The Chicane Nation and Neocolonialism:
We, the Chicanes, are the descendants of the Mexican people of middle North America. We are distinguished from contemporary Mexicans in that we reside in the United States permanently, while Mexicans in the United States only migrate here temporarily, with the intent to eventually leave. Our ancestry is Indigenous, African, East/Southeast Asian, and European. Our histories are intertwined with the Indigenous peoples of what is today the US southwest and Mexican northwest, at times as antagonisms, at others as solidarity. Alongside these our siblings, we were colonized by the US Empire in the course of its Manifest Destiny campaign of westward expansion.
From the annexation of half of Mexico’s territories in 1848 to today, we have developed as a distinct nation. Distinct to Mexico and distinct to the United States. A nation is defined by holding most, but not necessarily all, of the following characteristics: continuous habitation, shared geographic region, shared history, shared language, shared culture, shared economic life, and shared national consciousness.
We Chicanes share the geographic region of what is today the US Southwest, with continuous habitation extending. For many of us, thousands of years into regional Indigenous ancestry. We have a shared history extending from Indigenous peoples in the region, to mixed-race peoples in the borderlands of New Spain and later Mexico, to our oppression as a distinct people in the course of the US Empire’s colonization of us. We have a shared language in the form of a unique and regionally varied synthesis of Spanish and English. We have a shared culture with influences from Indigenous Americans, Spanish colonizers, East/Southeast Asians, and Africans. We have always lacked a large, unified economic life, middle North America having a decentralized life under Spanish and Mexican holding, but this is true of other oppressed nations-within-nations, including Black people in the US’s Deep South and Assyrians in northern Iraq.
Under the talons of US imperialism, we face not national oppression alone, but racial-national oppression. Racial oppression in the form of historical de jure segregation and contemporary de facto segregation, lynchings, terrorism, and discrimination. National oppression in the form of a relation to the United States as an internal colony, the connection of our internal ruling classes to the US imperial apparatus, and ongoing programs of assimilation.
We revolutionary Chicane nationalists pursue the right to self-determination and national liberation, not Americanization, not sameness with Euro-Americans, or the opportunity for bourgeoisification. Self-determination meaning control of our communities by our communities, national liberation meaning our development as an independent nation in the US Southwest, along with Indigenous peoples, Black people, and all of the US’s colonies and neocolonies abroad. We advocate our rights as minorities outside of our homeland in the US Southwest and for solidarity with oppressed nationalities. The relevance of this national-democratic program to revolutionary socialism, particularly in the heart of the US Empire, cannot be understated. In The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Vladimir I. Lenin writes:
“Victorious socialism must achieve complete democracy and, consequently, not only bring about the complete equality of nations, but also give effect to the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, i.e., the right to free political secession[…]
“Of course, democracy is also a form of state which must disappear when the state disappears, but this will take place only in the process of transition from completely victorious and consolidated socialism to complete communism[…]
“Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the transition period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all the oppressed nations, i.e., their freedom to secede.”
We revolutionary socialists must take the project of global national liberation from imperialism very seriously as integral to the end of imperialism and birth of socialism from its monstrous, dying body. In order to work toward a general understanding of our tasks on this end, we must derive theory from the practical experiences. Thus, examining the Chicane national question is a means of understanding our own part to play in the broad struggle for national democracy and development in a socialist direction.
Today, the Chicane nation, along with other oppressed nations and nationalities in the US and the world, live under the neocolonial form of imperialism. That is, we have nominal self-determination to greater or lesser degrees, but are in reality indirectly controlled by imperialism. US imperialists continue to own the capital which commands over our lives, and they reproduce their power among us through a seemingly nationalistic, but in reality loyal, middle strata. To understand this situation, we must understand how we got here.
Indigenous Middle North America:
Indigenous people have continuously inhabited the Americas for thousands upon thousands of years, with the estimated date of the beginning extending further back in history as new archaeological information is uncovered. Eurocentric academia historically explained their existence through the Bering Strait theory, claiming that humans crossed into America from Asia over a temporary corridor through the Pacific Ocean 15,000 years ago. This theory has, however, been proven incorrect, as the land bridge was not traversable for a large enough window of time for any amount of human beings in line with the historical record (Ewen). A newer, more feasible theory is that human beings migrated to the Americas from the Pacific by boat (Gannon).
A recent discovery in Chipuihuite Cave has pushed the minimum timeline back to approximately 30,000 years, that still being a conservative estimate for the continent (Romey). Based on the Cerutti mastodon site in Southern California, it’s possible that human beings have existed in the Americas as far back as 130,000 years ago (Cosier). Assuming the claims of that particular group of paleontologists are incorrect, even by conservative estimates humans have existed in the Americas for at least 30,00 years. Either way, continuous human habitation in the Americas has been long-standing.
The Americas are the homelands of a varied array of Indigenous peoples, and middle North America is no exception. To get an idea of the diversity of Indigenous peoples in the region, this map of Indigenous language families will help:
The amount of Indigenous cultural groups, to say nothing of ethnic or regional groups, is staggering. This map shows territories of Indigenous groups in middle North America:
Indigenous peoples in middle North America have historically held two main groups of modes of production: primarily sedentary, communalist agricultural production, including the coastal peoples of California, the Hopi, the Pueblo, the Pima, and the Zuñi, and the Pima, and primarily nomadic, warrior communalism, including the Apaches, Comanches, Navajo, Yaqui, and Yutes. Both engaged in their own food cultivation, though the former much more intensively than the latter.
The nomadic peoples migrated seasonally, following preferred prey and the fertility of the soil. The sedentary peoples depended on the Three Sisters method of food production: corn, squash, and beans grown together (Galloway, 72). Nomadic peoples, with greater or lesser frequency depending on the circumstances, raided sedentary peoples, appropriating produce and people from them for their own means of subsistence (Galloway, 92). Both groups shaped their ecology over time to make it suitable for their uses (Mann, 260).
Sedentary peoples did not have as strong a propensity toward appropriation of produce, though there are indications that tributary modes of production existed at various times, such as among the Ancestral Puebloans in Chaco Canyon (Robbins). The peoples of coastal California, due to optimal conditions for means of subsistence in the region, had limited tendencies toward large-scale warfare except in periods of famine (Galloway, 95, 46).
Peoples were interconnected within and without through exchange, which extended down to the Triple Alliance in contemporary central Mexico. Among items that were traded were shells, turquoise, flint, obsidian, pearls, hides, salt, and clay items (Calloway, 55, 87). Indigenous Americans were not scattered, isolated peoples, but a thriving web of civilizations.
Neither of the two mode of production groups had developed class distinctions, though they had distinctions in status among them. Authority was grounded on consensus, serving the entire community rather than one section of it, as is typical of non-class societies. As they lacked class distinctions, and women’s labor was not disempowered in the division of labor, they did not develop a distinctly patriarchal gender system (Brayboy). Their gender systems lacked the rigid, hard-and-fast, exploitative distinctions associated with patriarchy’s reproductive regulation. Indigenous societies in the region varied in terms of gender, but cross-gender roles were common, and women in most instances held respected, powerful positions.
Spanish Colonialism in Middle North America:
Spanish colonizers had established the colony of New Spain in 1521 after defeating the Triple Alliance and assuming its territories, thanks to the help of their Tlaxcalan and Cempoalan allies. New Spain began as a body which the Spanish had little control over save for what is today Mexico City, depending significantly on the loyalty of active conquistadores and retired encomenderos (Townsend, 159–160). Throughout the 16th century, Spain’s holdings would increase in size, with power over them consolidating. Where Spain spread its power, it toiled to replace or make subservient communalism or Indigenous tributary modes of production to feudalism (Townsend, 206). Included in this transformation was a European-style patriarchal gender system, which exists today and which Indigenous people have resisted for centuries through aboveground and underground practice of non-patriarchal gender roles.
The Spanish colonial project emerged owing to a mercantile desire for a spice trade route, but became focused on bullion in the Americas. Growing hunger for bullion drove the expansion north (Alonso, 23). Spain first became became aware of the extent of middle North America and beyond from the Narváez expedition, which set out in 1527 in order to establish settlements in Florida (Galloway, 122). Only four survivors returned to Mexico City in 1536, the would-be conquistadores devastated by Indigenous warriors, disease, and their own ineptitude. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote an account of the expedition, publishing them for the consumption of criolles and peninsulares in New Spain and Europeans abroad (Galloway, 132).
New Spain continued to send expeditions into middle North America, establishing various small settlements and forts (Galloway, 132). Though Spain claimed the territory in a legal sense, it had little to no concrete power over it. The actual colonization of the region began with Juan de Oñate’s establishment of the province Santa Fe through bloodshed and enslavement in 1598. He brought the Pueblo into the society of New Spain, albeit quite loosely (Galloway, 146–148). Along with this region, Spain established settlements in Texas and began to establish settlements in Colorado. New Mexico held both ejidal communal land grants and encomienda land grants given by the Crown to noble Spaniards and mestizes. The encomiendas were worked by peons who were Indigenous people from the region and from south as well as Afro-/mestizes.
The Spaniards considered the Pueblo, who they called indios gentile, much more conducive to their colonial project than rival peoples such as the Apache, whom they called indios bárbaros. The Spaniards offered the Pueblo support in defense against raids, but it was little compensation for 100 years of colonial oppression. They demanded heavy tribute in labor and produce, even during a heavy drought, molested Pueblo women and children, and Catholic priests attacked Pueblo spiritual life, in particular their Kachina dances. In 1680, the arrest and execution of Puebloans for practicing their traditional religion drove the Pueblo to revolt against the hated Spaniards, led by a San Juan Pueblo named Popé (Galloway, 172–177).
The Pueblo released their wrath upon Spanish settlers, targeting priests in particular. They successfully drove out the Iberians, living independently once again for 13 years. Their revolt inspired Indigenous people throughout the region to rise up against the Spanish, joining the Pueblo in their purge of the colonizers (Galloway, 177–185). While independent, they traded and lost guns and fertile horses to surrounding nomadic peoples, particularly the Navajo (Galloway, 205). Before, the Spaniards had sold some horses to Indigenous people, but only infertile ones. Now, the Navajo and Apache, whom the former traded with, had horses and guns. They would trade these with other peoples in turn, the exchange spreading to the Comanche. Horses and guns incited a revolution in social relations among nomadic peoples, as horses emerged as private property to be accumulated by the most esteemed warriors, and guns a means of hunting and appropriating produce from other peoples (Quammen). Class distinctions arose among nomadic peoples, and the beginnings of a proto-patriarchal revolution in gender relations began to develop owing to esteemed warriors garnering many wives.
The Spaniards returned with many soldiers in the mid 1690s, putting down their attempt at a second revolt with a bloody retribution (Galloway, 190–199). The Spanish, however, now left the Pueblo a great degree of cultural and spiritual autonomy, having learned their lesson from the 1680 revolt (Galloway, 202–204). The Pueblo would not feel the talons of the Padres in their flesh so deeply as before.
