The Chicano Nation
- An excerpt taken from the pamphlet "Fan The Flames: A Revolutionary Position On The Chicano National Question"
The Territory Of The Chicano Nation
The earliest settlements of Spanish were in the Rio Grande Valley. Only sparse settlements were made in California, along the coast, and in South Texas. By the time of the War of 1846, when the Southwest was taken by the United States, 80% of the hispanic population lived in what was then the territory of New Mexico. It was in this territory that historically the population has lived in a compact mass and has made up a majority of the area. In northern and Eastern Texas the majority population after 1821 was always Anglo-American, while in California the Mexican population represented about 75% of the population in 1846, where less than 5 years later it was only 13%.
Throughout the region, Chicanos have formed a stable community that continues to have close ties to the land. Despite immigration from Mexico and of Anglo-Americans into the Southwest, the Chicano people living in the territory can often trace back their generations living in the same general vicinity for more than five generations. This is especially true in northern New Mexico and Colorado (the San Luis Valley). Migration from Mexico has been concentrated in California and Texas. In New Mexico only the southeastern and south central mining areas have attracted large numbers of Mexican, immigrants. In both Colorado and New Mexico over 80% of the Chicano population in the census reports of the last three decades were natives of the state born to parents who were native to the state. Only about 4% of the population of these two states was born in Mexico and in Texas it was about 1 out of 6 in 1960. (Grebler, pg. 107)
While imperialism has developed large irrigation and agricultural lands in some parts of New Mexico and Colorado, it has been at the expense of the campesinos in those states and has meant that many campesinos have been forced to migrate from their rural homes to urban centers of production. Between 1950 and 1960, for example, the rural Chicano population in the Southwest as a whole declined only slightly but in New Mexico it fell by 23% and in Colorado by 17%. Not only has the migration been from the rural areas to the cities, it has also been to industrial centers outside of the Chicano nation — particularly the West Coast (California) and Midwest (especially Chicago). This migration out of the Southwest as well as the influx of Anglo-Americans has increased. This does not mean that the Chicano nation ceases to exist (just as migration from Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the Afro-American nation does not destroy those nations). Nor does it increase the size of the Chicano nation (unlike the line of CASA or PSP which attempts to convince us that wherever Mexicans or Puerto Ricans migrate the Mexican nation or Puerto Rican nation exists).
The Southwest has large areas which are only sparsely populated (for example in Arizona and New Mexico — particularly the northern parts). It is in many of these areas that the Chicano peasantry continue to exist and to attempt to eke out a living from land farmed by their ancestors from many generations. In 1960 there were only four counties in the entire Southwest with close to or more than 100,000 Chicanos living there (this excludes Los Angeles County which is outside of the Chicano nation). These are El Paso, Bexar County (San Antonio), Cameron County (with Bronsville), and Hidalgo County (see attached map).
In 1970 the Chicano population in the entire Southwestern part of Texas was over 50% in every county but three. In New Mexico from Dona Ana County northward to Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, and Huerfano counties of Colorado and westwards to Greenlee county in the Eastern section of Arizona, the same is true. Bordering these counties where the majority population is Chicano and which represent more or less a continuous area are many more counties with populations of about 20%-50%. In this area alone the population is 1.7 million and is over 60% Chicano.
Several urban centers lie on the edges of this core region of the Chicano nation, such as Tuscon in Pima County, Denver and Pueblo, Colorado, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Each plays an important role in the economy of the area and has strong ties to the rural areas of the region.
This general description of territory of the Chicano nation makes no attempt to specify its borders or to limit the territory only to those areas of majority population. The Southwest was taken at the force of arms and it will be the force of the toiling masses of the Chicano nation that will determine the exact area in which the call for self-determination would be exercised.
