Leading up to the 1960s, Mexican-Americans had endured decades of discrimination in the U.S. West and Southwest. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo put an end to the Mexican-American War in 1848, Mexicans who chose to remain on territory ceded to the United States were promised citizenship and “the right to their property, language and culture.”
But in most cases, Mexicans in America––those who later immigrated and those who lived in regions where the U.S. border shifted over––found themselves living as second-class citizens. Land grants promised after the Mexican-American War were denied by the U.S. government, impoverishing many land-grant descendants in the area.
Not White, But ‘Chicano’
Throughout the early 20th century, many Mexican-Americans attempted to assimilate and even filed legal cases to push for their community to be recognized as a class of white Americans, so they could gain civil rights. But by the late 1960s, those in the Chicano Movement abandoned efforts to blend in and actively embraced their full heritage.
In the 1960s, a radicalized Mexican-American movement began pushing for a new identification. The Chicano Movement, aka El Movimiento, advocated social and political empowerment through a chicanismo or cultural nationalism.
As the activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales declared in a 1967 poem:
“La raza! / Méjicano! / Español! / Latino!
/Chicano! / Or whatever I call myself,
/ I look the same.”
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales speaking outside a police building to members of his organization, the Crusade for Justice, 1969.
Denver Post via Getty Images