In the 1700s, the Spaniards carried on the project of expanding territories in middle North America. They continued to establish settlements in contemporary New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and Arizona, engaging in protracted wars with Indigenous peoples in the region. The majority of Mexican settlers were to be found in New Mexico. The settlements were not lucrative across broad swathes, rather with pockets of land which were exploited through mining and ranching. Settlers would be thwarted in most of their expansion efforts by powerful nomadic peoples, in particular the Apache and Comanche (Alonso, 26–27). As a result, the Crown had little recourse but to turn to Mexican civil society, granting the prospect of social mobility and prestige regardless of race or class for any who would become settler-colonists in the region. Of course, on the condition that they would put their bodies on the line to resist Indigenous peoples’ defense of their homelands and expropriations of settlers (Alonso, 31).
In the latter part of the century, the Spanish commenced the venture of a presence in California through the Franciscan Mission system. From the late 18th century to decades after Mexico declared independence, the Franciscans worked to force Indigenous populations in reducciones to be forcibly Christianized and removed from communalist modes of life (Day). Instead of demonic communalism, men like Junípero Serra would ensure that Indigenous people would be conscripted into holy peonage and slavery to work for the Franciscans (Yuhas). The productive labor which was extracted from the neophytes was lucrative, the holy men growing fat off the profit. Indigenous people, neophytes or no, would resist colonization in diverse courses, whether by revolt or cultural-spiritual subversion. Most frequently, they voted with their feet, neophytes fleeing to rejoin their communities. The Mission System would not end gradually, dying off later through independent Mexico’s secularization policies.
Independent Mexico and the Borderlands:
From the 1810s to the 1820s, Mexico waged its struggle for independence. The war took the form more of regional struggles with distinct class compositions than of a unified struggle (Aviña, 20–23). Most of the participants were Europeanized peoples, with Indigenous ejidos having little interest in independence. The first phase, that of Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, was a revolutionary movement of the lower classes in New Spain’s society, from Indigenous and Afro-/mestize peons to African/Afro-mestize slaves. The revolt was concentrated in the south, and was defeated in the mid 1810s. The criolle merchants and landlords, however, would make their own move toward independence, grounding themselves in central Mexico’s urban areas, and would succeed in 1821.
Mexico temporarily existed with a Emperor, but it was very short-lived, being replaced by a Republic within a few years. The tide of in middle North America was more in degree than form. The flow of settlers proliferated, with low-status, racialized people continuing to be encouraged to become settler-colonists as a means of social mobility (Alonso, 39). Indigenous and Afro-/mestize settlers composed the majority of the population on the frontier who had acted as buffers against Indigenous raiding, while hacendados depended on them for the reproduction of conditions for colonial, feudal production (Alonso, 39). Warfare with Indigenous peoples outside and against the colonial system intensified and professionalized (Alonso, 40–42). The mass of the region continued to be controlled by Indigenous peoples, with expansion of colonial holdings seeing little success until the US’s settler-colonial expansion overtook middle North America.
Mexican social relations remained feudal, but were increasingly tinted by mercantile tones. A significant shift in social relations was the 1829 abolition of chattel slavery, which was given an exception in the case of Anglo-American settlers in Texas (Dunbar-Ortiz, 127). The new country had growing interest in the expropriation of Indigenous social groups as opposed to the incorporation of their communalism or native tributary modes of production. With the transition to a local feudalism, the Mexican state wrestled with the power of the Church, long integral to foreign domination. Since their establishment, California settlements had been a vestige of Church power, being settled by Franciscans. Beginning in the 1830s, the Republic began to expropriate the Church, giving its landholdings as haciendas to wealthy criolles and Afro-/mestizes (Cambell and Moriarty).
The power of nomadic Indigenous peoples, namely the Comanche and Apache, continued to limit the expansion of colonization in the region. With mining industries growing in the north, settlers increased in volume, conglomerating with previous migration populations. Increasing mercantile development drew migrants from other countries, such as the US, who traveled to major urban centers to labor, become merchants, or try their hand at speculation (National Parks Service). Many moved to cities in California, a convergence point for Pacific trade routes.
The Mexican government still needed a large share of settlers to contend against the powerful Apache and Comanche. Texas, Arizona, and the other territories had long been the peripheries of the Apache and Comanche (Galloway, 326–327). After they had acquired horses and guns, the Apache and Comanche’s power grew exponentially. The Apachería and Comanchería were the cores of social relations, particularly trade, in the region, with the settlements being their periphery. The government hoped to fracture their strength in order to ensure conducive conditions for production and exchange under colonial control. Mexico started to allow the migration of Anglo-American settlers into Texas in the 1820s. While slavery was illegal in the rest of the country, the government allowed it in the case of the settlers in exchange for their inhibition of the Apache and Comanche and protection of mercantile interests in the region (Dunbar-Ortiz, 126–127). This would come back to bite Mexico.
The Anglo-Americans began to revolt against Mexican rule in the 1830s, largely motivated by anger over Mexico’s abolitionist stance. In 1835, Anglo-Americans launched their revolt for independence, breaking away from Mexico in 1836. They established a new Republic, ensuring the protection of slavery in their constitution. Anglo-Texans expropriated Mexicans in the region, taking their landholdings and beginning a long-standing habit of lynching them (Carmona, Contreras and Attanasio, Romero). Mexico and Texas continued to battle on and off, with the latter seeking to become part of the United States. The prospective entrance of the Republic into the US was controversial, as the US’s ruling class was split between the northern bourgeoisie and the southern plantation aristocracy. They kept their shaky alliance through balanced representation in Congress and the Senate, which would be undermined by the entrance of a slave state.
US Annexation and Primitive Accumulation:
In 1845, with the newly elected, committed imperialist James K. Polk as President, the US admitted Texas as a state. The annexation was never accepted by Mexico, who continuously contested it. Polk, with an eye to the seizure of the rest of western middle North America, provoked an attack from Mexico and launched the Mexican-American War in 1846 (Sjursen). Mexico’s northern territories held little agriculture to fuel the war effort, and the Mexican population in the northern territories was speckled here and there. Mexico was dependent on land routes for trade and had a dearth of sea power, while the United States had a wealth of water routes for trade alongside a variety of land routes. For these reasons, and not for a biological or cultural deficiency, Mexico had little chance of winning the war. By the time the Port of Veracruz was isolated from the rest of the country, they were doomed. The United States waged a brutal war, expropriating Mexicans and non-allied Indigenous people throughout. Anglo-American settlers in Texas and California joined with the US Army to break middle North America from Mexico, thirsting to grasp its land and wealth in their hands.
After the invasion and occupation of Mexico City in 1847, Mexico was forced to surrender. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, giving the US title over all of middle North America, under particular conditions. María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo outlines the importance and characterizations of these conditions as they relate to the future development of the Chicanes in Indian Given:
“The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo maps a series of usurpations. Chicano scholarship and popular culture uniformly represent the U.S. war with Mexico as the usurpation of Chicana/o territory and rights. Certainly, the U.S. usurped a quarter of a continent and Euro-American settlers usurped the property of tens of thousands of former multiracial vecinos by violence and fraud. But was this a usurpation of Mexican territory?
“The Mexican nation tried and failed to usurp the equestrian tribes of their territories because it refused to recognize the flexible modes of Spanish incorporation, modes of incorporation initially captured in the early mappings of the Mexican nation. Just as certainly, the narrow racial terms of U.S. citizenship usurped Chicana/os of their indigenous and afromestizo heritage by requiring that they become purely white to maintain their rights and property, as discussed further in chapter 4.
“Nevertheless, when Chicana/os position themselves as the inheritors of the Southwest (Aztlán) from specifically Aztec ancestors, as examined in chapter 5, they misidentify not only the nature of their loss required by the treaty, they also usurp the territorial claims of the indigenous inhabitants of the Southwest, including those of the Comanche who are part of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. What is lost in the racial geography imposed by the treaty onto the annexed Mexicans is not this ancestral tie to the Aztec Empire.
“Rather, lost is this rich and changing history of Spanish and Mexican racial geographies[…] The popular analogy of Chicana/os as los Aztecas del norte occludes both the requirement to repress or deny indigenous heritage as enshrined in article 9 and the history of this anxious repudiation of savage Indian character — of indios bárbaros — by the Mexican government recorded in article 11. By representing Chicana/os as los Aztecas del norte, the Aztlán analogy forgets the historical differences drawn by the Mexican government between the equestrian tribes as the quintessential indios bárbaros, and gente de razón as the ‘civilized’ pueblo Indians, mestizos, and afromestizos. The Mexicans who negotiated the treaty tried to signal the differences between good Indians and bad to the U.S. government that would annex the northern territories.
“Proper Mexicans — Indian, mestizos, and afromestizos annexed by the United States — were to be rigorously differentiated from those tribus salvajes indicated in article 11, who then became the target of joint Mexican and U.S. extermination efforts. The U.S. racial geography proved incapable of mapping such fine differences among the general annexed population. Instead, it drew other distinctions. No Indians in the annexed territories, ‘civilized’ or not, would be treated as full citizens, nor would they be allowed to keep and manage the lands designated them by the Spanish Crown. Afromestizos were also ineligible for citizenship, and indeed faced enslavement in most of the newly annexed territory. Meanwhile, mestizos would be required to forswear their mixed racial heritage or be judged accordingly by U.S. law.
“The annexed Mexicans were given two choices by the treaty articles. They could either retain their Mexican character, eventually relocating to the southern side of the border, or they could relinquish their Mexican character and remain on the northern side of the divide. Article 9 suggests Mexicans relinquish their character in implicit exchange for U.S. character. And yet article 11 reveals a prescient anxiety among Mexicans that their racial character might be mistaken as Indian savagery that would require removal. And indeed, the U.S. government repeatedly read annexed Mexicans as rebellious, barbaric, and incapable of properly holding landed property.
“Neither black nor white, the majority of annexed Mexicans lingered in dangerous proximity to an imputed savage Indian difference. Thus annexed Mexicans were pulled into an ambivalent identification with their indigenous heritage — ambivalent because on the one hand they were required to relinquish their miscegenated racial heritage, privileged by Spanish colonialism and by Mexican nationalism; on the other, the identification was repeatedly thrust on them as they were ‘mistaken’ for Indian before a law that prohibited Indians from proper citizenship and from maintaining their territories. The treaty indexes this ambivalent identification in the racial geography of the Southwest as it was transformed from Mexican to U.S.”
Though the Treaty stipulated the protection of Mexicans’ land, capital, culture, lives, and equal citizenship rights, it would not be honored in practice by the US. As Saldaña-Portillo mentions, the little social mobility Mexicans could find within US society was through the pursuit of whiteness. Thus, struggles to be recognized as white and entitled to US citizenship would be waged, as in Texas (Gross). This assimilative tendency is typical of national oppression, though Mexicans faced racial-national oppression. They would not be recognized as white in any momentous manner, particularly not in de facto terms. The US’s social system could not afford it, as the expansion of USAmerican capital depended on their expropriation and superexploitation, and thus exclusion from settler-citizenship.