Economic Life Of The Chicano Nation
Having ripped the Southwest out of the hands of Mexico, the U.S. capitalist class quickly set out to develop it, and in the era of imperialism built there great railroad lines, transportation systems, means of communication, etc. This meant the development of select urban areas (such as Albuquerque and El Paso) as centers for commerce within the Chicano nation and through them with the imperialist centers on the West and East Coasts. Traditional trade centers such as Taos fell by the wayside and the isolation of towns under semi-feudalism was broken and a network of trade relations and divisions of labor between small towns and rural areas and between large cities and small towns were established. The three most important urban centers in the Chicano nation (from the standpoint of connecting the region economically) are Tuscon, Albuquerque, and El Paso. El Paso is especially important because of its location on the border next to the large commercial center of Ciudad Juarez. This has meant the development of strong ties between the two oppressed nations, the Chicano nation and Mexico, and particularly between the Mexican and Chicano proletariats which are usually employed by the very same imperialist corporations and exploited and oppressed by the same enemy. The Chamber of Commerce of El Paso, for example, estimates its immediate market at 1.8 million consumers living in West Texas, Southern New Mexico, Southern Arizona, and the Mexican State of Chihuahua. (El Paso Area Fact Book, Sec. IX, pg. 1)
The imperialists dominate all major aspects of the economy of the Chicano nation. An example is the New Mexico and Arizona Land Company. Owned by the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (The Frisco), the land holding company was established in 1890 from land grants by the old Atlantic & Pacific Railway. The "Frisco" holds 50% of the landholdings of the company (totaling 1.4 million acres) and is one of the largest absentee landowners in the Chicano nation. Owning mineral rights to this huge area (twice the size of the state of Rhode Island), for years it granted exclusive exploration rights to the Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Co. on the land. In Arizona, Arkla found and has developed deposits of potash, copper, molybdenum and uranium. Since 1970 exploration on NM & AL Co. holdings have been extended to other giants of mining and energy. A Phelps Dodge subsidiary (Western Nuclear) recently discovered deposits of about one-half million pounds of uranium oxide. In western New Mexico the company owns coal reserves totaling 160-million tons. To develop the reserves the Peabody Coal Co. is using slurry pipeline from Black Mesa to Four Corners which is draining the entire region of its limited water table. The process requires 2500 gallons of water per minute in an area that is mostly desert. Finally, the NM & AL Co. owns 600,000 acres of land which it leases (at a per acre fee) to individuals and corporations for cattle grazing. (Rowen, pg. 17-18)
The Chicano nation is extremely rich in minerals. In New Mexico alone, in 1970 mineral production was over $1 billion and increased $138 million from the year before. Production of petroleum reached 130.3 million barrels (each 42 gallons) worth $420 million and 1,117 billion cubic feet of natural gas valued at $162 million. It ranks number one in the U.S. in production of uranium, potash, and perlite and ranks high in production of natural, petroleum, copper and molybdenum. Its mine fields are owned by Phelps Dodge, Anaconda, Kennecott and Kaiser Gypsum among other giants while its petroleum and coal reserves are owned by Exxon, Tenneco, Standard Oil, etc.
While the imperialists monopolize the natural resources and land of the Chicano nation (along with banking and industry), a small but influential Chicano bourgeoisie exists in the Chicano nation. Having risen with the imperialists they serve the interests of imperialism. This bourgeoisie has close ties with the imperialists politically (as for example Romona Bunelos as Treasurer under the Nixon regime). Existing inside as well as outside of the Southwest, its foothold in the barrios of the Southwest allows for very limited access to the home market of the Chicano nation (as well as to barrios outside of the Southwest) and has focused in on "Chicano" banks (such as the Pan-American Bank) as well as Spanish-language media, production of Chicano foods, etc. But even here the market is dominated by the imperialists (as for example INASCO's marketing of frozen and canned Mexican foods through S&W and Toltec Tortilla factory or Heublein, Inc. production of canned and frozen foods through Ortega Chiles).
