MEChA movement was founded on historical fallacies

by Leonardo Castaneda

Like half the people you know, I’m a Mexican in Southern California. I have never felt like a minority here, except within my own immigrant community. I know what I am: a student, a writer and an immigrant. I also know what I never will be: a Chicano. I don’t want to hide my Mexican heritage, I’m proud of it. I just have no desire to assimilate into a movement that was founded on historical fallacies. I would rather be an individual in a nation that promotes individualism than pigeon-hole myself with exclusivists and segregationists. Specifically, MEChA.

Through its struggle for civil rights, the Chicano movement has helped unite an often disenfranchised segment of the population. In this sense, the movement has provided a valuable service to the community. However, when you come across it today, you find a movement out of touch with its own cultural reality. Its ideology is based on fairy tales that force immigrants to accept a fabricated Mexican heritage. You’d think after the civil rights movement, any minority would stop imposing self-segregation based on skin color upon itself. Well, we all thought wrong.

At the heart of the Chicano movement stands MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, which translates to “Movement by Chicano Students from Aztlán.” During the ‘60s and ‘70s, this movement began generating support by channeling the frustrations of the growing immigrant community in the U.S. Its political ideology quickly followed. At its core was the dream of creating a new “bronze” nation in the land it considered to be Aztlán, by reclaiming the southern third of the U.S.

All of this is rooted in Mexican history. Chicano comes from Mechica, the original title of the Aztecs. Aztlán is the mythological birthplace of the Aztec people, which Chicanos conveniently decided was located in the southwestern U.S. However, most Mexican archeologists and experts believe it is located somewhere in the western part of Central Mexico, far away from Texas, New Mexico or even northern Mexico. Where this heartland is located is irrelevant. The Aztecs obviously abandoned it and flourished in Central Mexico instead. Aztec descendants have no more claim over this mythical land than Jews have over the Garden of Eden.

The idea that these people from northern Mexico are direct descendants from the Aztecs is an insult to the true descendants of Aztecs still living in Mexico City today. Northern Mexicans are descendants of Spanish ranchers and Native Americans more closely related to Apaches than the Mechicas they claim to be.

When you realize this whole mythology was crudely fabricated, you can understand how intolerant it is to try to impose it upon the 36 percent of Hispanic immigrants who aren’t even Mexican. For MEChA to then claim Chicanoism is “grounded in a philosophy, not a nationality” is disgustingly hypocritical.

MEChA’s goals include “free pueblos forming a bronze Nation.” MEChA claims “Chicanismo does not exclude anyone,” yet they set a form of identification based on the color of one’s skin that excludes the hundreds of millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans that don’t fit into this one specific color.

Our skin should be something that describes us, not defines us. So when you cut at the root of it, the intermingling of Chicanoism and brown pride is racist toward these non-brown immigrants, sowing cultural and social divisions where none should exist. Instead of overcoming “historical prejudices and discrimination against the Chicana and Chicano Gente,” this philosophy based on skin color is creating new stigmas against itself.

The Chicano movement in the U.S. has a long and powerful history. It fought for the civil rights of immigrant workers and students when no one else would. But the greatest of Chicano achievements have come when it was able to break out of its own racial barriers to overcome common struggles. It is easy to forget that Cesar Chavez’s greatest challenges were overcome alongside the United Farm Workers, not some isolationist Chicano group.

But the current Chicano movement, based on its outdated exclusionist ideas, is doing a gross disservice to that history. At times it seems like MEChA straddles an awkward area between French clubs and the black students union. It tries to keep the torch of civil rights aflame while honoring a specific culture, and pathetically insults both.

A fresh narrative needs to be created with new history that reflects the true cultural roots of those involved. This narrative can unite the immigrant communities with an understanding of the modern, post-racial world. This will allow each member to honor and respect their own heritage as individuals and contribute to the betterment of the greater American culture.

—Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.