Whiteness in Anglo-America had always been associated with the ownership of land and the independence that it offered, and socio-political citizenship was directly identified with whiteness from the early Republic onward. Such could not hold for people who were increasingly landless peons, and who looked far too much like the Indigenous and African peoples which they were descended from and which the US continued to grapple with. The Mexicans were subject to racial-national oppression, segregated from Anglo-Americans to inferior residencies and facilities. At the same time, non-Indigenous and non-Black Mexicans bought themselves a degree of status by participating in anti-Blackness and in the ongoing expropriation and genocide of Indigenous peoples (Guidotti-Hernandez, 91).
The process of transforming middle North America from Mexican to USAmerican was at its core the process of primitive accumulation. Primitive accumulation is the appropriation of initial capital through expropriation, genocide, and enslavement, as well as the reproduction of conditions for capitalist production. Primitive accumulation, in its expropriations, creates a class of landless laborers, who add surplus-value to the new capital through their labor-power. This was the motor of the US’s expansion westward, driven by the need for more land to invest capital in such operations as slave production of cash crops, railroad transportation of commodities to be realized by consumption, cattle raising, mining of precious metals and coal, and others (Pear).
In its spread, it worked toward expropriating Mexicans and Indigenous peoples, toiling to destroy feudal and communalist modes of production and establishing capitalist development. The Afro-/mestix and Indigenous peoples who situated themselves within Mexican civil society in middle North America would in droves join the ranks of the growing proletariat as the Anglo-Americans took over the land they lived and labored upon. At the same time, they joined in genocidal wars on Indigenous peoples, which had been established as their practice in middle North America from the era of Spanish colonialism. The Camp Grant Massacre of 1871 was carried out against the Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches by Euro-Americans, Mexicans, and O’odham people, becoming an infamous episode of an ongoing genocide (Guidotti-Hernandez, 81–85).
Proletarianization would to some degree disrupt feudal, patriarchal gender relations. Women and children increasingly labored outside the home, gaining a degree of independence from the patriarchs of the home through the wage (García). Proletarianization would also produce a class of paupers, largely women. This led to the development of a sizable group of Mexican sex workers, whom Anglo men saw as cheap and “easy”, projecting their view of Mexico as a country and their own madonna-whore complexes onto them (Guidotti-Hernandez, 55–57).
In 1848, gold was discovered in Coloma, California. At the time, California’s population was still primarily Indigenous, save for urban centers (Castillo). This was in despite of a catastrophic, long-term decline of the Indigenous population due to diseases originally contracted during encounters with the Spanish. The discovery led to the 1849 Gold Rush, and the intertwined genocide of Indigenous people in California. Speculators came to California in a high tide hoping to strike a fortune in gold, most with the intent to convert it into capital and become bourgeois (PBS).
In 1850, California issued the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, deceptively named. In reality, it was an act of genocide (ACLU). Indigenous people were forced into peonage and slavery to Euro-American settlers, with almost 30,000 Indigenous people being forced into slavery (Castillo). Their homelands were occupied, they were terrorized by racist massacres and rapes, as they were subject to the process of capitalist development and reproduction. By conservative estimates, from 9,000 to 16,000+ Indigenous people were killed from 1846 to 1873 (Tour).
When the homicidal speculators found little success in their get-rich-quick schemes, they had little recourse but to become wage-laborers. They found that people who dared to live in California before they did already held many of the jobs. Most of these proletarians were East Asian, especially Chinese. In the 1870s, the Euro-Americans would terrorize and kill East Asians in anti-Chinese riots (Dowd). This culminated in the San Francisco riot of 1877, wherein Euro-Americans attacked and destroyed much of the city’s Chinatown.
California’s blood-soaked capitalist development would be driven further along by the development of the railroads (Foner). East/Southeast Asian, Black, Mexican, Latine, and, to a lesser degree, European laborers were superexploited and brutalized in the process of developing the US’s means of transportation, ensuring greater efficiency in the circulation of capital. Migrant workers were subject to racist terror, which reproduced their conditions of superexploitation. The development of the railroads would increase in the speed of capitalistic development in the US Southwest, and would bring more land-, capital-hungry Euro-Americans west.
Capitalist Development and the Chicane Nation:
The Mexicans would not take their expropriation laying down. The most common form of resistance was outlaw operations (Acuña, 75). Mexicans waged guerrilla warfare against the Texas Rangers and Anglo-American settlers, appropriating produce from transports of capital and commodities and/or simply killing the hated Anglos. People like La Caramboda, Tiburcio Vásquez, Gregorio Cortez, Joaquín Murrieta, and others would, consciously or unconsciously, protest against their conditions of existence. Guerrilla warfare was made optimal by the ability to flee south of the border into Mexico and evade capture. The myth of the social bandit would become central to the development of a Chicane national consciousness, with a corrido being dedicated to every single real or fictional bandido.
At the same time, capitalist development saw the convergence of the existing Mexican ruling class with the Anglo-American one. Mexican land-owning and merchant families married into Anglo-American families, promoting the concept of mejor la raza (Acuña, 116–117). Almost uniformly, they married their daughters off to Anglos, while Mexican men marrying Anglo women was unheard of. Unsurprising, given patriarchal society’s obsession with equating the “morals” of women with the “morals” of the nation. These land-owning, bourgeois, and petite-bourgeois families would promote Americanism within their communities. They typically carried esteem through acts of charity and contributions to the long-standing practice of mutual aid societies, mutualistas. This current of Chicane society preferred to call themselves “Spanish,” “Hispanic,” and other such labels that emphasized whiteness. They would act as the mediators between the Anglo-American state and bourgeoisie and the Mexican masses.
Mexican women from proletarian families would enter “female” occupations in large numbers out of financial necessity (Acuña, 123). Usually, this meant reproductive, domestic labor. They often worked as maids, raising the babies of wealthy families, invariably Anglos, cleaning their large houses, and running their errands. Many also performed sex work, which was both a site of luxury for bourgeois men and a site of reproduction-through-leasure for proletarian men.
The proletarianization of the Mexicans and development of capitalist social relations represented the beginning development of a Chicane nation. In Critical Remarks on the National Question, Lenin asserts:
“Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.”
While feudal conditions had left middle North America decentralized in terms of the overlap of social relations, capitalist development unified the region with a common economic life. This was capital’s socialization production, which came alongside capitalistic private appropriation of produce (ensured by the expropriation of Indigenous people and Mexicans). Social relations intertwined tighter and tighter by way of proletarianization, concentration of populations, and the development of the forces of production, particularly means of transportation and communication.
Chicanes, Indigenous people, Mexicans in the borderlands would not by any means be separated from each other. The borderlands were a vague, amorphous place, not the highly regulated war zone, where the flow and price of labor-power is tightly controlled, that they are today. Deportation apparatuses in the borderlands were not nearly as organized and efficient as they are today. For the most part, the US was focused on regulating migration through its ports, not its southern borders.
This was the context which northewestern Mexico and the southwestern US found themselves when the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910. The initial phase of revolt was sparked by the Magónistas, anarchists with a mass base among the proletarians in middle North America (Chacón, 176–183). The Magónistas organized strikes and established some communes, but were soon crushed by the Porfirista state. Many of the Magónistas took refuge in the southwestern US, some staying, other returning to Mexico over time. Their revolutionary anarchism and work with the IWW, an influential syndicalist union, would influence the Chicane proletariat in the region for decades afterward.
The Revolution in the northwest was primarily individualistic and characterized by banditry rather than the communalist social forms of the peasant Zapatistas. Pancho Villa and other northern rebels were consistently opportunistic, holding few defining principles save for a resentment of the concentration of central state power, which interrupted their long-standing autonomy. This was to be expected given the history and condition of the region, as most Mexicans had originally migrated into the region to take advantage of the social mobility offered by settler-colonialism, the resulting social structure being dependent less on the central state and more on local organization (Alonso, 7).
As was feared by the US ruling class and settler-citizens, the Revolution did in fact spread north. The IWW had long been hated by proud patriots as the boogyman embodiment of the anti-American, communistic threat to the very existence of the US. It was one of the most radical labor unions in the US up to then, being multi-racial, multi-gender, and industrial. That is, of course, not to say it was not plagued by white chauvinism, class reductionism, and misogyny, but that it was comparatively progressive when put into context. The IWW had many Chicane members in the US Southwest, while other Euro-American-led unions uniformly excluded them and other people of color (Weber). The IWW was a product of the concrete needs of a growing multiracial, multinational proletariat, and the budding beginnings of a proletarian internationalist consciousness within the US proletariat.
This was in contrast to institutionalized labor unions, which favored Americanism and were typically plagued by the petite-bourgeois consciousness in vogue among Anglo-Americans. To be expected, given that for most of the United States’ history up to then, vast swathes of Anglo-Americans were yeomen whose petite-bourgeois livelihood was based in the expropriation of Indigenous peoples and consumption of the slavocracy. When the Mexican Revolution broke out, many members of the IWW and Magónistas went south to fight in it, and others rebelled within the US in cities such as Los Angeles (Aguilar). The US state lobbed an angry reprisal, but they did not successfuly kill the spread of revolutionary sentiment.
In 1915, El Plan de San Diego was issued from Texas. It emerged out of a context of burning resentment among Tejanxs toward Texas rangers and Anglo-American settlers as a whole, particularly the bourgeoisie and landowners who exploited Chicanes as proletarians and peons. El Plan was symptomatic of capitalist-imperialism’s production of its own negation. Capitalism it had created conditions for solidarity of the peoples of middle North America through its creation of a common oppression and common economic life. The Plan called for an independent Republic of the Southwest, with annexation to Mexico to be considered as an option. It called for the return of the homelands of Apaches and other Indigenous peoples, for an independent Black nation in the US Deep South, and for the quashing of Anglo-American settlers. The Plan was truly ahead of its time, reflective of a highly revolutionary, national-democratic consciousness and solidarity with other oppressed nations.
Acting on the Plan, the Chicane masses of Texas began raids on both Anglo-American and Chicane landowners and bourgeoisie (Levario).They appropriated produce from them and attacked the Texas Rangers, long the daily face of their oppression. The Constitutionalist Mexican government, then headed by Venustiano Carranza, quietly offered aid and refuge to the rebels. In retaliation, Anglo-American vigilantes and the Texas Rangers lynched and deported Chicanes, a modus operandi which would continue long after. The revolt would end when Woodrow Wilson recognized Carranza as President of Mexico in 1915, who then assisted USAmerican soldiers in capturing and imprisoning the rebels.
