“Aztlán” is the separatist name for the Southwestern United States — an area that, according to such separatists, rightfully belongs to the government and people of Mexico. Aztlan includes Sonoran Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, So. Cal. Nevada, etc. Mexican separatists consider this region to be part of a mythical Aztec homeland that was stolen form its righful owners, the people of Mexico.
Many organizations such as La Raza Unida, the Brown Berets, the Nation of Aztlán and even the university student-based group MEChA have the belief in a Southwestern US Aztlán as aztlan-civil-warpart of their foundations for activism. Many in those groups believe that because the Southwest was part of the original Aztec homeland that mestizo, indigenous and Mexican-American groups have legal and primordial rights to these now-American territories and should be able to set up their own separate nation in the Southwest. With more than 300 affiliate organizations in 41 U.S. states, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is currently the largest national Hispanic civil-rights and advocacy organization in America. NCLR says it is a “misconception” to believe that it has ever, at any time, endorsed “the notion of a ‘Reconquista’ or ‘Aztlán.’”
According to Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Georgia), NCLR teaches that “Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Oregon and parts of Washington State make up an area known as ‘Aztlán’—a fictional ancestral homeland of the Aztecs before Europeans arrived in North America.” Norwood stated that La Raza views this region as the rightful property of the government and people of Mexico, and thus seeks to bring about a Mexican “Reconquista” (“Reconquest”) of these southwestern states. But such a reconquest “won’t end with territorial occupation and secession,” Norwood added. “The final plan for the La Raza movement includes the ethnic cleansing of Americans of European, African, and Asian descent out of ‘Aztlán.’”
Norwood also characterized NCLR as “a radical racist group … one of the most anti-American groups in the country, which has permeated U.S. campuses since the 1960s, and continues its push to carve a racist nation out of the American West.” John Stone, president of the U.S. Freedom Foundation and former chief of staff to Rep. Norwood, similarly maintains that NCLR has ties to a number of separatist Reconquista groups.
While claiming that it “has never supported, and does not support, separatist organizations,” NCLR acknowledges that in 2003 it provided the Georgetown University chapter of MEChA—an openly separatist Chicano student group—with a $2,500 grant. But NCLR defended that grant by asserting that MEChA’s “primary objectives are educational—to help Latino students finish high school and go to college, and to support them while at institutions of higher education.”
The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), which translates as “Chicano Student Movement,” describes itself as an organization that urges young Chicanos (people of Mexican ancestry living in the United States) to use “higher education” and “political involvement” to promote “cultural and historical pride,” “liberation,” and “self-determination” among their people.
The first National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, organized by an entity called Crusade for Justice, was held in Denver, Colorado in March 1969. The conference participants looked to the past of their indigenous ancestors and discovered that the Aztecs who settled in the Valley of Mexico and created the Aztec Empire had originated somewhere in the Southwestern United States in a place called “Aztlán”. The youthful activism embraced the concept of Aztlán as their spiritual homeland. Participants in this conference drafted the basic premises for the “Chicana/Chicano Movement” in a seminal document titled El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (EPEA). EPEA emphatically refuses to recognize the “capricious frontiers” of white society “on the bronze continent”; denounces “the brutal gringo invasion of our territories”; and vows to “struggl[e] against the foreigner ‘gabacho’ [a pejorative term for an English-speaking, non-Hispanic] who exploits our riches and destroys our culture”
MEChA rejects the notion that any Chicano can be considered an illegal immigrant. Indeed, A popular slogan that surfaces at many MEChA rallies is: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.” Adamant rejection of the label "Mexican-American" meant rejection of the assimilation and accommodationist melting pot ideology that had guided earlier generations of activists.
In 1846, the United States invaded and conquered California, then part of the Republic of Mexico. This event, one aspect of the 1846-1848 U.S.-Mexican War, led to U.S. annexation of California through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexican American history in California had begun.
But if the Mexican American era in California was new, the roots of the Chicano1 experience stretched back some three centuries to 1519 when Spaniards and their Indian allies carried out the conquest of the Aztec Empire in central Mexico and established what they called "New Spain." Exploration and colonization spread from Mexico City in all directions. This eventually included settlements throughout the northern frontier in the areas now occupied by the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and of course, California.
Hispanic settlement of what is now California began in 1769 when the Presidio and Catholic mission of San Diego were established. By 1823, 20 more missions dotted the California coast from San Diego to Sonoma, along with several military presidios and civilian communities. With few exceptions, the settlers and their descendants stayed close to the coast. There were few extensions into the California interior.
Rising from the turbulent 1960s and drawing on the century-long foundation of Mexican American experience, the Chicano movement has be come a dynamic force for societal change. The movement is not a monolith, but is rather an amalgam of individuals and organizations who share a sense of pride in Mexicanidad, a dedication to enhancement of Chicano culture, mutual identification, a desire to improve the Chicano socio-economic position, and a commitment to making constructive changes in U.S. society.
A major focus of contemporary Chicanos has been politics. Political goals have included increasing the number of Chicano candidates, convincing non-Chicano candidates to commit themselves to the needs of the Mexican American community, conducting broad-scale voter registration and community organization drives, working for appointment of more Chicanos in government, and supporting passage of constructive legislation. Some Chicanos have chosen to work through the two major political parties or through theoretically nonpartisan organizations, such as the Mexican-American Political Association. Others have channeled their political efforts through El Partido de la Raza Unida (PRU, United People's Party), which was founded in south Texas by Jose Angel Gutierrez. While Chicanos have not demonstrated political influence commensurate with their growing numbers, the increase in Chicano elected and appointed officials reflects growing Chicano political presence.
Chicanos have given considerable contemporary attention to economic change. Goals and strategies have varied — upgrading occupations, creating more private businesses (Brown Capitalism), and forming cooperative community development enterprises are examples. The most visible and publicly dramatic aspect of the Chicano economic struggle has been the United Farm Workers' movement led by Cesar Chavez.
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