Tuesday, December 06, 2005

2006 will usher in New Opportunities for Chicano Artists and Writers

With the growth of the Latino population, mainstream retailers are following a trend of offering more Chicano themed products to the general public. Rolas de Aztlan, a Smithsonian collection of Chicano Movement music was recently featured at Target Stores. Chicano artists have noticed an increased interest in their works and bookstores are offering more options in Chicano literature.

The amount of Chicano themed products in the mainstream market is still sparse in comparison to other ethnic based products. FUBU has an appeal that crosses ethnic boundaries; Asian flame designs are extremely trendy and in high demand.

So where are the Chicano themed products?

Before we can answer that question, we must first define the Chicano theme. Simply defined a Chicano theme is anything created by Chicanos, for Chicanos or about Chicanos. This definition was first introduced to the public in the late 70s by Daniel A. Castro, Ph.D. who is known to many as Sancho of the Sancho Radio Show from Pasadena’s KPPC.

Castor’s definition is similar to FUBU’s meaning of For Us, By Us referring to clothing styles created by and for African-Americans. These definitions were intended to draw a specific customer base, but FUBU is far reaching and is now mainstream Americana.

There is a concept that Chicano themed products are ethnocentric in appeal. This can be attributed to the lack of visibility in the mainstream market and not to any specific ethnic attribute i.e. a tee shirt with the words “Soy Chicano, Y Que” though such a tee shirt can be considered Chicano themed, it does not define the broader sense of Chicanismo. Yet, “Soy Chicano, Y Que” is the attitude of Chicanismo.

To understand Chicanismo, we must acknowledge the origin and development of the word Chicano. Chicano is the shortening of the word Mexicano and was coined in the US circa the early 1900s to identify Mexicanos escaping the Mexican Revolution of 1910. During this exodus, many Mexicanos and Spanish Gypsies entered the US through El Paso, TX and set up dwellings along the Texas border. The cultural collision that followed this serendipitous encounter resulted in the birth of Pachuquismo.

The youth of these two groups melded together and began to incorporate American customs and culture. It is most likely that the first product of this cultural melding was language. The word pachuco is similar in sound and meaning to the Gypsy word payuco pronounced pa-ju-co, which has roots in the Romani word gadjo and Spanish Caló payo, both words describing a non-Gypsy. With utmost certainty, the Gypsies referred to Mexicanos as payucos.

In the town of EL Paso, the young Mexicano immigrants and first American born generation of Mexicanos embraced the word, slightly changing its pronunciation to pachuco. The Pachucos dubbed El Paso “El Chuco” in the 1920s. Pachucos readily developed a unique dialect that incorporated Nahuatl, Romani, Spanish and English and named their new idiom Caló after the language of the Gypsies.

Another encounter at El Paso that brought about Pachuquismo was the music coming from the African-American enclaves that quickly gained popularity among America’s youth – Swing. Swing introduced a free spirited ambiance that the young Mexicano immigrants and first generation Americans looked to as a means of redefining their being. They were hep cats, batos locos – ah retz. Finally, Swing was the common equation that they could share with other Americans. They found a common ground; or so they thought.

Still living in the apartheid conditions of the time and dealing with America’s racial injustices, many of these young Pachucos became anti-social; then came the Zoot Suit. Suits in general are a symbol of power and prestige. These young Pachucos donned the Tacuches (Zoot Suits) and, in the custom of the paseo, strutted through town for all to see while they courted the young women. Pachucos of the Swing Era identified themselves as rebels. They took negative words and wore them like shinny Medals of Honor. One such word with negative connotations was Chicano.

Octavio Paz captured the essence of Chicanismo when he wrote this of the Pachucos, “They are instinctive rebels, and North American racism has vented its wrath on them more than once. But the Pachucos do not attempt to vindicate their race or the nationality of their forebears. Their attitude reveals an obstinate, almost fanatical will-to-be, but this will affirms nothing specific except their determination . . . not to be like those around them.”

In the 50s, many of the Chicanos that had fought in WWII decided that they would not return to the America the left, but asserted that they would dedicate their lives to fighting the injustices they had suffered before going to war. The seed was planted and Pachucos led the way to the formation of the Chicano Movement of the 60s.

Today the term Chicano stirs up controversy in any setting and among any culture. Chicano philosophy requires social, political and economic activity and assertiveness. You cannot call yourself Chicano if you do not take action in one of the latter forms.

Chicanismo, Chicanoism in Spanglish, on the other hand, is the culture that results from social, political and economic conflict, failure and success. In that sense, the definition of Chicanismo is always in the state of development or movement (Ollin in Nahuatl). Chicanismo is not easily identified, but you know it when you see it, hear it, taste it and feel it. It is the elusive definition of Chicanismo that attracts attention like the tacuches of the Pachucos and inspires the attitude behind “Soy Chicano, Y Que”.

The mainstream commercial market is ready for Chicano themed products. Our undaunted spirit has sparked interests in the diverse expressions of our Chicano culture. It is time now to form alliances that will guarantee our financial success, not only in Aztlan, but also in the international market.

2006 will be the year that starts to define our place in the economy of Aztlan. Visit this blog to share ideas, network and collaborate on projects. Please contact me for more information on projects planned for 2006 or visit the Civic Consultants website - click HERE.



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