The wave of radical awakening in the US Southwest would not end there, however. The borderland exploits of Pancho Villa, opportunistic though he was, and his slaughter of Anglo-American soldiers became mythic to Chicanes long afterward (Renteria). What’s more, the Revolution would invigorate radical and revolutionary trade-union organizations in the entire US, with anarchists like Lucy Parsons finding great inspiration in it (Pozzi). Chicanes already composed a significant part of the workforce during the class struggles of the mine workers in Arizona and Colorado and the agrarian proletarians and peons in California. The emerging revolutionary ideologies were not alien to them by any measure (Chacón, 80–95).
Chicanes and the Class Struggle:
While the Mexican Revolution was playing out, imperialist Europe was devouring itself over control of their real and prospective colonies in what would be known as World War One. The United States would enter the war to assert its hegemony over Latin America when Germany began to encroach on its sphere of influence. Soon after the US declared war on Germany in 1917, the former Russian Empire’s Provisional Government would be toppled in the Bolshevik Revolution, which commenced the construction of a dictatorship of the proletariat.
The birth of the Soviet Union inspired revolutionary workers across the world, dividing revolutionary factions from reformist or “anti-state” factions. The IWW split in part over the revolution, as did the Socialist Party of the USA. The establishment of the Communist International in 1919, which broke with the pro-imperialist, reformist politics of the Second International, engendered the founding of Communist Parties across the world. Among these would be the Communist Party of the USA, the many roots of which included radical labor unions with a high composition of Black people and Chicanes.
WWI would have other effects on the US in general and Chicanes in particular. The state donned the cover of nationalism and the war effort to justify the suppression of strikes and socialist organizations (Ceballos). Americanist ideology was adopted by many Chicanes, a large share of whom would be drafted or even volunteer to fight in the war. For them, enlisting was a bid to be accepted by Anglo-Americans, but the latter continued to lynch the “greasers,” “commies,” and “German spies” regardless. The churches, long intermediaries between the Anglo-American ruling class and Chicanes, promoted support for the war and Americanism (Acuña, 189–190). Later, this popularization of Americanist ideology influenced the formation of bourgeois assimilationist organizations like League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) (Acuña, 190–191).
Rapid development of war industries such as logging, steel processing, and mining was another effect of WWI. The resulting proliferation of new jobs led many Chicanes to move to urban centers in the late 1910s and early 1920s and become industrial proletarians (Acuña, 197). A large share moved west to California, seeking to take advantage of its growing economy. Gender norms were undermined by this break with long-standing communities and gendered divisions of labor, as Chicanas entered the workforce at higher rates (García). Along with Euro-American women, Chicanas began to flaunt conservative expectations of gender performance, with the flapper style becoming popular (Wills).
As with Chicanes, Black people were increasingly migrating west toward urban centers (Wilkerson). However, they not only had the pull factor of wage labor, but the push factor of racist terror and genocide. The 1910 and 1920s were a decade of genocidal violence against Black people in the southeastern US and beyond, with victims of lynchings reaching the thousands (Civil Rights Congress). Euro-Americans enacted terrorism against Black people in retaliation for involvement in labor radicalism and struggling for their self-determination. After the Red Summer of 1919, the migration of Black people to the West reached massive proportions.
Black people would bring with them their own radical traditions, from their family histories of revolt against slavery and peonage, to deep connection to solidarity with abolitionist, anti-imperialist revolutions in Haiti and Cuba, to labor organization, to nationalism, to Marxism (Ortiz). Chicane populations and Black populations intermixed in common segregation from Anglo-American spaces and in common working-class status. Though multitudes Chicanes held chauvinistic views and antagonisms toward Black people, a new revolutionary potential was brewing.
After the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution, Mexico’s economy stood in shambles, rural areas being especially devastated. The state of Michoacán in particular suffered from poor harvests and poverty, leading many to migrate to the United States for work in the post-Revolutionary years (Minian, 17–19). Most of these migrants worked on a seasonal circuit, coming to the United States during harvests for work. This was attractive for employers who wanted cheap labor which could be available when needed and got rid of when not so as to control the price and supply of labor-power. The lion’s share went to work as labors for the growing enterprises of the Growers in California (Minian, 12). These migration circuits would lead to the establishment long-standing migration patterns between Mexico and the US. Along with the Mexican migrants, Black, Chicane, and Euro-American people migrated to work for the Growers.
The growth of the proletariat in the US Southwest and consequent intensifying class struggles led into the struggles for unionization in the 1920s (Glenn, 178). The IWW wrestled with the Growers to organize agribusiness proletarians in California, Black people and Chicanes took part in the organized labor struggles of mine workers in Arizona and Colorado, the growing power of the Mexican Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM) extended its inspiration to both Mexican migrants and Chicanes, and the Confederación de Uniónes de Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos (CUCOM) formed in Los Angeles. In reaction to these class struggles, the compositions of which includes significant quantities of Asian and Eastern/Southern European migrants, the US Congress passed the 1924 Immigration and Nationality Act (Chacón, 228). Many Congressmen and Euro-Americans advocated limiting the migration of Mexicans, but such a prospect would fall through in the face of resistance from the southwest bourgeoisie (Acuña, 202).
The 1930s would be a different story on that front. The decade opened with the song of a Great Depression. The Depression radicalized thousands of people, the failure of capitalism and proletarianization/pauperization of thousands laid bare for all to see. In step, the CPUSA and Communist-led unions grew in popularity significantly (“Communist Party History and Geography — Mapping American Social Movements”). Playing on nativism, racism, and anti-Communism, the state commenced arbitrary deportation of Mexicans and Chicanes alongside the East/Southeast Asians and Europeans already included in the policy, wounding the labor movement and satisfying the Euro-American labor aristocracy (Chacón, 471–475).
The two-tier wage system, wherein white workers held better jobs, pay, conditions, and housing, had long plagued the efforts of class struggles (Rosenfeld and Kleykamp). The Euro-American proletariat held to their status jealously, many still imbued with the petite-bourgeois consciousness of their settler-yeomen ancestors. The aristocracy of skin was a powerful incentive toward the situation of the Euro-American masses into reactionary camps. The best-off of these, the most iconic of whom led the American Federation of Labor (AFL), enthusiastically supported the deportations (Chacón, 477–478).
Many of the deportees didn’t speak Spanish, and very few were deported back to regions they were familiar with. The beginning development of a professional deportation apparatus with the birth of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1933 would turn out to be very important in the coming decades as a tool to regulate the supply and price of labor-power. In spite of deportations and political persecution, Chicanes, Mexicans, and the revolutionary proletariat as a whole continued to wage the class struggle.
The southwestern proletariat, many of them Chicane, Mexican, and East/Southeast Asian, played a major part in the class struggles of the 1930s (Figueroa). The Communist Cannery and Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union (CAWIU) organized a large current of the strike wave of the early 1930s, particularly in San Joaquín Valley. The the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) organized the famous 1938 pecan-shellers strike, cannery strikes, and many others. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organized Chicane/Latine workers in industries such as steel, automobiles, meatpacking, mining, railroads, transportation, electricity, and garment production (Chacón, 661–663).
In all of these strikes, women organizers stood at the forefront, embodying both the upset in the gendered division of labor represented by proletarianization, and the growing double shift between domestic reproductive labor and waged public labor (Valadez). Most famous was “La Pasionaria de Texas,” Emma Tenayuca, who did important work in organizing feminized industries and against segregation as a member of the CPUSA and UCAPAWA, leading the 1938 San Antonio pecan-shellers strike (Morgan). While trade union struggles were waged, Chicanes took part in the fight against segregation. El Congreso de Pueblos de Habla Española was founded in 1938, uniting civil rights and labor activists. El Congreso, like most radical Chicane organizations at the time, was connected on various fronts to the CPUSA. El Congreso challenged segregation in public spaces, housing, and education, being led by a large share of Chicana organizers along with the Communist-associated trade unions.
The Comintern had, during the mid 1930s, supported a Popular Front policy of working with liberal and social democratic organizations against fascism. In the end of the decade and beginning of the 1940s, it shifted toward an anti-interventionist stance after the USSR signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Third Reich in 1939 to buy time for development before war broke out. The Comintern had long been plagued by excessive commandism, forcing member Parties to conform to the USSR’s particular foreign policies regardless of if it was rational in the context of a particular country. This was one of the core reasons behind the dissolution of it in 1943. The issue was the case with the CPUSA as well, which alienated many anti-fascists from the Party. When the Soviet Union entered the war, the Comintern shifted back to a pro-interventionist, Popular Front policy, and the CPUSA began to advocate that the US enter World War Two. The CPUSA, however, would never be the same as its peak in the ‘30s.
The United States entered WWII in 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in retaliation for US actions in the Pacific. Japan and the US had become competing empires in the region, the US seeking to keep its hegemony. The CPUSA fully supported its entrance. Chicanes had a history of joining the US Army and fighting for the US army on its frontiers as a means of social mobility, from fighting Indigenous people to fighting in WWI. WWII was no exception, with many Chicanes being drafted or choosing to join the army, and most supporting the war, including Communists and fellow travelers.
Racist discrimination was increasingly directed at Japanese-Americans as a result of the unholy synthesis up of long-standing anti-Asian racism in the US and imperialist competition with Japan. In 1942, they were forced into concentration camps, many Japanese-American farmers and other petite-bourgeoisie effectively losing their property. The Growers did not mind such an opening up of land. Chicanes, who had long had shared community lives with Japanese-Americans, and others looked after the land of some families while they were in the concentration camps (Niiya). In a famous instance of solidarity, Ralph Lazo lived in the Manzanar concentration camp with his Japanese friends in protest of the racist, reactionary program (C. Aguilar). Today, many of the survivors of the concentration camps and their families offer Latine people their solidarity in opposition to the US’s migrant concentration camps on the border.
As masses of USAmerican citizen men were drafted into the war effort, the US required a temporary cheap labor force. A large amount of positions were filled in by women, and Mexican migrant proletarians provided a significant source of labor as well (National WWII Museum, Minian, 19–20). The US and Mexico would coordinate the Bracero Program, regulating the migration patterns which had been established to provide the US with labor. The nominal goal behind the project was to bring money and productive skills into the Mexican economy and provide wage labor and industrial agricultural experience for impoverished Mexican campesinos (Minian, 20–22). The Braceros, however, would not be protected as promised at all, and suffered superexploitation in agrarian industries in the US Southwest and Pacific Northwest (Ellingwood). They were abused by employers and prohibited from striking. Nevertheless, workers in the Pacific northwest repeatedly struck. Southwestern workers did not strike to any comparable degree, but not because they lacked the will. Rather, they had the option of fleeing south to Mexico to escape the superexploitation of the program. When they were no longer needed, thousands of people were deported in 1954’s Operation Wetback (Lind).
