Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

J. Espinoza

Chicano identity and revolution

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 30, August 18-September 7, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Call is publishing J.D. Espinoza’s views as a contribution to the ongoing discussion of strategy and tactics for the Chicano liberation struggle. We invite other readers to comment on this question.

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As we begin the ’80s, almost everyone the government, the big corporations and the media—are discovering the “decade of the Latino.”

Of the general Latino population, the Mexican national minority, numbering over 10 million, is the largest group. It is significant that the first year of this decade marks the 10th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium and with it the police killing of a Chicano journalist who, through regular articles in the L.A. Times, tried to answer the following question:

What is a Chicano, and what is he fighting for?

Ruben Salazar, who was murdered by L.A. sheriffs on Aug. 29, 1970, wrote a few months before that “A Chicano is a Mexican American with a non-Anglo image of himself.” In other words, Salazar was saying that the term ̶Chicano” implies a certain political consciousness. In my view, that is the consciousness of progressive nationalism.

Within the last ten years, Marxist circles have also tackled the question, recognizing that the liberation struggle of the Mexican people in the U.S. constitutes a “national question” which the parameters of capitalist politics cannot solve.

In recent years two principle schools of thought have emerged within the Marxist-Leninist movement. One declares that Chicanos are a nation distinct from the Mexican people, with a separate territory, economy, etc., within the borders of the U.S. This view suggests that the Chicano struggle is mainly for the right of this distinct people to form a separate nation state.

The second view is that Chicanos are an oppressed national minority who have been dispersed from the main body of the Mexican nation by the annexation of the Southwest and by the continuous exploitation of Mexico by U.S. imperialism. This position adds that the ultimate struggle of Chicanos is for political power and the right to determine their destiny, that this fight has a life of its own, but also links up with the overall class struggle.

Much unclarity still exists, and an obvious need for more practice in the Chicano movement on the part of the left is obvious. But in any case, it is already clear that the answer to the question of Chicano identity is tied to one’s view of strategy for the revolutionary movement in the U.S.

Which of these two views better explains the historical relations between U.S. capitalism and Mexico and the subsequent migration of one out of every seven Mexicans into the U.S.? Which in practice can lead to uniting all people of Mexican descent in the U.S. into a revolutionary united front? In my view it is the latter, although it still needs to be developed and tested in practice.

My argument with the Chicano nation theory can be seen in relation to two points: First, the suggestion that Chicanos compose a separate nationality from Mexicans; and, second, the contention that the Chicano people’s struggle is aimed at establishing a separate state.

I contend that the history, culture and language of the people of Mexican origin in the Southwest (or anywhere else for that matter) cannot be mechanically separated nor isolated from the history, culture and language of the Mexican nation. Many of those who developed into the Mexican nation resided in what is now the Southwest U.S. for a couple of hundred years before the 1848 annexation. Millions more migrated there after 1848 and continue to do so today.

Those Chicanos who view their people as a separate nation refer to Mexicans as “brothers.” Yet their analysis says the two are qualitatively distinct peoples, so they are not using the term “brother” in a sanguine or nationality sense. Are Chicanos and Mexicans “brothers” in the same sense that, say, Chicanos, Salvadorans and Blacks are? Are they two distinct people with separate histories and national characteristics? I think not.

The term “Chicano” developed in a particular historical context. It came to represent rebelliousness against national oppression and forced assimilation. Far from distinguishing Chicanos from Mexicans, it reasserts our pride in our Mexican origins, a pride that comes from a rich culture, history and revolutionary traditions of Mexico and Mexicans.

Since the vast majority of Chicanos are descendants of 20th century Mexican immigrants, it is absurd and ahistorical to suggest that Chicanos and Mexicans are two distinct nationalities. Nations simply do not develop in the space of one generation.

The problem with the second error, the view that the Chicano struggle is mainly aimed at establishing a separate nation state, is that it equates separatism with revolution and unwittingly isolates the Chicano movement from the general revolutionary struggle in the U.S.

Historically, most Chicanos became integrally a part of the working class, though more oppressed, and they’ve participated in a common economic life with other U.S. workers. In fact today, it is estimated that somewhere near 85% of Chicanos are “blue collar workers.” Consequently their ultimate interests are very intertwined with those of the entire U.S. proletariat.