With very few exceptions the Chicano bourgeoisie is really a petty-bourgeoisie and most of its holdings are in retail and wholesale trade and construction rather than manufacturing or banking. Of the Chicano owned businesses in 1969, only 50 employed more than 50 employees and only 15 employed more than 100. (Minority-owned Businesses, pg. 148-150) In contract construction there were just under 400 firms with gross receipts of more than $100,000, eight of which earned more than a million. In manufacturing just over 200 firms with gross receipts of over $100,000 and 12 had more than $1 million. (Ibid., pg. 156) In finance there were 85 with over $100,000 and 4 with more than a million in gross receipts. Throughout the Chicano nation there are about 30,000 Chicano owned firms with another 23,000 in California. Gross revenues (excluding California) total just under $900,000,000. (Ibid., pg. 72-73) As is quickly apparent the holdings of the Chicano petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeois form only a drop in the bucket to the billions of dollars extracted from the mines and oil fields of the Southwest and the huge super-profits taken up by the imperialists by their exploitation of the Chicano working class.
The Chicano peasantry lives mostly in northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado but there are also many small farmers in the South Texas area. The land is poorly irrigated and only sparsely populated in these areas. In Tierra Amarilla, a mountain village in Northern New Mexico, for example, there are only about 300 residents but it has been the center of struggles of the peasantry as shown by the Alianza in 1967 and La Federacion right now. Costilla County of Colorado, particularly San Luis Valley, has also become a center of struggle over land. There the 'Association' has taken up the struggle against the Taylor Ranch (which lays claim to over 77,500 acres of communal lands) and absentee landlords, such as the Arizona Land and Cattle Company (which also owns the Alamosa National Bank and Baca Grande).
The land struggle between the peasantry and the imperialists is also intensifying in the Grants Mineral Belt which stretches from Albuquerque to Gallup. In this area (which belongs to the Native Americans), over 50% of the uranium supply of the U.S. is located and the region is being torn up by Gulf, Exxon, Conoco, and Anaconda. In small towns such as Marquez, grazing lands and farm lands are slowly being eroded and the entire area is being surrounded by mining construction. Recently tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency have found dangerous levels of radioactivity in the area's water supply — levels which make the water unfit for livestock or irrigation. (Guardian, March 31, 1976. Dec. 21).
Through the State and federal government, millions of acres of land in the Southwest has been transferred to the imperialists. National Forests (while closed for use to the Chicano peasantry) are handed over to the timber industry or mining industry. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also works hand-in-hand with the imperialists to make certain they reap huge super-profits from the exploitation of the native peoples of the region. On the gigantic Navajo reservation which overlaps the borders of four states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, is a case in point. While only one in three Navajo homes have electrical lighting and only one in five have running water, the imperialists have built several coal gassification plants (each is one hundred times larger than the average gassification facility) to burn Navajo coal and pollute Navajo water while carrying electricity to Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque and Los Angeles. (Awkesanne Notes, Early Spring, 1976, pgs. 22-23)
As with the Chicano people, the construction of mines and utilities on native lands has intensified the struggles of the native peoples. While a small strata of the native people have become wealthy off the gassification plants, the average income of the Navajo people is $900 per year. The mines and factories built on native lands to take advantage of the high unemployment of the area has meant the rise of proletarians among the native people and has connected the struggle for land of the native people in the Southwest with the proletarian movement (witness the recent take-over of a Fairchild plant on reservation land by Native American revolutionaries during a strike).
The tremendous oppression of the Chicano people in the Southwest means that in many sections of New Mexico — particularly in Mora County which is 94.6% Chicano — over half the families in the area live at below poverty level. Counties such as Rio Arriba, Taos, San Miguel and Mora have unemployment rates triple the national average. Similar conditions exist in South Texas where Chicanos represent more than 60% of the population. Throughout the core region of the Chicano nation the average family income in 1970 was less than $3,000. In Brownsville for example, the average annual income in 1975 was $2,413; in McAllen it was $2,574; in Laredo it was $2,488; in Hidalgo County (75% Chicano) it was less than $3,000 with a per capita annual income of only $625!! (LA Times, June 9, 1975)
The imperialists have used the Texas Rangers, the national guard, police dogs, and riot squads, mace and bullets, injunctions, and anti-worker 'right-to-work' laws throughout the Chicano nation to break strikes and cripple the trade union movement. Even so they have not been able to defeat the proletarian movement there. As the Farah Strike taught workers throughout the Southwest, the struggle to unionize the Southwest is on the rise. Workers in ports and oil fields of Southeast Texas, in the mines of New Mexico and Arizona and the large farms of agribusiness as well as the garment and electronics industry along the border have intensified union struggles.