Euro-Americans once again directed a wave of racist nativism toward Chicanes and Mexicans. The heightened migration of Chicanes, Mexicans, and Black people into the urban center of Los Angeles was followed by deepening racial tensions. Euro-Americans particularly resented the culture of Chicane and Black youth, who wore baggy, flamboyant zoot suits and expressed pride in their identities (Licón). Pachuques, to an even further degree than previous urban Chicane youth culture, problematized polite society, in particular gender roles. Pachucas and pachuques were not afraid to be out and proud, and the LGBT community had a place among many of the pachuques (Toriano). The reactionaries were out for blood against these confident, young, working-class people.
In 1942, the LAPD used the death of the young pachuco José Gallardo Díaz as grounds to arrest 17 Chicane and Mexican youths and charge them with murder (Acuña, 249–250). The media and petite-bourgeois Euro-Americans took the opportunity to rail against zoot suiters and pachuques, and the police arrested Latine youth on shaky criminal charges on the basis of their association with youth culture. The trial was totally lacking in due process, and it was blatantly racist. An expert witness explained the behavior of “Mexican criminals” on the basis of their being “mongoloids” and having a cultural history of human sacrifice. The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee (SLDC) was organized to support the defendants against the unfounded accusations lobbed at them (Chacón, 705–707). Numerous leaders were members of the CPUSA, which had a large presence among Chicanes in Los Angeles. Though the court found 12 of the defendants guilty in 1943, their convictions were overturned by the California Court of Appeals due to lack of evidence. Euro-American reactionaries were not done with their racist campaign.
In 1943, a group of sailors in the US Navy attacked a group of Chicane and Mexican zoot suiters (Gerber). Following them, hundreds of Euro-American sailors, soldiers, police, and civilians began to destroy East LA and attack Chicanes and Mexicans. This became known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Among the victims of the violence were a number of Braceros, leading the Mexican Embassy to lodge a complaint with the State Department. The latter agreed to investigate the cause of the riots in order to prevent future ordeals like it, and concluded that they were a result of racism. Euro-American politicians and civilians confirmed this by constantly justifying the riots and coming up with excuses such as claiming that the zoot suiters were working for the Axis Powers, that they were Nazi-inspired, and that they were purposely undermining the war effort by wasting cloth. Claims in this vein continue to be lobbed at Chicane communities today.
WWII showed itself as an opportunity for organized labor to expand its power significantly, and it took it (Kindig). The US government asked that unions not strike during the war, and the unions agreed on the condition of receiving significant Federal protection. This would be granted through the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Labor organization grew rapidly, albeit largely in industrial sectors. Domestic and agrarian industries, jobs which women and people of color worked in high numbers, saw few of the benefits. Though the Act guaranteed the right of most private sector employees to unionize and strike, it excluded government workers and workers in airline, railway, agrarian, and domestic industries (McCartin).
Chicane Nationalism and Anti-Imperialism:
After the war, along with Black radicals, Chicane activists commenced a new phase of contension for civil rights and the abolition of segregation. In 1947, Chicane and Mexican families, with direction from LULAC, challenged school segregation in California with Mendez v. Westminster, which reached the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, but not the Supreme Court (Kandil). The ruling would find that the segregated facilities were unequal, violating the Equal Protection Clause, but did not lead to de jure desegregation between white and non-white schools. Only with 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education would segregation in school facilities be ruled illegal on the Federal level, though in practice it continued and continues today de facto (Strauss). The American GI Forum was founded in 1948 by Chicane veterans and soon became involved in much of the same anti-segregation, civil rights work as LULAC (Acuña, 232, 259). These organizations were primarily moderate to liberal, essentially favoring assimilation. This is to be expected, given that they were middle class organizations. The Americanism of such organizations was powerful among Chicanes in the 1950s, having been made even more widespread by WWII. Chicanes fought and died in large numbers in the genocidal, imperialist war in Korea, thousands of Chicane soldiers being volunteers (Acuña, 273–274).
In the 1950s, moderates, liberals, and radicals, including the CPUSA, organized what would come to be known as the civil rights movement (Barrick). This phase of the civil rights movement was primarily centered around Black organizers and communities in the southeastern US, with liberals focusing first and foremost on segregation and discrimination and radicals focusing on poverty and superexploitation. Radical Chicanes during this period would set a priority on resisting political deportations, forming the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (ACPFB) in 1933 (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive).
In 1950, the local International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, formerly the Western Federation of Miners, in Silver City, New Mexico, went on what would be known as the Salt of the Earth strike (Acuña, 283–284). Once again, women were at the forefront of the strike’s organizing, holding the picket line while men were imprisoned and pressuring the men to more radical action. The strike was against Empire Zinc’s two-tier wage system, segregation of housing, poor pay, poor working conditions, and poor housing conditions. In pressuring the wage-earning men, women successfully drew attention and organizing effort to the conditions of their domestic, reproductive labor, bringing the demand for better housing conditions to the forefront. After 15 months, the company gave the strikers nearly all of their demands, and the strike would be immortalized by the film in 1954.
The Internal Security Act of 1950 and the McCarran–Walter Act of 1952 gave the US state a legal green light to repress radicals on a massive scale, in particular those who were foreign-born (Acuña, 275). The policy was intended both to undermine the radical movement in the short term, and to cut off its head for the long term. Radicals and suspected radicals were deported en masse, and the immigration regulation apparatus was significantly militarized. It was increasingly becoming recognizable as the monster that it is today.
The 1950s was the decade of Americanism for Chicanes, not only owing to the proliferation of the ideology during WWII, but concurrently because radicals were split off from Chicane communities. Chicanes were married to the Democratic Party, whether directly or through organizations like LULAC and the American G.I. Forum (Acuña, 284–286). Chicanes believed in America, but in concrete terms America offered most of them little. Chicanes benefitted from some of the poverty alleviation programs carried out by liberal Presidential administrations, as well as from the GI Bill, but for the most part they remained impoverished and superexploited (Acuña, 287). The few who ascended to petite-bourgeois, bourgeois, and professional statuses became the brokers between the community and the germ of the rising new form of imperialism: neocolonialism. This middle strata promoted the Americanist values of loyalty and aspiration toward individual bourgeois status as opposed to the collectivism of the labor struggles. They fixed as their idol the patriarchal family and bourgeois status, which for them were the ultimate bases for success. Their view with regards to civil rights was of it as a vehicle to be recognized as full Americans, as opposed to self-determined Chicanes.
Civil rights victories in the realm of citizenship did little in material terms for the Chicane masses. The inner cities had for years been decaying, with jobs moving elsewhere for cheaper labor and property values falling as white residents fled for the suburbs to enjoy the benefits of the GI Bill and growth of the Euro-American labor aristocracy (Semuels). As a solution, the state began to “renew” the inner cities. What this meant was to bulldoze the crumbling residencies and buildings which communities lived in, leave them to go elsewhere, and build new, expensive residencies which poor communities could not afford to live in (Acuña, 287). The Federal government’s project of developing the highway system, for some reason, seemed to always lead to highways running through Black and Chicane communities, displacing them (Acuña, 287–289). The urban renewal programs improved conditions for capital, but not for communities. Gentrification displaced Black and brown proletarian communities and left them deeper in the cycle of poverty. Americanism was nothing but a sham, believable for the pro-imperialist middle strata, but gradually not for the Chicane masses.
If the 1950s was the decade of Americanism, the 1960s and 1970s were the decades of Chicane nationalism. A Chicane national consciousness had long been brewing in communities, and Chicanes took great influence from the revolutionary Black masses. The emergence of the Black Power movement in the 1960s from Black students and proletarians was a watershed moment in the history of revolutionary movements in the US (National Musuem of African-American History and Culture). New Indigenous, Asian, and Latine movements all took their foundational inspiration from the Black Power movement, learning from people like Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, and Huey P. Newton.
The currents of the Chicane national movement can best be summarized as the struggle for land as represented by Reies López Tijerina, the struggle against colonial education and for a national culture as represented by Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales, the struggle for labor rights as represented by César Chávez and Dolores Hueta, the struggle against colonial police violence as represented by David Sanchez, and the struggle against patriarchy as represented by Gloria Arellanes.
All currents of the Chicane national movement were influenced by local and global anti-imperialism, from the Cuban Revolution to the People’s Republic of China to the Black Panther Party. Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Huey P. Newton, Fred Hampton, and Mao Zedong were popular icons for the movement, along with Chicane and Mexican legendary figures like Cuauhtémoc, Miguel Hidalgo, José María Morelos, Benito Juárez, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata.
Reies Tijerina has often been described as the Chicane Malcolm X, which is certainly an apt comparison. Tijerina was among the earliest in the new Chicane national movement, beginning his activism in the 1950s (Flores). Tijerina studied land grant laws, from Spanish colonial-era laws to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, seeking to fight for the recognition of the land rights guaranteed to Chicanes and Indigenous peoples in New Mexico. Tijerina accused the US of failing to abide by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, violating the laws of the Constitution.
Tijerina formed La Alianza Federal de Mercedes, an organization with the purpose of achieving the honoring of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s guarantee of land rights. The organization also promoted pride in Indigenous ancestry among New Mexican Chicanes, a particularly radical position given the context of the regional culture. Most New Mexican Chicanes prefer to claim they are solely descended from Spanish settlers, a white supremacist ideological view grounded in a bid for American socio-political citizenship.
In 1967, Tijerina led his organization in raiding the Rio Arriba County Courthouse. Tijerina attempted to make a citizen’s arrest on the district attorney for the illegal expropriation of Mexican and Indigenous lands. An armed struggle broke out, and Tijerina fled south. He was captured and sentenced to a 3-year prison sentence in 1970. Before he went to prison, he was elected to the Chicane contingent of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign march on Washington. Tijerina exemplifies a radical potential for unifiying the interests of the Chicane nation and Indigenous nations, though we ought not lose sight of the nuances and setbacks of this relationship.
Corky Gonzales was a Chicane boxer and activist from Denver, Colorado, with a background in activism around political participation in the Chicane community (Franco). Gonzalez helped organize the Crusade for Justice in the early 1960s, which focused on voter registration and the organization of Chicanes as a significant voting bloc. Gonzales promoted Chicane culture and identity through his organizing, writing the well-known poem I Am Joaquín/Yo Soy Joaquín. The poem made use of indigenista rhetoric increasingly common to Chicane activism, leading to the issues discussed in the earlier excerpt from Saldaña-Portillo.
In the late 1960s, Gonzales took part in the Chicano Youth Liberation Conferences, wherein he discussed the need for a Chicane national movement and national culture (Simpson). He emphasized the place that students and young people ought to play, and the need to counteract the education system’s part in the Americanization and bourgeoisification of Chicanes, which led them to pursue individual ascendancy rather than community liberation. The Conferences produced El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a central document to the Chicane student movement (KCET). The document is essentially indigenista, using the ideas of Chicanes as los Aztecas del norte to support the demand for Chicane self-determination.
