in the barrio, we called ourselves, Chicanos. I always believed that was what I was: A Chicano kid. I had no idea growing up that there isn’t any real such thing as a Chicano. I came to learn that in all reality, any ethnic label is more about power and control than it is about biology. Still, it took me years to understand that the word Chicano is about creating an identity for a displaced group of people who don’t belong, completely, to any nation. Overnight, a huge swath of land shifted from one nation to another and there was no thought or compassion given to those people whose roots were deep within that land.
And so, many members of this group formed an identity. They formed this collective through a blend of Indio and Hispano blood. They researched Aztec mythology and history and formed a whole new ethnicity. This group of displaced people called themselves: Chicanos. They claimed for themselves a homeland and called it, “Aztlan.” These original Chicanos drew a boundary around New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and California and claimed that from this swath of land the original Chicanos emerged. They called this land, “Aztlan.”
This idea of Aztlan being a homeland, much like Eden, was co-opted from Aztec mythology. To the Aztecs, Aztlan was the “place of white herons,” from which they themselves emerged. So, the Chicano nation took the Aztec homeland and gave it a literal location in the swath of land that the U.S. was deeded via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. But, in reality, Aztlan existed in Chicano literature and never rose to the real nation as envisioned within the foundational documents that created the Chicano consciousness: El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan and Yo Soy Joaquin. Both docs called for a Chicano uprising that would establish Aztlan as the nation of Chicanos. The documents were both poetic and revolutionary and attempted to create a consciousness as was created from the Civil Rights Movement. However, the word itself was polarizing and to this day there is no single way to identify Spanish speaking people, native to the U.S. The Chicano Movement failed in its stated objectives.
Of course, I didn’t learn anything about the politics and history of the Chicano Movement until long after I moved away from my barrio. Still, I do not believe that us kids in the barrio were wrong to identify as, “chicanos.” We were alike and we were outsiders and seeing ourselves as something other than poor and marginalized gave us a place in the world. The difficult thing, for me, was that I came to understand that being Chicano meant being a part of something that had run its political course long before we joined in. Regardless, I loved Chicano literature; I loved that it mixed Spanish and English and spoke of things I felt deep inside but couldn’t name. I love the word, “aztlan,” and what it represents, both to the Chicano movement and to me, personally.