Outside of the Chicano nation, the Chicano national minority is highly urbanized. In 1950 throughout the country as a whole, 60% of the Chicano people lived in urban areas; by 1960 the ratio was 7 out of 10, today it is about 3 out of 4. Highly proletarianized, the Chicano people living in and out of the Southwest are found in basic industries — steel, auto production, petro-chemical, mining, etc. Chicanos make up 32% of all steelworkers in the eleven Western states and account for one-third of the membership of District 6 of the UAW (Arizona, Utah and California). In addition, Chicanos work in meat packing, transportation, warehouse and longshore, construction, garment, electronics, and aerospace industries. Chicanas too are highly proletarianized. Of the almost two million Chicanas 16 or over in the five Southwestern states, 40% are in the labor force. One out of every four Chicanas (Chicano women) works as an operative or transportation worker; about the same number work as clerical workers, and one out of five works as a service worker. In urban areas in the Southwest Chicanas are concentrated in the canneries and garment and textile industries. (Arroyo, pg. 20, pg. 24; Nieto-Gomez, pg. 357)
Within the Chicano nation the imperialist monopoly of the land and natural resources and the intense oppression and continual resistance of the peasantry has made the land question a burning one in the region. The Chicano bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie have shown their incapacity to lead the national movement. They have either openly sided with the imperialists in the oppression and exploitation of the Chicano people or they have capitulated to that oppression in the hopes of themselves escaping its brutalities. Only the Chicano peasantry and the proletariat will deal resolutely with the land question in the Southwest. It is the task of communists to lead the struggle for land in the Southwest against the imperialists and provide a revolutionary solution to the land question. The new communist party will ultimately lead this struggle to the successful overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat — laying the real basis for "solving" the national question.
Language Of The Chicano People
Since the Spanish colonized the Southwest, the Spanish language became the dominant language of the region — even many natives were forced to learn Spanish by the missionaries and to adopt Spanish surnames (to this day many Navajos, Zunis, and Pueblos have Spanish surnames and some are tri-lingual, speaking their native tongue, some Spanish, and English). Spanish reached dominance in the area with the growth of trade between Taos and Chihuahua and its importance as the language of commerce. By the 1830's the use of the English language was becoming more common in the area as a small group of merchants and traders came to New Mexico and Colorado and as English began to rise as the language of commerce. Still, however, Spanish remained the dominant language. After the war of 1846 and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 the use of English increased significantly in the Southwest (mostly because of increased influx of Anglo-American settlers). With the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs near the end of the last century, English rather than Spanish became the language of instruction on all native reservations.
Of all the areas of the Southwest, New Mexico retained its use of Spanish the most completely in the period of imperialist expansion into the Southwest. By the 1876 the first public schools were established in the state, soon there were 133 of which 111 were conducted in Spanish, 12 in both Spanish and English, and only 10 in English. By contrast, in Texas, Spanish language instruction was practically non-existent (except for the ricos who set up their own schools or sent their children to be educated in parochial schools in Mexico). For the masses of tejanos "English Only" was the rule and children were often beaten or expelled from school when they spoke Spanish.
Because of the stable nature of the Chicano population in New Mexico (firmly rooted to the soil) Spanish predominated among the population while both English and Spanish were used within the state government. It was not until 1915 that the first English only trial was held in the state. In the 1930's at the same time the Chicano petty-bourgeoisie through LULAC was organizing 'American' citizens groups and requiring the use of the English language in their meetings, Senator Chavez of New Mexico pushed for English only education in public schools. This has meant too, a slow but still apparent decline in the Spanish-language newspapers and printed materials in the area.