César Chávez and Dolores Huerta were organizers for the United Farm Workers (UFW). Influenced by the non-violent tactics of the civil rights movement, they led the union in strikes against the Growers in California and later spread their organization to the rest of the US (KCET, “UFW History”). The UFW is best known for its part in the 1965–1967 Delano Grape Strike, leading superexploited Chicane agrarian proletarians in strike for higher wages.
Though Chávez had radical views and was important to the Chicane movement, he was also severely chauvinistic toward migrant workers (Hesson). After the failure of the Salinas Lettuce Strike of 1970–1971, he blamed undocumented workers for the UFW’s shortcomings. He launched a campaign to have undocumented people deported, and the UFW organized civilian militias to keep migrants from crossing into the US. He also ran the UFW as a personal dictatorship, purging Communists from the union in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Flanagan).
By contrast, Dolores Huerta has remained consistently progressive (Iowa State University). She played a major part in the Delano Grape Strike, and continued to defend agrarian proletarians. In particular, she has focused on the exploitation and abuse of women workers in agrarian and domestic industries (Grady). Huerta has organized against the sterilization of Chicane women, the oppression of LGBT people, for reproductive rights generally, and remains consistently anti-imperialist.
David Sanchez was the founder of the Brown Berets, an armed Chicane socialist organization formed to resist police brutality (Cruz). The Berets were strongly influenced by the Black Panther Party, along with most radicals during this period. The Berets became popular among young Chicane students in Southern California, playing a major part in the 1968 East LA Walkouts (United Way Greater Los Angeles). The Walkouts, protesting colonial education and lack of Chicane history and culture in school curriculum, were participated in by around 20,000 students. Student activists, Brown Berets or no, tended to be members of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicane de Aztlán (MEChA), a student organization which enjoys significant popularity even today (El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán). Following the Walkouts, the Los Angeles school district increased the amount of Latine employees, implemented bilingual education, and implemented ethnic studies programs.
Inspired by the BPP’s mass work, the Brown Beret Gloria Arellanes organized the El Barrio Free Clinic in East LA, providing affordable healthcare to the Chicane community in the area (Herrera). Her mass work was important to politicizing the community, and building a mass base among the Chicane community for the Brown Berets. She was the only woman to hold a significant leadership position in the organization, a damning indication of its machismo chauvinism. She critiqued this reactionary tendency, advocating for women to be empowered within the movement.
In 1970, the Berets helped lead a major demonstration by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War (NCMC) (García, “An Important Day in U.S. History: The Chicano Moratorium”). The NCMC’s anti-imperialist demonstrations across the US Southwest drew thousands of Chicanes, most of them part of the growing student movement. The largest demonstration among them took place in August of 1970 at Laguna Park, which ended in a rebellion after police attempted to repress it by arbitrary arrests. In the course of the rebellion, an LAPD police deputy killed the Chicane journalist Ruben Salazar by firing a tear gas canister at his head.
The rebellion would drive a swelling of the Chicane movement, as well as serious considerations of their demands by the state. This parallels the case of the civil rights movement and the Watts Rebellion of 1965. Chicane activists began to organize under the banner of the Raza Unida Party, which had been founded in 1970 (La Prensa Texas). The Party was intended to provide an independent alternative to the Democratic Party for Chicane proletarians and petite-bourgeoisie, and saw most of its popularity in Texas. The Party ran under a banner of revolutionary nationalism, calling for the solidarity of Chicanes as a political bloc and for self-determination. The RUP, however, had little success outside of local constituencies in Texas, and began to decline after 1978. Much of its leadership ended up falling into line in the Democratic Party. Both the Brown Berets and RUP were plagued by patriarchal tendencies among their leadership, which was continuously challenged by Chicana feminists in their memberships.
An important characteristic of the Chicane national movement as national-democratic was the presence and close connection between the proletariat, semi-proletariat, lumpenproletariat, petite-bourgeoisie, intelligentsia, professionals (most notably, lawyers), and what small sectors of a national, non-comprador, bourgeoisie our community held. For a long time, the middle strata had promoted assimilationist ideology. Now, a significant section of them were in support of Chicane national self-determination. However, the national consciousness of this time was crude, it had only begun its bloom. As such, it reflected certain aspects of dominant ideology, from anti-Blackness to misogyny, and in particular to petite-bourgeois consciousness.
Most of the ideologues of the movement were petite-bourgeois or aspiring to such a status, to be expected as said class is central to national-democratic tendencies. Typically, these were college students who were aspiring to become lawyers, doctors, professors, or had already become such (Acuña, 310–312). They did not have a sharp disconnect from the masses when they worked for and with the radical elements of the Chicane national movement, but they still instilled certain petite-bourgeois tendencies which extended out to the whole national consciousness. The petite-bourgeoisie became excessively obsessed with national culture, including chauvinistic myths and fantasies, and began to believe it was the be-all-end-all. As a result, excessive centrality of focus on changes in educational curriculum led many of the petite-bourgeoisie to believe this was the root of the problem, or the most important. In Critical Remarks on the National Question, Lenin notes of this form of consciousness:
“The question of the ‘national culture’ slogan is of enormous importance to Marxists, not only because it determines the ideological content of all our propaganda and agitation on the national question, as distinct from bourgeois propaganda, but also because the entire programme of the much-discussed cultural-national autonomy is based on this slogan.
“The main and fundamental flaw in this programme is that it aims at introducing the most refined, most absolute and most extreme nationalism. The gist of this programme is that every citizen registers as belonging to a particular nation, and every nation constitutes a legal entity with the right to impose compulsory taxation on its members, with national parliaments (Diets) and national secretaries of state (ministers).
“Such an idea, applied to the national question, resembles Proudhon’s idea, as applied to capitalism. Not abolishing capitalism and its basis — commodity production — but purging that basis of abuses, of excrescences, and so forth; not abolishing exchange and exchange value, but, on the contrary, making it ‘constitutional,’ universal, absolute, ‘fair,’ and free of fluctuations, crises and abuses — such was Proudhon’s idea.
“Just as Proudhon was petty-bourgeois, and his theory converted exchange and commodity production into an absolute category and exalted them as the acme of perfection, so is the theory and programme of ‘cultural-national autonomy’ petty bourgeois, for it converts bourgeois nationalism into an absolute category, exalts it as the acme of perfection, and purges it of violence, injustice, etc.”
Owing to this tendency of “cultural-national autonomy” as a popular theory, and of its associated chauvinism, reactionary currents bared their teeth within the movement. Anti-Blackness was already a deeply rooted issue in the Latine community as a whole, stemming from Spanish colonial and US capitalist-imperialist roots. Anti-migrant chauvinism was also a debilitating issue, with César Chávez’s anti-undocumented crusade being a major Great Leap Backwards.
Misogyny was infamously a plague in the movement, interestingly reflecting the radical movements in Mexico at the time as well. Chicanos at the time, before, and now sanctified the patriarchal, cis-heterosexual family as central to national life, for the moderates as a means of becoming part of the “American family” and for the radicals as a means of “resistance.” This alienated and angered many Chicanas and LGBT+ Chicanes who wanted to fight for their people, but found the organizations they joined to be intoxicated by machismo (Regua). The Chicana critique of this tendency is now well-known, but is not often contextualized within a history of Chicanas in radical labor and Communist organizing. This participation and critical perspective was not unprecedented by any means. It was well within the course which the radical line of the Chicane community had taken.
The Chicane movement already adopted many of the discourses of the Mexican state for its own identity. The masses identified themselves as los Aztecas del norte, they referred to the US Southwest as Aztlán, they used Aztec aesthetics and began to learn Nahuatl, but this was still a crude national consciousness, and it was following along the Mexican state’s vein of expropriating and exploiting living Indigenous peoples in the name of dead ones. Though breaking with the dominant politics of assimilation, mejor la raza, was a progressive step, this was not a particular direction of national consciousness that is desirable to pick up. We Chicane are not inherently Indigenous, as we do not inherently have continuity with living Indigenous communities, their communalist social forms. If we are truly to build a revolutionary consciousness, we must be serious about who we are, and we ought not antagonize Indigenous radicals through appropriation of an identity which is not our own.
This is not to say we have not historically had, and continue to have, a tendency toward solidarity with Indigenous peoples, which of course have been simultaneous with antagonistic tendencies. This period saw the beginnings of solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the US Southwest, in particular with the struggle for land rights. Indigenous, Black, Asian Chicane, and Latine students alike struggled through the student movement for a curriculum which told their story, and not the white supremacist, exclusive myth of Americanism. Brown Beret militants organized alongside Black Panthers, Young Lords, and American Indian Movement members. In 1970, a group of Indigenous and Chicane students and intellectuals occupied a plot of military-owned land near Davis, California (Frank-Cardenas). They established D-Q University, the first tribal university to be established in California, and began developing a curriculum for Indigenous and Chicane studies. In 1971, the occupiers were granted a deed to the land, and they received accreditation in 1977.
Though neither the Raza Unida Party nor MEChA were necessarily Communist organizations, a notable amount of the activists in the organizations were Marxist-Leninists. In particular, many radicals were influenced by the New Communist Movement and Mao Zedong Thought, alongside radicals in the US Asian diaspora and Black radicals (Morris). The NCM took inspiration from the revolutions of China, Cuba, and Vietnam. The Old Left, from Socialist Party of the USA, to the IWW, to the CPUSA, had paid little attention to the Chicane national question. Though the work of Chicanes within the CPUSA was incredibly important, the organizations did not take the theorization of their racial-national oppression beyond the concept of “divide-and-conquer.” In short, the idea that racism is conjured out of nothing by the bourgeoisie to divide the working class. When the CPUSA abandoned the Black Belt Nation line in 1935 after an internal line struggle, the feasibility of support for a Chicane Nation line was essentially non-existent. If the Chicanes were to be recognized as a nation, it would be in new, distinct tendencies.
A current of Marxism-Leninism/-Mao Zedong Thought began to emerge from the broad Chicane national-democratic movements into its own, independent development as part of the NCM. Among the earliest was the August 29th Movement (Marxist-Leninist), which formed in 1974 out of the Raza Unida Party. In 1978, they merged with the Asian Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought organization I Wor Kuen to form the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist). In the years to come, they merged with other radical organizations oppressed nations and nationalities, growing across the US. The LRS’s primary membership was among students, organizing them toward mass work and electoral work, such as in support of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in the 1980s. In 1990, the LRS would dissolve, with some members joining the Democratic Party, and others merging with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO).
Black proletarian rebellions, such as the 1965 uprising in Watts, Los Angeles, had already led the big bourgeoisie, the state, and the bureaucracy to focus on a project of transition from colonial-imperialism to neocolonial-imperialism. The decisive development of a dependent middle strata, the opportunity of social mobility through subjection to the control of the imperialist bourgeoisie while superficially having to have bourgeoisie and a “free” national culture, had become long overdue for the continued reproduction of US capitalist-imperialism.
