in English and Spanish in the United States and Mexico: Los Mojados; The Wetback Story (1971),
“Don Chano”: Autobiografía de un emigrante mexicano (1971), and El espalda mojada: informe de
un observador participante (1973) [21]. In 1972, Bustamante returned briefly to Mexico where he
taught a class titled “The Sociology of U.S. Minorities-Los Chicanos” at UNAM, its first course on the
Chicano Movement [22–29]. In the early 1970s, Mexican university students expressed a pronounced
interest in learning about the Chicana/o Movement and establishing intellectual, artistic, and political
collaboration with it.
In 1975, Octavio Paz, Mexico’s poet-diplomat and Nobel Literature Prize winner moved away from
his infamous 1950 essay “The Pachuco and Other Extremes”. Echoing the enthusiasm among
intellectual circles for the Chicana/o Movement, he wrote “…the Chicano movement has impressed
Mexicans and they follow it with great deal of attention. Naturally at times we do not have all the
information that we should have…And consequently, I believe that although the Chicano movement is
seen with interest, it is not as well known as it should be” [30]. In the 1950s, Paz had criticized the
Pachucos for their distortion of Mexicanness; however, in 1973 Paz had a more affirmative attitude
towards Chicano Mexicanness when he commended them for their ability, unlike Mexican urban dwellers,
to preserve their Mexican values [29] Furthermore, Paz complimented Chicano activism and recognized
its internationalism, which he saw as organized “not under aesthetic or social principles, but under
political principles” [31]. Along similar lines and because it repossessed Mexican nationalism in service
to social transformation rather than at the service of state elites, Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais
acclaimed the Chicana/o Movement.
In 1977, Monsivais wrote the prologue to an edited volume of articles about Chicana/o history
La otra cara de México: el pueblo chicano (The Other Mexican Face: The Chicano People) [32], in
which he celebrated the politicization of Mexican nationalism by Chicana/os and Mexicans living in
the United States. While criticizing the political apathy of Mexican civil society, he also recognized the
need for solidarity between Mexicans and Chicana/os.
To comprehend the Chicano process is a need of the first order for Mexico’s incipient, weak, and
chaotic civil society. The variety of reasons range from culture to history, from geographic fatalism to
racial origins, from shared to discarded myths, from the economy to the folklore, from our ancestors to
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the braceros. Nothing could be more destructive than to proceed with these politics of indifference,
contempt, resentment, or mockery, which have historically been a distinctive sign of our treatment
towards the Mexican-American or Chicano community [33].
In their effort to connect with Mexico, Chicana/o activists attended intellectual conferences, traveled
in Mexico, and organized cultural exchanges. The experience of Chicana/os in Mexico, however, was
far from the cultural and political ideal of “Mexico” that they had imagined. In 1971, a number of
Chicana/o professors and graduate students attended a ten-week institute in Mexico City at which they
became disillusioned. “…Chicanos experienced numerous rechazos—feelings that they were out of
place and that Mexican society was not what they had described to their students” [34]. They expected
to find a pristine rural and ideal Mexico. Instead, the Mexico City of the 1970s was a modern
burgeoning capital filled with rigid class structures and social and economic disparities, with people
dressing and acting more like “gringos” than the Aztecs of the mythological Mexico of Chicana/o
nationalism. Chicana/os attending the institute felt alienated in Mexico City. “[Chicanos] see a [Mexican]
society that economically, politically and socially is almost a carbon copy of the United States…The
subordination of Chicanos, like that of lower class Mexicans, exists not simply because of their race or
culture, but because of the capitalist system in which they find themselves—a system which uses racial
and cultural issues as means of economic exploitation” [35]. There was a dichotomy in Mexican
attitudes towards the United States. On the one hand, Mexicans were prompt to criticize the United
States and its policies, while at the same time they consumed and adopted its fashions, ideas, music,
and language. The author pointed directly to the problematic construction of a Chicana/o cultural
nationalism that uncritically generated romantic ideas and expectations about Mexico and Mexicans.
4. Conclusions
By the 1960s, Mexico was struggling with the emergence of political militancy among its youth,
who saw Marxist tenets as blueprints towards a new social order. In the United States the fear of
homegrown communists became entangled with political activism and race relations. At the time,
when the United States hoped to stop Communist expansion and “[c]ivil rights groups had to walk a
fine line, making it clear that their reform efforts were meant to fill out the contours of American
democracy, and not to challenge or undermine it” [36]. Like Mexican activists who were influenced by
Third World liberation and calls for socialist revolution, young Mexican Americans were also
influenced by internationalist calls for liberation and gave birth to the Chicana/o Movement [37].
While the Mexican Left readily used Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideologies, made calls for a socialist
revolution, and challenged Mexican nationalism, the Chicana/o Movement mixed Marxism with
cultural nationalism to assert its political voice in the United States.
Cultural nationalism rooted in the cultural, historical, and political legacies of Mexico and the
United States served Chicana/os as a tool to recover a sense of origin, belonging, and unity. In contrast,
Mexican activists criticized the use of Mexican nationalism by the ruling party, PRI, as a tool of
oppression. At one level, the in-between status of the Chicana/o Movement stood in contrast to other
“nationalist movements in history [that emphasized] racial ‘purity’ as the basis for identity; [instead]
new Chicana/o identities were premised on the kind of ‘race mixing’ or amalgamation that had
horrified racist thinkers” [11]. These new Chicana/o identities not only rejected the ideas of racial
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4 530
purity, but they pushed the national boundaries of their politicization beyond national borders by
connecting with the struggles of the Third World. At another level, however, Chicana/o cultural
nationalism rested on the Mexican state’s ethno-racist construction of mestizaje, which privileged
European whiteness and disregarded indigenous identity.
Activists on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border made pragmatic choices about the strategies,
rhetoric, and goals of their political activism, such as their identification with oppression, claims
against their political systems, and claims of political solidarity with other groups experiencing
oppression across the globe. Local traditions as well as international forces like the Cold War also
influenced the strategies and objectives of political activists, leading to ambivalent conjuncture and
disruptions in the search for Mexican and Chicana/o political solidarity.
In the United States, Chicana/o activists used racial and ethnic struggles as their framework for
political positions and strategies and to connect their struggles with those of oppressed nations across
the globe. Their use was a major factor in distinguishing Chicana/o political activism in the United
States from that of the Mexican Left. The experience of Chicana/o activists with racial discrimination
encouraged them to articulate diverse political ideals and strategies centered on a “strategic deployment
of key features of Mexican and Mexican American history and culture in order to fashion individual
and collective subjects capable of asserting agency and demanding self-determination” [38].
Despite the support and advocacy of Mexican intellectuals, rigid Mexican class barriers, which
served to disguise issues of racial and ethnic discrimination, hindered the acceptance of Chicana/os,
the large majority of whom came from working class households that left Mexico in search of work
and better opportunities. Their families spoke Spanish with less “refinement” than educated Mexicans.
Mexican American experiences of class oppression, police repression, and racism were important
experiences that connected Chicana/o political radicalism with its Mexican counterpart, but the
working-class origins and cultural nationalism of Chicana/os generated criticism and rejection by
many Mexicans.
Nydia Aleyda Martinez would like to thank the reviewers and the Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at
Earlham College for funding that aided in the final preparation of this article. Special thanks to Linda
Hall, David Maciel, and Joanna Swanger for their help in the process.
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflict of interest.
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© 2015 by the author; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license

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