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A lesson learned about Chicanos

Steve Campbell
By Steve Campbell
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday April 22, 2003

I once heard somebody say, "What's a Chicano? Doesn't the word have the same meaning as Mexican-American?" I thought about it for a moment before realizing that I didn't know the difference either. Not wanting to be ignorant on the topic, I set out to find the answer. Here's what I found:

Onesimo Montes de Aca is the store manager at the McDonald's located in the Student Union Memorial Center. He came to the United States in 1986 and immediately began working at McDonald's as a crew person. He spent time in Oxnard, Calif., Chicago, Phoenix, and he has spent the past eight months here in Tucson. Though he can speak English, he still has a bit of trouble with the language and prefers to speak Spanish.

He states that he will never be Chicano since he was born in Mexico. "But my children are!" he proudly exclaims. Montes de Aca has three children that were born in the United States.

Most parents want their children to have a better life than they had. This is especially true for Montes de Aca. "I want my kids to go to college so that when they graduate, they'll be able to get whatever job they want." He feels that his kids have a greater chance of achieving success than he had. "I cannot get a better job than this like Chicanos can because they were born here and they have a better understanding of the culture."

To Montes de Aca, being Chicano means more opportunities to succeed.

Ana Perches is a professor at UA. For the past 12 years, she has taught classes on Chicano heritage. Though she was born in Mexico, she doesn't feel that precludes her from being Chicano.

Perches teaches her students about the many stereotypes that are associated with the term Chicano. She explains how, in the eyes of many, Chicanos are from neither the United States nor Mexico. They forget where they come from and deny who they are. It's also assumed that they are less educated than other Americans and that they can't speak either English or Spanish correctly.

Perches obviously disagrees. "Every Chicano is different. Don't accept assumptions handed to Chicanos by non-Chicanos." To her, the term Chicano, which originated in the 1960s, should be associated with the pride that one feels after learning about and understanding the history of their culture. "To them, it means cultural affirmation. They don't want to hide their heritage. They're proud of it."

If she has one piece of advice for those who believe the negative stereotypes placed on Chicanos, it is this: "Get to know them. Get to know their history and get to know the struggles that they went through."

When you do that, then you will know how Perches defines the term Chicano.

Kristina Gonzales is a senior majoring in Spanish here at UA. In one of her classes, she is taking part in a play that highlights one of the Chicano struggles during the 1960s. She plays the role of a Mexican mother whose Chicano son goes off to fight in the Vietnam War.

While the play, which opposes the Vietnam War, represents the overwhelming anti-war sentiment felt by the Chicanos in the 60s, Gonzales does not share that view.

While she is Chicano, Gonzales admits that she doesn't always fit in with some of her Chicano friends. "I'm not as outspoken as they are. They're more active, going out and protesting against sweatshops or places like Taco Bell. I may agree with them. I just don't outwardly express it as they do."

Gonzales states that while many Chicanos maintain an activist role after graduating from college, she has other plans. "I want to contribute to society in other ways. I'd like to represent my culture while working for the government."

Gonzales explains that, while many Chicanos may feel oppressed by the U.S. government, she sees it differently. "There is so much opportunity out there. That's what makes this country so great. I get so mad when I see people demonstrating against the government. They don't realize what they have. I'm not the typical Chicano. I have pride in my heritage. I just show it in a different way."

To Gonzales, being Chicano means being able to live a life that many people in other countries only dream about.

So, although I was never able to find a single definition for the term Chicano, I don't feel quite so ignorant on the topic as I used to.

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