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Chicano Definition: Why Chicanos Fly The Mexican Flag

Chicano definition
The definition of Chicano is both simple and complex
Understanding the definition of Chicano is key to understanding that Chicanos aren't against inclusivity, but rather erasure and revisionism.

In wake of pictures that surfaced earlier this week of Mexican flags being flown at BLM and ICE protests, some critics have suggested that displaying pride in the Mexican identity somehow equates to white supremacy and nationalism.

The criticism is just one of many recent attacks on Chicanos and Mexican Americans, who make up the majority of the nation’s Latinos. However, regardless of the quality of the criticism, I suspect some of the animosity derives from a fundamental misunderstanding of the term “Chicano” and the context in which the term “Mexican” is often used in Mexican American circles.

So with this in mind, below are some edited excerpts from a longer essay I wrote as to why so many Chicanos are proud of their Mexican heritage.

The Chicano Definition

First, not all Mexican Americans self-identify as Chicano, but most Chicanos are in fact Mexican American.

This doesn’t mean other people didn’t grow up with Chicanos or identify with aspects of Chicano culture. This isn’t intended to erase or minimize the contributions of those who are not of Mexican descent. But it does mean Chicano culture is overwhelmingly comprised of Mexican Americans.

Second, both Mexican Americans and Chicanos use “Mexican” interchangeably to refer to themselves and to each other.

In this context, the word “Mexican” is not intended to promote or endorse the Mexican government as some seem to believe. Nor is the word “Mexican” always a literal reference to nationality.

I hate nationalism. I think the Mexican government is corrupt. I think the Mexican government has treated Central Americans horribly, and I think it has been complicit in carrying out Donald Trump’s backwards immigration policies that break up families and tear apart communities.

I’m far from a nationalist.

However, for most of us, flying the Mexican flag has less to do with an endorsement of the policies of Mexico than it does a rejection of the policies of the United States.

“Special interests want us to forget our histories. They want us to believe we can all be summed up with one label. But in order to achieve this, they must first pressure everybody to get in line.”

For most of us, “Mexican” is a term of endearment. It is not a literal reference to a nation. After all, most us have been called Mexicans our entire lives despite being born in the United States! This is something Central Americans can surely relate to because the same ignorant people also frequently mistake Central Americans for Mexicans.

Can we all at least agree this is annoying?

Third, Chicano culture and Mexican American culture is about more than just the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Yet for whatever reason, that seems to be the only thing critics latch onto when criticizing Chicanos.

I would argue Chicano culture is a complex web of sub-cultures and movements. It is the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. It is the Chicano lowrider community. It is the Chicano art community. It is Chicano fashion. It is Chicano tattoos. It is pachuco sub-culture (I explain this history in a separate essay here).

Or as I once wrote in still another essay:

“Mexicans were cowboys before cowboys. It was Mexican Americans who fought sailors in the streets of Los Angeles during the Zoot Suit Riots. It was Mexican Americans who were rounded up by the hundreds during World War 2. It was Mexican Americans who marched in the streets of Texas, Colorado, California and New Mexico during the 60s. It was the Southwestern portion of the United States that once belonged to Mexico.”

In other words, the Chicano identity is more than a single march or event. It is the century-long culmination of suffering, defiance, expression, and rebellion.

Some Chicano sub-cultures overlap. Some of them don’t. But for better or worse, all of them were integral threads that weaved the fabric to what has become the global phenomenon known as Chicano culture, which fuses both political and social identities.

Many of us are proud of this history. Many of us are proud of this heritage.

And that is why many of us are so defensive and protective of it.

Cultural Distinctions

Other critics have suggested that embracing our cultural distinctions somehow promotes division. But in a climate ruled by identity politics, how can critics have it both ways?

On one hand, we are told that our intersectional distinctions should inform and dictate our daily mindset. Yet the moment one of us expresses too much pride in our distinctions, we are told we are being divisive.

And that’s the problem with identity politics. In the end, the politics always trump the identity.

I bring this up because many Mexican Americans like myself believe there is a deliberate attempt by special interests to erase the Mexican American identity in favor of consolidating the Latino community into one generic bloc under the guise of “inclusivity” (and to be clear, there is nothing wrong with legitimate inclusivity).

These special interests want us to forget our histories. They want us to believe we can all be summed up with one label. But in order to achieve this, they must first pressure everybody to get in line. And Mexican Americans and self-described Chicanos to a large extent, remain some of the most vocal holdouts.

“We are told that our intersectional distinctions should inform and dictate our daily mindset. Yet the moment one of us expresses too much pride in our distinctions, we are told we are being divisive.’

I’m not alone in my rejection of these tactics. Nor am I alone in my skepticism of identity politics. Proof of this is the fact that Bernie Sanders polled so well with Latinos. Yet special interests, academia, and media continue to push an alternative narrative on us.  

Make no mistake. This isn’t about the Mexican flag. This is about media and academia continually ignoring the majority of Latinos in this country who don’t subscribe to the endless stream of revisionism and outrage.

This is about elitists trying to convince Latinos that anyone who refuses to get in line are somehow divisive. But the truth is Mexican Americans aren’t against inclusivity and tolerance. They are against erasure and revisionism.

The difference is important.

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About the author

Brandon Loran Maxwell

Brandon Loran Maxwell is a writer, speaker, and prize winning essayist. His writings and commentary have appeared at The Hill, Salon, Townhall, The Washington Examiner, The Oregonian, FEE, and Latino Rebels Radio, among others. He regularly speaks on a variety of social topics, and has been cited at outlets such as Vox and The Washington Post. His personal essay "Notes From An American Prisoner" was awarded a Writer's Digest prize in 2014, and his one-act play "Petal By Petal" about drug and alcohol addiction was performed at The Little Theater in 2009. In addition, Brandon has fronted various punk rock and hip hop groups. He holds a B.S. in political science, and often writes about prison reform, immigration reform, pop culture, music, and Chicano culture.