What is Chicano to a Non-Chicano?

Chicano is an act of defiance-Tino Villanueva

I spent a lot of time thinking about this quote after I read it on Aztlán Reads. I wondered what it meant exactly. But most importantly I wondered what my relation was to this quote. You see, I grew up in South Tejas in an area known as the Rio Grande Valley. Notable Chican@ scholars Gloria Anzaldúa and Americo Paredes hail from this area.

While growing up in South Tejas the term Chicanismo wasn’t uttered and if it was it was in a derogatory manner. I never met or even learned about Chicanismo until my second year in college (2008 about age 20). Chican@ was not an identity or philosophy anyone wanted to subscribe to. I know it may seem hard to believe for some but I’m not saying there weren’t Chican@s in South Tejas. I must consider the fact that South Tejas has a long history of political/social movements. Instead I’m saying I never met a person who identified as Chican@ while I was growing up.

So naturally after being exposed to whitewashed versions of history and never talking with anyone about Chicanismo; I never subscribed to the idea that I was a Chicano. Instead I wrestled with trying to find an identity between Mexican, American, Mexican-American, Tejano, or Hispanic. I eventually figured it would be best if I was just Mexican-American. It was much simpler to fill out forms as follows citizenship: U.S citizen; Ethnicity: Mexican-American.

It wasn’t until after learning about the Chicano Movement and Chicanismo that I began to see Chicanismo in a different light. I no longer saw it as an identity that cholos or people in gangs subscribed to. I saw the real political/social implications that the term carried. I began to see why Chicano was an identity of empowerment, social action, and social justice.

But despite all of that I could not begin calling myself a Chicano. At first I felt that I would be seen as a fake. That if I called myself Chicano other Chicanos would know that I wasn’t genuine. But I brushed that aside after the university I was attending got word that due to major budget cuts some programs were going on the chopping block. You see in Tejas we have the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), they create policy on Texas Higher Education. To no one’s surprise the THECB declared that Mexican American Studies (MAS) at the University of Texas Pan American was a “low performing” program. THECB policy states that universities have to cut “low performing” programs.

After this announcement a group of students began to take action on what we deemed an attack on MAS. For the first time in my life I became political in order fight something I believed in and to correct a social injustice. How can a university with 90% of the student population claiming Mexican or Mexican American ancestry even consider cutting MAS? We organized a walk-out and a teach-in on Cesar Chavez day to protest and demand MAS. We also asked the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to reconsider its position.

I wasn’t the same person after the walkout. From that day on I felt no shame in learning or talking about my culture. It became clear to me that Chicano was that teacher who taught me my history, my language, and gave me a voice. Chicano was my family who supported me and believed in me. Chicano were the strangers who stood up with us on that day to say that Mexican American history is American history. I realized that in order to effect change you had to fight for it and then live it. I didn’t become political or radical I became CHICANO! I was a Chicano, I am a Chicano. It all made sense to me when I read Tino Villanueva’s quote “Chicano is an act of defiance”.

If this was a perfect world I would gladly say that MAS is safe at the University of Texas Pan American but that is not the case. The program was basically given an extension so it could raise its numbers. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board basically loosened the noose but did not remove it from the program’s neck. Despite this an extremely dedicated group of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Texas Pan American work tirelessly to ensure the prosperity of MAS. I can say that we are now recognized but we fight everyday to ensure that we are not forgotten.

I would like to end by saying a couple of words to those who are afraid or confused about saying they are Chicano. There are those who will teach and feed you ignorance. But realize that it’s better to starve on truth than to feast on ignorance.

– by Eduardo Robles

This entry was posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Community, Education, Political Science, Resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What is Chicano to a Non-Chicano?

  1. What a beautiful essay. I’m so glad you’ve come to your sense of the word Chicana/o and what it means for you. Much of it resonated with me, all of it inspired.

    I’m also so inspired by the work being done at UT-Pan-American. The students and faculty there deserve our help and support.

  2. Awesome! So glad to hear someone taking the term and embracing it!

  3. Deborah says:

    Way to go, Eddie! Once we have been giving a voice, it is hard for us to be silent!

    Una vez que comienza
    el cambio social
    ya no se puede dar marcha atrás.
    No se le puede quitar la educación
    a la personal educada.
    No se le puede quitar el alfabetísmo
    a la persona que ha aprendido a leer.
    No se puede humillar
    a la persona que siente orgullo.
    No se puede oprimir
    a las personas que ya no tienen miedo.
    –César Chávez

    Once social change begins
    It cannot be reversed.
    You cannot uneducate the person
    who has learned to read,
    humiliate the person
    who feels pride,
    And you cannot oppress the people
    who are not afraid anymore.
    –César Chávez

  4. Amy C. says:

    Thank you for this beautifully written statement.

  5. Leslie Cantu says:


    What a great way to express how you came to terms with your identity. Most of us share a similar experience. We shall remain hopeful that those who have not, will see the light one day.

    Go on to change the world!

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