Because of the increased Anglo-American population in the Southwest and because of the enforced use of English by Chicanos, English is now the dominant language of the region. However, it is not the dominant language within the Chicano population of the region. Spanish continues to be the language of the people of the Chicano nation. In fact, the Spanish language population has actually increased in the Southwest since the 1930's. In Northern New Mexico, and Southern Colorado, for example, 80% of the Chicano population is Spanish-speaking and in the 1970 census 69% of the Chicano population in the region listed Spanish as their mother tongue. In Texas and Arizona, 91% of the Chicano population reported their native language as Spanish. In the core of the Chicano nation, Spanish is the dominant language of 85% of the Chicano population. The imperialists have tried hard to wipe out the use of Spanish among the Chicano people. In Texas (which is more influenced by Mexican immigration than New Mexico), Spanish is prohibited on school grounds. This rule applies not only to students, but also to teachers, deliverymen, custodians, cafeteria workers, etc. (who in South Texas are usually Chicano). As recently as 1970 a Chicano teacher in Crystal City, Texas was indicted for conducting a high school history class in Spanish. Despite the fact that the case was later dismissed, law prohibiting the use of Spanish remain in effect. (The Excluded Student, pg. 15)
In many sections of the Southwest the majority of children entering public education speak little or no English. In 1967 in seven counties of South Texas for example, 70% of the Chicano population could speak only Spanish when they began school. (Moore, pg. 122) This fact, coupled with the brutal oppression of Chicanos and the suppression of the Spanish language has made the struggle to use Spanish in the schools an important one in the Southwest and outside of it. Thousands of students have walked out all over the nation demanding bilingual-bicultural education, demanding the right to use Spanish as their own language in the schools and to be educated in that language.
The petty-bourgeoisie have attempted to divert the struggle for the democratic right to use Spanish on an equal footing with English solely to the struggle for bilingual education — and equated that struggle with a struggle for more Spanish-speaking teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. As for bilingual education, the imperialists make use of it solely for the purpose of phasing out Spanish and replacing it with English rather than placing both on an equal status. Thus, Chicano children can learn subjects in Spanish their first year and then slowly learn English until their fifth year when they are expected to be operating in an English only environment.
While the petty-bourgeoisie are concentrating on small reforms, the revolutionary elements of the petty-bourgeoisie and intellectuals have connected the struggle for the right to use Spanish to the struggle for the right to self-determination. Groups like the Crusade for Justice have put forward that Spanish is the language of the Chicano nation and Chicanos have the right to use it and practice it. But even here many of these groups have only set-up 'Chicano schools' and have concentrated on establishing control of institutions rather than focusing in on the real solution to the oppression of the Chicano people and the suppression of the Chicano language, the question of overthrowing the power of capital. It is the task of communists to connect the struggle for democratic rights such as equality of languages to the basic demands of the national movement and to connect the aims of the national movement with the aims of the whole proletarian movement, proletarian revolution.
The Psychological Outlook Of Chicano People
The outlook of the Chicano people has been conditioned by their history of oppression and resistance. The people itself is a blend (enforced) of the peoples and cultures indigenous to the area with those of Spanish. The culture of the people of the Southwest has changed with the changes in the mode of production of the region.
The semi-feudal relations brought to the Southwest by the Spanish, particularly the patron-peon relationship was accompanied by the ideology of that period which preached docility and absolute authority of the patron, the clergy and in the family, of the father. Remnants of semi-feudal relations which continue in the Southwest along with influx of peones from Mexico during the years immediately after and during the Mexican revolution has meant some hangovers of feudal culture persist in the culture of the Southwest, especially of machismo which is being staunchly opposed by Chicanas active in the national movement.