Black revolution had for its entire existence terrified the US’s ruling class, from the Haitian Revolution to the slave uprisings inspired by it all the way up to Black proletarian uprisings in the 20th century. It carried that this developing neocolonial structure would become necessary for the Chicane people, increasingly inspired by their own conditions of existence and by the vanguard Black revolutionaries. Chicane uprisings, in particular the 1970 Chicane Moratorium, and the growing popularity of revolutionary socialism within the national-democratic movement assured the bourgeois imperialists that time was of the essence. A new era of Americanization was beginning, but this one wore a face that was proud to be Chicane.
The Transition to Neocolonialism:
The US bourgeoisie consciously cultivated a pivotal transition to neocolonialism by the late 1960s, with President Richard Nixon’s administration often being identified as the central period. In the context of neocolonial development in the Black community, Robert L. Allen observed in Black Awakening in Capitalist America:
“[…]The black rebellions injected a new sense of urgency into the urban crisis and prompted the corporate elite to reassess its role in handling the problems of the cities. The strategy evolved by the corporatists calls for the establishment of a black elite which can administer the ghettos. Where possible, black workers will be integrated into the economy. Those blacks who can’t be absorbed into the work force may be pensioned on some type of income maintenance program.
“From the corporate viewpoint, this strategy is more efficient, less costly, and more profitable than either traditional welfare stateism or massive repression. With the federal government (i.ee., taxpayers) footing the bill, the corporations have all to gain and little to lose. This strategy is fraught with difficulties and contradictions, some of which have been discussed in the preceding pages. In essence it devolves into the equivalent of a program of neocolonial manipulation, not unlike what transpires in many underdeveloped countries in the Third World. Whether it will succeed depends partly on the ability of corporate America to overcome the difficulties mentioned, and partly on the black communities themselves.
“In the long run, this strategy cannot help but intensify class divisions and class conflicts within the black communities. Increasingly, the majority of the black population will find itself dominated by a new oppressor class, black instead of white. But whether this class conflict can be combined with the naitonalist sentiments of the black masses to become the motive for social change depends on the ability of black radicals to devise a program which appeals to the popular black masses.”
Since the 1960s, bourgeois assimilationist organizations like the American GI Forum and LULAC had been receiving significant funding from the state. From the mid-1960s to the 1970s, the Ford Foundation funded many Chicane studied programs, along with the aforementioned ghetto/barrio development programs (MacDonald and Hoffman, Acuña, 347–349). This was at the same time that the state was repressing radicals with COINTELPRO. The state and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie of the corporations began to implement development projects, scholarship programs, and increase the composition of Chicanes in managerial positions. Finance capital was the main segment of the bourgeoisie involved in this turn, while the US’s industrial bourgeoisie and Euro-American petite-bourgeoisie would burn with hatred for neocolonial investment in the middle strata in the years to come. Few Chicanes would come to themselves own means of production, which held for the rising Black neocolonial strata as well. Instead, the majority at best managed the means of production for Euro-American capitalists.
Those who depended on the support of the state and corporate bourgeoisie for their social mobility and positions would act as a regulating, recuperating force on the movement. They would not outright oppose it, but channel it into avenues which fell within the bounds of capitalist-imperialist social relations. Imperialism had given Chicanes the appearance of self-determination, but it was simply a developed middle strata which now ruled them directly while acting for the imperialist bourgeoisie.
These methods of social control were especially effective on students, petite-bourgeoisie, and professionals. Students did not completely break from Chicane identity as they would have in the past, but began to adopt a bourgeois, individualist form of it as just another strain in the rainbow of Americanism. Rather than engaging in revolutionary mass work for self-determination, they reproduced bourgeois ideology in the community, seeing educational curriculum as the only question at hand. They did not often advocate community control of education, but where they did, what they in truth meant was that they personally control it as a strata.
Americanism was now diverse, and the middle strata wanted everyone to know that they ought to keep believing in the chance for piece of the pie. They rushed into the arms of capitalist-imperialist parties like the Republicans and Democrats, promoting mere electoralism as the path to change. Republican Chicanes in particular promoted individualistic aspirations, bourgeois charity instead of state programs, and the rags-to-riches myth, while Democratic Chicanes promoted state-controlled poverty alleviation and affirmative action as the be-all-end-all rather than community control of education. Both, with little dissent, promoted US imperialism within and abroad.
The Chicane middle strata worked in NGOs, believing they were helping their communities. Many would even believe they were radical, revolutionary even, doing work alongside the Brown Berets and Communists. The NGOs, in reality, performed the core function of reproducing capitalist social relations among the Chicane. Regardless of the intent or knowledge of particular NGO leaders and workers, this was the function. The end was co-option of the energy and dedication of activists, not the abolition of the present state of things. By the beginning of the 1980s, most Chicanes were now committed Democrats and Republicans, losing the anti-imperialist consciousness of the 1960s and early 1970s and supporting the imperialist drives of both Parties (Acuña, 361–372). With the granting of significant concessions in the 1970s, many Chicanes had been deluded into believing all they needed was to vote Democrat and demand that their schools teach in Spanish and teach ethnic studies. Patriarchal ideology was in vogue, with “family values” being best exemplified by the Chicane family according to these compradors (Rodríguez, 65–68).
The mass bases radical groups began to decay, especially following the coming shift from War on Poverty programs and the golden age of affirmative action to Reaganite neoliberalism. Gangs had for decades been part of youth culture among Chicanes, emerging in part out of mutualista societies and self-defense organizations (Milagro Theater). Though they might have had some genuinely radical ramifications in their beginnings earlier in the century, they were now in truth an instrument of social reproduction. Robert L. Allen talked about this fact in the terms of Eldridge Cleaver’s pro-organized crime stance in the Black Panther Party, stating in the aforementioned text that:
“Numerous sociological studies have shown that in many respects organized crime is only the reverse side of American business. It provides desirable — though proscribed — goods and services, which are not available to the public through ‘normal’ business channels. And, although there is enough public ranting against crime, organized crime — and it must be organized to succeed as a business — enjoys a certain degree of immunity from prosecution due to the collusion of police and public officials.
“Moreover, organized crime constantly seeks — as would any good corporation — to expand and even legitimize its own power, but it has no serious motive to revamp the present social structure because it is that structure, with all its inherent flaws and contradictions, which provides a climate in which organized crime can flourish. Hence it comes as no surprise that in at least one major riot (in Baltimore), police recruited local criminals to help quell the rebellion. The criminals gladly collaborated with the cops because heavy looting during the riot had seriously depressed prices for stolen goods and otherwise disrupted the illegal business operations upon which the criminals depended for their livelihood.
“Cleaver in his analysis, however, misread the social functions of organized crime. In speeches and articles, he voiced approval of such underworld notables as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly on the grounds that their criminal activities were instrumental in building the present power of ethnic groups such as the Italians and the Irish. He concluded that beneath the public facade there is a history of intense struggle for ethnic group power in the urban centers of America, and that organized criminal activity has played an important part in advancing the status of various groups.
“But Cleaver failed to note that organized crime has sought to advance itself totally within the framework of the established society. It seeks more power for itself, and as a side effect it may bring more money into the hands of this or that ethnic group, but organized crime is far from being a revolutionary force. On the contrary its social function is to provide an informally sanctioned outlet for impulses that officially are outlawed. It thereby acts to uphold and preserve the present social order.”
Organized crime among the Chicanes provided an underground outlet for poverty and the pronunciation of the condition associated with the dismantling of social programs under Reagan. As a directly harmful function, they sold the hard drugs like crack that the CIA aided fascist paramilitaries like the Contras in smuggling (Devereaux). This would not only destroy communities through the epidemic in themselves, but in that the state used drug trafficking and addiction as an excuse to repress the communities, throwing masses of people into prison and deporting many (Alexander). As in the McCarthyite 50s, this would unsurprisingly be used as an apparatus to suppress Communists and other radicals.
In the 1980s, as mentioned, many professionalized Chicanes would support imperialism abroad, including in Central America. These endeavors forced many people, such as from Guatemala and El Salvador, to migrate to the US in order to escape the violence of reactionary paramilitaries (Borger). Though some Chicane professionals joined Euro-Americans in cries out against these migrants, though others recognized that reactions against the migrants could very well become reactions against them. The professionals supported amnesty policies for the migrants, which Reagan would eventually implement (Wyloge).
They did not, however, decisively oppose imperialism. During this the decade of Chicane professionalization and bourgeois, neocolonial ideology, few did except the most radical. These were radical labor unions, and in particular Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought-inspired organizations. They would oppose US imperialist actions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Afghanistan. The radical Chicane movement would not, however, be revitalized until the carrot began to turn into the stick in the 1990s.
The 1990s opened up with a recession, caused by the de-regulation, austerity, privatization, and de-industrialization of 1980s neoliberalism (Acuña, 366–367). Further, Euro-Americans reaction against affirmative action policies reached epic proportions, as the “concerned citizens” of civil society and the state bureaucracy cried out against “reverse-racism.” Belief in Chicane Americanism was shaken, and student activism sparked into a new era. Students organized against the first Gulf War, bringing anti-imperialism back to the forefront of Chicane discourse. They revived demands for an expansion of Chicane studies, with Chicane national culture finding new life (though Chicanes still did not — and do not — control education in their community).
The 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles was a fire fueled by the simmering anger of thousands of Black and Chicane residents of the city at years of police terrorism and austerity and sparked by the beating of Rodney King. The LAPD is among the most infamous police departments in the US, known for its long history of racism and murderous bent (Samad). Like the Watts Riot of 1965, or the Chicano Moratorium of 1970, the riots would reawaken radical consciousness for years to come, acting as a path for many into re-forming national-democratic movements.
In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico. The agreement was obviously imbalanced, with Mexico set to become further entrenched into dependency on export to the US, and Mexicans to be buried deeper in poverty (Ebner and Crossa). The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) came out of the underground to publicly oppose NAFTA and Mexican neoliberalism as a whole, drawing attention to the Indigenous semi-proletariat of southeastern Mexico which constituted its base (Collier and Quarariello, 7–10). The EZLN’s struggle with the neocolonial Mexican state and advocacy for Indigenous self-determination and national democracy in Mexico inspired Chicanes and Mexicans throughout the US. Their revolutionary socialism which drew from Marx, Zapata, and Che was a perfect fit for many Chicane radicals, who began to return to Marxism as a guiding principle.
With the 1990s, a new phase of militarization of the southern border began. Undocumented migrants became a hot button political issue in the US Southwest, in what was really an attempt to scapegoat migrants for de-industrialization, outsourcing, and the shrinking of the labor aristocracy in the US (B.). Anti-migrant politics increasingly moved to the center of US politics, and by the early 2000s became a key issue on the national stage. While many migrants were from Mexico, a significant amount were from Central America, and many migrated through other facets from the Caribbean. All of these groups were targeted by anti-migrant hysteria, though Chicanes have a tendency toward erasing their part under the broad characterization of it as “anti-Mexican.”
