This term is used to refer to people  originating from, or having a heritage related  to, Latin America, in recognition of the fact  that this set of people is actually a superset  of many nationalities. Since the term "Latin"  comes into use as the least common denominator  for all peoples of Latin America in  recognition of the fact that some romance  language (Spanish, Portugese, French) is the  native tongue of the majority of Latin  Americans, this term is widely accepted by most.  However, the term is not appropriate for the  millions of native americans who inhabit the region. 


Specifically, the nationality of the inhabitants of mexico. Therefore, the term is used appropriately for Mexican citizens who visit or work in the United States, but it is insufficient to designate those people who are citizens of the United States (they were born in the U.S. or are naturalized citizens of the U.S.) who are of Mexican ancestry 

It is important to explain why [some] people feel it is important to make . . . a  distinction. U.S. citizens who are troubled  by this often point out that most immigrants  do not distinguish themselves by point of  origin first, (i.e., German-American), but  simply as "Americans" (another troublesome term,  but we won't get detoured by that here).  Here are some reasons why many U.S. citizens  of Mexican extraction feel that it is important  to make the distinction: 

Not "Americans" by choice A scant 150 years ago, approximately 50% of what was then Mexico was appropriated by the U.S. as spoils of war, and in a series of land "sales" that were coerced capitalizing on the U.S. victory in that war and Mexico's weak political and economic status. A sizeable number of Mexican citizens became citizens of the United States from one day to the next as a result, and the treaty declaring the peace between the two countries recognized the rights of such people to their private properties (as deeded by Mexican or Spanish colonial authorities), their own religion (Roman Catholicism) and the right to speak and receive education in their own tongue (for the majority, Spanish) [refer to the file GUADHIDA, the text of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, on this same subdirectory]. Therefore, the descendants of this population continue to press for such rights, and many hold that theirs is a colonized land and people in view of the fact that their territory and population was taken over by military force. 

Mexicans first, "Americans" second? Another and more numerous class of U.S. citizens of Mexican extraction are either descendants of, or are themselves, people who conceive of themselves as _temporarily_ displaced from Mexico by economic circumstances. As oppossed to the waves of European migrants who willingly left their countries due to class and religious discrimination, and sought to make their lives anew in the "new world" and never to return to the "old land," these displaced Mexicans typically maintain strong family ties in Mexico (by visiting periodically, and by investing their incomes in homes or kin in Mexico), and usually intend to return to Mexico provided they can become economically secure. Therefore these people maintain and nurture their children in their language, religion and customs. 

However, There is great tension within this population between those of Mexican birth who conceive of themselves as temporary guests in the U.S., and their descendants who are born in the U.S., are acculturated with the norms of broader U.S. society in public schools, and are not motivated by the same ties that bind a migrant generation of Mexicans. This creates a classic "niche" of descendants of immigrants who are full-fledged U.S. citizens, but who typically do not have access to all the rights and priviliges of citizenship because of the strong cultural identity imbued in them by their upbringing and the discriminatory reaction of the majority population against a non-assimilated and easily identified subclass. This group of people feels a great need to distinguish itself from both its U.S. millieu and its Mexican "Mother Culture," which does not typically welcome or accept "prodigals." This is truly a unique set of people, therefore, in that it endures both strong ties and strong discrimination from both U.S. and Mexican mainstream parent cultures. The result has been the creation of a remarkable new culture that needs its own name and identity. 

Mexican-American is commonly used to recognize U.S.  citizens who are descendants of Mexicans,  following the pattern sometimes used to  identify the extraction of other ethnic  americans (e.g., "African-American). This  term is acceptable to many Mexican  descendants, but for those who do not identify  with a Mexican heritage, but rather with a  Spanish heritage, it is unacceptable (cf.,  "HiPo," below).  Also, for those  who do not view themselves as "Americans" by  choice, this term is problematic, and for others  the implication that the identity of the bearer is  unresolved, or in limbo, between two antipodal  influences, belies their self-concept as a  blend that supercedes its origins and is  stronger, richer and more dynamic than either  of its cultural roots.


This term is preferred by that subpopulation, located primarily in the U.S. southwest, who identify with the Spanish settlers of the area, and not with the Mexican settlers (specifically, the creole Spanish-Native American race). There is in fact an important number of these people located along the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and in the northern Sangre de Cristo mountain range of the same state. This group has been traditionally a very closed and conservative one, and recent evidence provides important explanations for this: they seem to be descendants of persecuted Jews who fled Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries and sought refuge in what were then the farthest reaches of the known world. They survived by minimizing their contact with outsiders and by hiding or disguising their religious and cultural identities as much as possible. Historical researchers call them "cryptic jews." 


 A relatively recent term that has been appropriated by many Mexican descendants as unique and therefore reflective of their unique culture, though its first usage seems to have been discriminatory. The most likely source of the word is traced to the 1930 and 40s period, when poor, rural Mexicans, often native americans, were imported to the U.S. to provide cheap field labor, under an agreement of the governments of both countries. The term seems to have come into first use in the fields of California in derision of the inability of native Nahuatl speakers from Morelos state to refer to themselves as "Mexicanos," and instead spoke of themselves as "Mesheecanos," in accordance with the pronounciation rules of their language (for additional details, refer to the file MEXICO on this same subdirectory). An equivocal factor is that in vulgar Spanish it is common for Mexicans to use the "CH" conjunction in place of certain consonants in order to create a term of endearment. Whatever its origin, it was at first insulting to be identified by this name. The term was appropriated by Mexican-American activists who took part in the Brown Power movement of the 60s and 70s in the U.S. southwest, and has now come into widespread usage. Among more "assimilated" Mexican-Americans, the term still retains an unsavory connotation, particularly because it is preferred by political activists and by those who seek to create a new and fresh identity for their culture rather than to subsume it blandly under the guise of any mainstream culture.

For additional information and resources on Chicano Studies, a good  starting point is the Chicano-Latino Network (CLNET) accessible  through the University of California - Los Angeles Gopher Server: 70 

under the heading:  ->Chicano/LatinoNet 


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