Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Chicano tribe, mijo

On the way home from school my son Ehecatl told me that another kid had asked him why he had long hair.  Ehecatl said, "I was telling him that we are Indian, but then he asked what tribe I was from and I didn't know what to tell him.  What tribe are we from papi?"  I told my son, we are Chicano (part of the Chicano tribe).  I am not sure if my son understands how his Chicano identity fits in with the identity he has formed through his experiences at the Native American ceremonies we often participate in; wearing his hair long, like his father, and like the majority of the other boys and men that he identifies with at the ceremonies.  Wearing his hair long even after having to tell people countless times, "I'm a boy!"

My father raised me as a Chicano, and part of my Chicano identity is looking to my indigenous roots in the Americas as my main source of identity.  Going to sweat lodge, danza azteca, and other Native American ceremonies and events has been the way that my family has expressed our Chicanismo and the way that our children are forming their Chicano identities.  It is a different Chicanismo than my father's generation - one infused with American Indian culture and ceremony - one of unifying our identities and traditions.

Hector Villegas, an artist born and raised in Barrio Logan, designed and painted Mexikota at Chicano Park.  Hector explains that, "Mexikota is a symbol that honors both Native Mexika and Lakota tradition, ceremony, pride, and way of life.  Many Native/Chicano and Mexicano follow these ways of ceremony: Danza, Circulos, Language, Drum, Song, Sweat Lodge, Sundance, Vision Quest, Naming and Water ceremonies."  (The central image is that of in lak'ech [tu eres mi otro yo; you are my other me] a Mesoamerican symbol of duality, unity of opposites, and of movement.  The heart outlined in lak'ech is surrounded by quetzal feathers, which are revered in the Mexica culture.  The Mexica heart is set inside of the colors of the American Indian medicine wheel, the four sacred colors and directions).  The Mexikota image expresses my combination of indigenous identities, Chicano identity traditionally being rooted in Mexican and Mesoamerican culture, that being the heart at the center, now firmly set within the medicine wheel of North American indigenous ceremony and culture.

My father did not foresee how strongly native ceremonies would influence my identity, but one of the guiding principles of Chicanismo is self-determination.  My father raised me Chicano, which meant that I had a choice - that I could decide for myself what my identity is.  We all have the right, every single person, to determine our own identity.  No one else has the right to put their title on me, or you, or anyone else.  But far too often this is what is done - you over there, you aren't Chicano, you are an American of Mexican decent.  (That's what my seventh grade teacher wrote on my history project about Chicano Park - true story).

The federal government, during the Nixon administration, decided that everyone from Latin America, including Mexicans, and Chicanos, and Peruanos, and Cubanos, and Guatemaltecos, todos, that we were all Hispanic.  We did not decide this.  Chicanismo is a response - a conscious decision to define ourselves, to determine and name our own identity; to identify our roots.  

For my family being Chicana means that we embrace our native roots, strengthening our connection to our native ceremonies and communities for our future generations to come - not so that they will be limited to calling themselves Chicana, but so that they will have the ability to determine their own identity rather than have it named for them.

So mijo, you are part of the Chicano tribe, not a traditional federally recognized tribe, but a tribe with a wide range of identities and people.  Chicanismo is more than who you are, it is your state of mind, it is your right to identify yourself however you please.


  1. I love this. Nicely expressed and an admirable stance if there ever was one. You know me, I think everyone should make themselves whatever they want to be. Unfortunately, I wasn't taught that. I learned it the hard way.

    I wonder if your Dad did foresee it. I wouldn't be surprised. Great piece, man.

  2. I just came across your answer to my nephew's question. I strongly agree with your point of view and the way you identify our struggles with labels. Often times we give in to societies identification of who we are just to make things easier for those who are not yet awaken but when that happens we take steps backwards and we neglect our reawakening our vibration our existance. Only We can choose our space,our identity,our understanding.
    Thank you brother for sharing!