Most migrants were (and are) superexploited agrarian, service, and domestic proletarians and semi-proletarians, with women in particular facing harsh conditions and little pay (Dudley). Very few worked in industries that Euro-Americans could be found applying to in large numbers, and yet the declassed Euro-American labor aristocrats still directed their hatred toward them. The militarizing border would not be particular effective in stopping the flow of undocumented migrants, or the drugs that US talking heads were losing their minds over, but would be effective in regulating the price of labor-power. Those who stayed south of the border were stuck with the low wages of the Mexican and Central American economies, to be worked by maquiladoras and other imperialist capitalists. Those who came north, legally or illegally, were subject to the terror of deportation, and so were willing to accept lower wages.
In 2003, the Bush administration founded ICE as an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, founded in 2002 for “anti-terrorism.” ICE was the peak of past militarization of immigration regulation, being a highly centralized organization with essentially free rein (McDonough). ICE was used to repress political dissent, namely the growing anti-war movement which opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many, certainly not all, Chicanes were involved in the movement, though the community continued to be pacified by Americanism and the cult of hero worship. These Chicanes would be targeted by ICE for apparently having “questionable citizenship,” as the anti-war movement as a whole was plagued by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI (Acuña). Once again, the militarization of the border was concomitant with the repression of radicalism.
Migrants continued to be centered in the national political discourse, in particular after the 2006 Day Without an Immigrant general strike (Ortiz, 172–177). The Strike united Mexican migrants with Caribbean, Asian, and African migrants, all of whom are superexploited in domestic, service, and agrarian industries. Following this strike, organized labor grew in industries with a significant migrant composition, and anti-nativism became a central topic of political discourse for liberal and radical groups alike. Chicane activists and masses organized against the terrorism of ICE and fascist paramilitaries on the border like the Minutemen, showing solidarity with migrants (Acuña, 407–408). Once again, a shift in consciousness was beginning.
The Chicane Nation Today:
ICE has kept migrants in concentration camps from soon after its genesis, and the practice had predication in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the use of concentration camps during the Bracero Program. Obama was well-known by anti-ICE activists as the “deporter in chief.” Nevertheless, it was only during the Trump administration that ICE concentration camps and political repression came to the forefront of mainstream national discourse (Levitz) . Liberals, moderates, and even some conservatives were appalled at the conditions of the camps, and the abuse of migrants by ICE. The anti-ICE movement began to grow exponentially, with masses of people calling for ICE to be abolished and for ICE facilities to be occupied to disrupt the regime (Loffman). Anti-ICE activists and activists in Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Indigenous anti-pipeline protests overlap quite a bit. The germ of a new movement has long been evident, and is now blooming with the present rebellions.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States. The populations most impacted have been impoverished communities, which are largely Black and brown. The virus is exposing the contradictions of US capitalist-imperialism, demonstrating who the system works for in a chilling, devastating way. Long-standing frustrations, in particular police terrorism, and their acceleration by the COVID-19 pandemic led up to the straw that broke the camel’s back, the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May of 2020. Shortly aftwerward, rebellions led by the Black working class broke out in the city, spreading across the country like wildfire.
The ramifications of the rebellion in itself have already been discussed elsewhere, such as by a media group I am a writer for called Line Struggle Collective. In short, the rebellions have radicalized thousands of Americans, with calls to defund and abolish the police becoming completely mainstream. The myth of capitalism has been crumbling for the masses for years, and now it has been dealt a historic blow. Though this rebellion will almost certainly not become a revolution, it represents the decisive emergence of revolutionary consciousness across the United States Empire and the world. Once again, the Black proletariat in the heart of the Empire have been at the forefront of a revolutionary turn.
We Chicanes must not only derive inspiration and influence from Black people, but give them the support of our bodies, efforts, minds, and mouths. Not only against capitalist-imperialism, but within our own communities. We must combat racial chauvinism and promote a proletarian internationalist, national-democratic consciousness. We cannot simply transpose the still-crude consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s to today, but incorporate the practical-theoretical development of Black radicals, Chicana feminists, Indigenous radicals, social reproduction theory, and global Marxism-Leninism.
This means that we ought not to stick to old, chauvinistic indigenismo. MEChA, now MECHA, has already chosen to reject this ideology, officially dropping Aztlán from their name, and this is to be applauded. We Afro-/mestizes are not Indigenous. Indigeneity is living connection to living Indigenous communities. We were not broken off from our Indigeneity by the imbuing of non-Indigenous ancestry in itself. Many Indigenous people have non-Indigenous ancestry and are still Indigenous. Rather, our break from Indigenous communalism and decisive entrance into European/Euro-American feudal and capitalist relations of production was where we became Afro-/mestizes.
The further commodity production and capitalist relations of production have penetrated in the Americas, the more one sees this process come to fruition. We mustn’t become lost in mourning for our own Indigenous past, but rather we must recognize that we are distinct and stand in solidarity with Indigenous people as they fight against primitive accumulation and for a national-democratic program of self-determination. This is not an impossible demand, but already has a precedent in Chicane participation in the #NODAPL protests and in past solidarity work between Indigenous and Chicane activists, particularly in California.
Chicanes cannot become drunk off of navel-gazing as the chauvinistic, petite-bourgeois consciousness of the past drove us to. Rather than narrow ethnic politics, we must join other national-democratic, anti-imperialist forces to work toward the goal of national liberation and self-determination for all oppressed peoples. What a new nation, developing toward socialism, would look like is not something we can discuss idly, as idealists imagining a utopia, but something which must be worked out by the dialectic of theory and practice.
Needless to say, Chicanes and Indigenous peoples will need to coordinate the national system of the US Southwest together, and along with the rest of the country, Indigenous peoples must have sovereignty over management of the land. Indigenous peoples have centuries of social practice and engagement with their homelands, and know how to engage with it in an ecologically, socially viable manner. Sovereignty over the land is sovereignty over life.
The broad strokes of our national-democratic demands ought to be focused on identification of and opposition to neocolonial-imperialism, support for the labor rights and organization of superexploited migrant workers, opposing our people’s tendency to turn to imperialist service for social mobility, solidarity with all oppressed peoples, opposition to patriarchy within and without the community, organization against gentrification, and an explicit embrace of scientific socialism. We ought to incorporate all elements of our society which have interests in common with the opposition to neocolonialism, and we ought to push the masses to break with their neocolonial managers.
This means the proletariat, semi-proletariat, lumpenproletariat, students, and even national petite-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie. Importantly, the movement must be headed by the revolutionary proletariat and semi-proletariat, as the movement of the 1960s and 1970s was limited by its petite-bourgeois and bourgeois leadership and ultimately was absorbed into Americanism because of it. Mass work cannot be abandoned in favor of personal ascendancy for those in the middle strata involved in the movement, they must dedicate themselves to the people and not to neocolonialism. Obsession with critique, excessive scholasticism, have long plagued the Chicane intelligentsia. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx remarked on this issue:
“The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter.”
We cannot continue to be satisfied with diversity in Americanism, mere educational reform. Instead, we need to demand democratic control over our own communities, including education. We cannot stop with demands for ourselves either, and we ought to merge our movement and organizations in political unification with other radical currents, particularly with the organizers of BLM, #NODAPL, and others. That is to say, it is essential that we synthesize a vanguard party for a unity within our revolutionary organizing.
A vision of how the new nation(s) to be born from the national-democratic struggle, and the socialist struggle, is communicated concisely by James Yaki Sayles in Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth:
“The ‘nation’ means — the nation is — a new unity. A birth, or, a new birth, is a result of combining distinct elements into a (new) whole. Unity, or a new unity, is a combination of elements (in this case, individuals and groups/peoples) that come to form a complex and systematic whole-a oneness in purpose, and action. A nation is a new group unity and a new group identity.
“This new identity of the new group suppresses or supersedes previous separate identities that were based on locality, lineage, physical characteristics, etc. The nation is all-inclusive — it’s the people as a whole, in their collective, socio-political capacity. The nation is the new unity of previously separate groups, which now shares a common cause, a collective consciousness, and seeks to share collective mastery/responsibility for their social order…”
Socialism cannot be built except in and through this new unity. Socialism in the ashes of the US Empire will not be Americanist socialism, but socialism in the well-historied vein of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggle. In terms of “icons”, socialism in North America will not be represented by men like Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, or Eugene V. Debs. Rather, by people like Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Huey P. Newton. Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Clinton Rickard. Emma Tenayuca, Ralph Cuarón, Dolores Huerta. Ernesto Mangoang, Carlos Bulosan, and Yuri Kochiyama. John Patrick O’Riley, John Brown, Leslie Feinberg.
That is to say, socialism in North America must be decolonial. Marx’s discussion of primitive accumulation in Capital Volume One is well-known. A logic which is not carried from Europe to the United States, however, is his analysis of what follows from the expropriation of communalism. The example of primitive accumulation best remembered by most is his discussion of the Enclosures of the Commons in England, the destruction of a form of communalism wherein the producers controlled their means of labor and directly appropriated their produce. What is not remembered as well is that Marx saw colonialism’s expropriation and enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Africa and America as the central example of primitive accumulation. From Capital Volume One:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c [sic].”
Primitive accumulation is an ongoing process. It is not only seizure of initial capital, but continuous seizure of it, and the production and reproduction of the conditions for capitalist production. At another point in Capital, Marx looks toward the germ of socialism already evident in the development of industrial capitalism:
“As soon as this process of transformation [primitive accumulation] has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many.
Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.
Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.
The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.
The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.”
Who are the expropriated in the United States? For too long, Communists have only thought of the Euro-American yeomen and land speculators who were bought out by big landowners and capitalists. The primary, most important expropriated, however, are the colonized. From Indigenous people, to Black people, to us Chicanes. We have a history, a memory, a living existence of communalism expropriated and continuing to be expropriated by Anglo-American capitalism, the former a social form to be reproduced, albeit at a higher form of existence, by the negation of the (capitalist) negation: communism. Euro-Americans do not. Instead, they have a history of petite-bourgeois existence and consciousness.
This is not to say that Euro-Americans cannot be revolutionary, but that they will not decisively be so until they are rid of the drug of white supremacy and imperialist superprofits. Going cold turkey like that will only happen through the death of imperialism and the victory of national liberation and socialism.
In the history of this Empire, Indigenous, Black, and Chicane people have been at the forefront of revolutionary movements. It is evident that the nexus of socialist revolution in the belly of the beast is those who have been dispossessed by its talons, and now find themselves situated within optimal positions to realize a revolutionary consciousness and beat at the foundations of its body. “The expropriators are expropriated.” One of the most important tasks for Euro-Americans in their participation in and solidarity with this struggle is to work toward the abolition of the social relations which produce and reproduce whiteness and white supremacy, particularly settler-colonialism. This is one of many bases for the beginning of a new nation, a new unity of nations. The death of this bloated monster that is capitalist-imperialism will in the same motion be the midwife of a new unity.