Chicana y Que?
By: Irene Sanchez
The Southwest Political Report
Chicana y Que?
We have been erased. Our voices and our presence in the landscape of U.S. politics and society is always trying to erase that we are here now, that some have been here for a generation or two or three or four or longer, we didn’t cross the borders the borders crossed us. This land was Mexico but before that there were stories etched in this earth I stand on older than my existence. Stories older than my parents, and grandparents-before they made us foreigners on land that was never theirs to begin with and even being here after generations you remain a suspect that you need to go back to where you came from.
A people are nothing without history and there is a long-standing history of Mexican of anti-Mexican sentiment in the Southwest that has now spread across the entire U.S. and with the rise of the new president and as long as one looks Mexican it is enough to be suspect. This is nothing new. History has repeated itself, but this time there are many more targets. The night of the election I was in East LA, driving by the cemetery where all my grandparents are buried and I know that is the closest I get to feeling home. I remember my maternal grandmother, as she was the one who I knew longer, and how she never spoke English despite being here for decades. I grew up not speaking Spanish due to my parents not wanting to teach me because of how they were raised and mainly due to time periods with my father’s family coming to the U.S. during the height of a U.S. government imposed assimilationist campaign during the 1920s. Also a reminder, they wanted us to forget who we are.
A people are nothing without history. The first steps to making sure they forget who a people are is to take their ability to speak. Spanish. Yes Spanish is a colonizer language and yes we have been colonized once, twice and sometimes three or more times over, but the importance of speaking it or not speaking it in my life was part of a long systemic legacy to ensure that Mexicans would forget who they are.
When I went to talk to my grandmother alone for that first time, I was in my early 20s in 2005 and she was about to pass away, I knew it was nearing, which it did happen two weeks later. After learning enough Spanish in my late teens and early 20s, I went alone to say my goodbye and she told me a few things, but the words that she said that has always stuck with me is-don’t forget where you come from.
A people are nothing without history and we are Mexican. I remembered this as my partner and I drove the same streets our parents were raised on as we drove to be on a radio show after the results were announced on election night. We stopped to eat at the King Taco on Third Street in East LA and after I ordered food I stood staring at the 710 freeway hearing the cars go by remembering playing in my grandmothers backyard and how the 710 ran behind it or walking out the front yard of my paternal grandfathers house and how the 710 ran in front of it. I felt anger and tears building in the backs of my eyes.
A people are nothing without history and I am Chicana. I remember growing up never seeing us represented in media or reading books with Chicanas in it until high school and reading about us in high school I saw how I was lucky in a sense, but why should I be lucky for being able to learn about myself? That should be a given and the only reason that I was able to was because my father told us stories of growing up Chicano and watching the Chicano documentaries on PBS and mainly because the high school I attended implemented Chicano Studies for the first time post Prop 187. I am reminded how this time we live post prop 187 and post Trump elected president is similar, but magnified and worse. I walked out during Prop 187 because of the sentiment knowing that “they” hated “us” and although I was born in the U.S. I am still who I am and no matter what I cannot be something I am not. I cannot be your stereotype, your spicy-sexy stereotype that is the only acceptable type to be accepted and consumed in this society and most time the only one that is heard or seen in media. I cannot be silent either. I cannot and will not be anything other than what I am, Mexican. Chicana. Xicana.
I picked up a book this evening it is called Chicana Feminist Thought, edited by Alma R. Garcia. In this book there is a chapter called “Chicana Feminism” by Anna NietoGomez, where she articulates what it means to her to be a Chicana feminist which I needed to read after this week when some voices and platforms fail to recognize that yes we are here, we’ve been here, and no not just when you want to put up the latest Selena meme or quote beloved Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua, or to talk reduce our culture to tacos, because when you only do that you fail to recognize that there are stories that have been silenced older than my grandmothers bones in East LA. Anna NietoGomez writes what it means to declare you are Chicana, “Because when you say you’re Chicana, you mean you come from a particular community, one that is subject to racism and the exploitation of centuries”.
A people are nothing without history and my life is to ensure that I live my grandmother’s words she left me and do the work to not forget where I come from. This means uncovering history and understanding why we find ourselves in the current times we live in and how we must fight back. Fight back like Mexican women on strike in 1933 in Pixley, fight back like miners wives did against Empire Zinc in 1951-yes we are the Salt of the Earth, Fight back like Chicanas at Farah in 1972, fight back like the Committee Against Forced Sterilization in the 1970s when they sterilized Chicana and Black women at L.A. County Hospital in the name of population control. Fight back like Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, fight back like mujeres in the Brown Berets from the 60s and the 2000s like I was and the ones today. Fight back con la pluma y la palabra. Fight back with everything you have. A people are nothing without history and I refuse to let them convince us that our place in history or the present time is insignificant. Our communities are under attack and yes we will continue to fight back. There is a fire in me older than my body. We will continue to fight back because a people are nothing without history.
Image: Brown Beret