Of course, there is also the harsh reality that U.S. capitalism has maintained Chicanos in a completely unequal status. One measure of this inequality is the disproportionate numbers of Chicanos killed in Vietnam, an injustice which became the target of the mass Chicano movement in the 1960s and was highlighted a decade ago by the August 29th Moratorium.

While this oppression is mainly felt in the most immediate sense around questions of discrimination in jobs, housing, language, etc., it is oppression that has its roots in the domination of Mexico itself by the U.S. It has been the historical annexation of Mexico’s northern lands, the thorough-going penetration of its economy and the plunder of its wealth plus the imperialistic political relations which produced a “Chicano question” in the first place.

It seems to me that the Chicano nation theorists do not think that the struggle against this oppression and chauvinism, i.e., the fight for democratic rights, is a struggle against, imperialism nor “revolutionary enough.” To them, the demand for separation qualifies as the “most revolutionary” aim.


But can’t Chicanos opt for a number of solutions to national oppression without compromising their fight? Why raise one road, that of separatism, to such a high level, especially when the great majority of Chicano working people seem to reject it?

This is not to say that Marxist-Leninists should oppose the fight for self-determination. Mass organizations with such diverse views as the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA) and El Partido de la Raza Unida (LRUP.) see this slogan and assign their own meaning to it. To some, self-determination means community control, to others political representation, etc. Historically this term has been used throughout the world by ail classes, in a rhetorical manner. And today some revolutionary nationalists have adopted it.

But it is deceptive for Marxist-Leninists to use the term self-determination without explaining clearly what they mean. According to the Leninist definition, to uphold this right is to uphold the right of a nation to form a separate nation state.

But on what basis would such a Chicano state be built? Will it be by raising the demands and aspirations of the masses of Chicanos and uniting them into a broad united front? How can this be done if Chicanos are separated off from those Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. for only one or two generations?

It is my opinion that the Chicano nation theory, by denying the all-important effect of imperialism on the Mexican nation, represents a new form of capitulation to white chauvinism.

Revolutionary Chicano nationalists who advocate separation do it from experience. Their view is based on 200 years of racism, segregation, and violence against Mexican people in the U.S. Furthermore, the multi-national U.S. left has done very little to understand, support and help build the Chicano movement. It is extremely idealistic to think Chicanos will automatically trust the white working class, when it, too, has been chauvinist against Mexican people.

But Chicano Marxists must take another view. They understand the class roots of national oppression and the need for class unity to fight for socialism. For Marxists to deny that the Mexican and Chicano people are one people in effect is to unite with the elements in the Mexican-American petty bourgeoisie whose solution to oppression has been to fight for assimilation by severing ties with Mexico and whitewashing the Mexican out of the Chicano.

Calling themselves Spanish or Hispanic has been a petty bourgeois solution to campaigns against “greasers,” “wetbacks,” “beaners” and Frito Bandidos. The Chicano nation theorists, on the other hand, take the separatist route to combat these chauvinist attacks, and this is precisely its strength and appeal.

By promoting separatism, these revolutionaries have severely limited their ability to unite with the vast majority of forces that should comprise the Chicano united front. They suggest a united front based on the demand for self-determination for their separate nation, ignoring that they define self-determination in a different way from non-Marxists.

I believe that a more realistic view is to build the front around the fight for concrete issues faced by Chicanos, addressing questions like land, education, housing, workers’ rights, immigration, etc. In my mind, this is a more viable road that galvanizes the masses of Chicanos into a political movement aimed at achieving political power.

The United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) is just one example, which represents the sentiments of the Chicano people today. It is for that reason that they and groups like them are in the forefront of our struggle.

Chicano Marxists will be better able revolutionize the politics of the Chicano movement if they base themselves on reality and promote the full unity of the people of Mexican descent and their organizations. But to do this they must grapple with the question of Chicano identity. Are Chicanos as different from Mexicans as they are from Anglos Blacks? Or is “Chicanohood” a condition of the Mexican people living under particular historical conditions?

I agree with Ruben Salazar’s assessment that Chicanos are descendants of Mexicans with a non-Anglo self-image.

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J. D. Espinoza is a bi-lingual teacher and long time activist in the Chicano community of L.A.