Sunday, October 27, 2013

I Didn't Realize I Wasn't Chicano Enough

It was one of those Fridays again back at California. My friends had given me a call to ask me what I was up to, and if I had any plans to get all pedo pa' la chingada with them. I was studying, so I agreed to meet them in an hour or so down the street at a local bar/pool hall. By the time I was done staring at the computer screen not really knowing what else to write, I said fuck this, and headed over. My friends were hanging out with a couple of other guys, mutual friends. I think one of the guys, by the nickname Chaz, asked me about my major. I let him know I was doing English, but focusing on Chicano literature. The conversation just kinda went along, until he asked me what I considered myself, to which I replied, "Chicano." Then Chaz, asked me in a moderately aggressive manner, "What's your indigenous name?" I was taken aback, I just kinda stared at him, thinking "I didn't realize I needed to have an indigenous name to be allowed to refer to myself or consider myself Chicano." I understood where he was coming from to a certain extent, but I had to wonder if some of this was the alcohol talking? I replied, "Er, I'm just Chicano."

With an air of superiority and Chicano authenticity he said, "My indigenous name is [insert indigenous name here]." I just kinda stared at him, thinking, okay, I think I'm supposed to either feel impressed that he is a member of an elite type of Chicanos that have indigenous names, or I'm supposed to feel embarrassed that I'm not Chicano enough to know my own or be allowed to have an indigenous name. Chaz, then started telling a story about him having had an altercation a week or two earlier with a white guy at the same pool hall, because the white guy had gotten shitfaced and went down the racial slur route when trash-talking to Chaz, either because he was losing a game of pool to Chaz, or because he just didn't like Chaz's face. Chaz told us the white guy had gotten kicked out of the pool hall since he was the one that was being the aggressor in that whole situation.

Being a student of Chicano Studies I have found it to be a curse similar to that of being an English major. You see as an English major my friends would expect me to know all the grammatical rules, and therefore expect me not to fuck up when writing a casual e-mail or even when speaking with them. One great example of this, is one day at happy hour with a few of my friends, having a round of beers, when of them said, "I catched the ball . . .". Another friend called him out on it, "It's "caught the ball," buddy." Then this same friend looked at me and said, "Hey what the fuck Mr. English major, you're supposed to call him out on that shit." I shrugged my shoulders, because I've tried to avoid being one of those smart-alecky motherfuckers that almost seems to have an urge and necessity to call out any and every mistake another person makes. I've tried to avoid being, "that guy." Plus I don't necessarily like making people feel uncomfortable for those types of things, I don't ever want my friends to feel as if I'm acting with an air of superiority over them just because I'm an English major, besides, I experienced enough of that snobbery by other students in my English courses and would rather not replicate it. I'd rather make my friends feel uncomfortable for babies they secretly aborted or that Chewbacca-looking girl they fucked, but wouldn't fuck if they weren't under the influence of alcohol. Nonetheless, I would get called out if I made a mistake in an e-mail message, sometimes I wondered if the friend doing it, did it to make himself feel better, or maybe I deserved it, because I did my fair share of shit-talking. I think that's why I find the blog so freeing, I can write without the constraints that academia places on me, but I can make mistakes and just move on, or come back and fix them, some of the mistakes are noticeable mistakes I've made them for years, which is why my professors were always right to tell me to go back and revise my work, to catch those passing mistakes I made as my fingers raced to keep pace with my thoughts as I typed letters onto the screen. Now that that part of the whining is out of the way; the other is a similar curse with being a Chicano Studies major. I've never considered myself a fountain of knowledge of any sort, I'm really just a person that thinks too much, and questions too much, the minutiae of facts escapes me, because I find myself questioning things that I've read or trying to overanalyze what I've read and trying to arrive at some general understanding, and then challenge what I've read, or challenge my own thought process. But in Chicano Studies more times than not I've found people asking "What is Chicano Studies?" or "What is a Chicano?" Sometimes I have to take a deep breath, more of a sigh really, as I explain, having had to explain it many times already, mostly to people who are themselves Latinos/as or Anglo.

In California, there was a fellow student that asked me "what is a Chicano? It's basically just a Latino, right?" I almost fell backwards into the bushes, just like one of those anime cartoon characters that hears something stupid, has veins visibly popping out of his head, and falls on his back, legs and feet raised in the air. However, this was coming from a student who couldn't fulfill the graduate school's foreign language requirement and so began a one-woman campaign, because the grad school's Spanish examination wasn't fair, because it was hard. The grad school actually abided to her complaints, and made a rule, that if a grad student fails the foreign language exam twice, they would get a waiver. Other grad students jokingly named the rule after her. But I'm sure a lot of other grad students are thankful to her, because lord knows they wouldn't be able to fulfill the foreign language requirement otherwise. Okay, I need to get back to what this post was intended to be about. So I explained to this student the "Chicano". She shrugged and said, "It's all the same." I thought to myself, "Ah, go fail another foreign language exam."

Some years later I would get a similar question, from a fellow Chicano, or Mexican-American. My friend had invited me to go catch a Chivas game in San Jose, but I had to hitch a ride with this guy that lived in my neighborhood. He had a buddy riding shotgun, and on the 101 headed north, the conversation dove tailed into my studies after making small talk. I was once again asked to define "Chicano." The driver, in reality a mutual friend of mine and my friend who had invited me to the soccer game, went on some shit about the guy in the passenger seat was the only one who could claim the term "Chicano," for some reason, but I can't remember exactly what it was. I just sat in the backseat listening to his explanation, or maybe not since I can't remember it. So here I was once again, basically being told that I wasn't Chicano enough. I've gotten to a point to where I simply just listen to people, and let them fulfill their Chicano, or non-Chicano wishes about me or themselves. If I tell non-Chicanos I'm in Chicano Studies, they want to ask what it is, and then just kinda brush it off as irrelevant, because I'm basically a Mexican studying Mexicans, how hard can that be? With Latinos, it's similar, but it's a bit more combative, because for many of them the question is, "Why Chicano, and not Latino?" For Mexican-Americans or other Chicanos, I'm just not Chicano enough. I think this is why I've heard some of my professors being apprehensive about any discussions about identity, because trying to talk identity ends up being fruitless, when the there are much too many other things to be discussed, such as actions to take, as opposed to sitting around waxing about a typology for brown folk or those with a Spanish tongue.

I've always sided with discussions about identity, because I think that getting people think about their identity, gets them to think about their identity not just simply in terms of how they identify themselves, Chicano/a, Latino/a, etc., but also in relation to politics, social issues, economics, history, and culture. That is the important aspect about discussions on identity, realizing the interrelation between identity and all the other facets of society in relation to however we identify ourselves, and how that then shapes our ideology. Unfortunately I've found many of us simply want to question each other's Chicano/a authenticity. Which I guess is cool. But I just don't want to end up in some interment camp (metaphorical or otherwise) for not knowing my indigenous name.

XX <-(This is not my indigenous name. It is a made-up name.)

1 comment:

  1. Starting to call yourself a Chicano is the beginning of a long path to self ideologizing brother. Concientización is realizing that their is much to be learned about our culture and self. The colonizer did a number on us, and Chicano Studies is a method of starting this decolonizing process, but the system and intitutions at be stagnate or manipulate the authenticity of this aboriginal circular thought paradigm. A mentor once told me that if you claim brown, you can stick around, but if we claim red we will drop dead. I had to put some thought into this for many years.