As capitalism rose in the Southwest, particularly in the era of imperialism, the culture of the Chicano people reflected a people suppressed and forcibly subjugated by foreign rule. The development of the corridos and muralista movement told the history of the Chicano people and of their struggle against the imperialists (especially against the vigilantes of the imperialists such as the Texas Rangers). With the appearance of the Chicano nation, the resistance and the common oppression throughout the nation gave rise to a common psychological outlook throughout the Southwest — people began seeing themselves as an oppressed nation, and calling for self-determination (as seen in the various calls and planes since 1915).
The contemporary Chicano movement has seen a further development of this common psychological outlook with the use of a common name to designate the people — "Chicano", and the development of a name to refer to the territory ("Aztlan"). It has also seen the emergence of a distinct cultural flavor, with the rise of Chicano publications and media, Chicano theater groups, Chicano musicians, playwrights, artists, and poets, which for the most part focuses in on the oppression of the Chicanos in their artistic work.
Rising with the national movement and with the development of Chicano culture has also been the influence of proletarian culture. The liberation struggles waged against imperialism (especially in Cuba, China, and Vietnam) have contributed many works of art describing these victories which have influenced the art forms and styles of Chicano artists. However, without the guidance of a revolutionary party to encourage this development, many revolutionary artists have degenerated into bourgeois art forms.
It is the task of communists to encourage the development of the most democratic aspects of the Chicano culture and to lead the way in eliminating outlooks and practices which do not promote the full equality of women with men or of the various nationalities. In addition, communists and revolutionaries must foster the development of revolutionary art and culture which will move forward the revolutionary struggle of the Chicano people and of all oppressed people.
It may be useful to elaborate on Chicano concepts by paraphrasing a section from "Chican@ Power And The Struggle For Aztlán" by a MIM(Prisons) study group:
Who Is A Chican@?
We define the Chican@ nation [based on Stalin's definition of nations]: "A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture." (J.V. Stalin, 1913, "Marxism and the National Question")
Chican@s originated as people of Mexican descent residing on land that was to become part of the United States. While these people began to develop into a new nation, separate from Mexico, well before the invasion of the "Southwest," the development of the Chican@ nation was accelerated as generations living in the expanding Amerikan settler state developed distinct national characteristics. This nation has evolved to include many from Spanish-speaking Central and South America who have migrated to the United States and, living in Chican@ barrios, have become part of this nation in spite of their distinct national origin.
In general, people who were born outside the United States, but reside within U.S. borders, will be part of a national minority which identifies with their home country. They share the language and culture with their home country, and often they are sending much of their income there, perhaps even still planning to move back to their country of origin and considering that their territory. Often national minorities will live in a tight community within the United States, reinforcing their identification with their home country. This tie to their country of origin weakens in second and subsequent generations. As second-generation immigrants growing up in the United States, they are not given the opportunity to fully assimilate into the white nation, and so are likely to become part of an internal semi-colony. Similarly, people who migrate to the United States as youth often do not identify with their home country and grow up within an internal semi-colony.
We see the majority of youth immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Latin American countries assimilating into the Chican@ nation. While the factors which form their nationhood were not commonalities amongst their home countries, nor for the recent immigrants, imperialist Amerika creates conditions for these Latin American nationalities to come together.
There is the alternative that a minority of Latin American descendants take, which is full assimilation into the white nation. While not an option for most, those with lighter skin, no accent, and a wealthy family, as well as a few exceptions to this rule, have managed to gain the full benefits of the white nation and do not share a common territory, culture or economics with the Chican@ nation.
What is Aztlán?
Simply put, Aztlán is the name of the Chican@ nation's national territory, more commonly known as the "Southwest United States." Aztlán is also the word used to identify an internal semi-colony that has been and continues to be oppressed. The Chicano nation of Aztlán developed in the territory of Aztlán during the Amerikan capitalist-imperialist stages of development.
Before the concept of Aztlán was ever used by Chican@ revolutionaries as representative of our struggle against imperialism, Aztlán was originally conceived in the 1960s as a propaganda tool used by cultural nationalists. We must move beyond such traditional and isolated celebrations of Mexican culture in which Aztlán is currently steeped.