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Updated on April 10, 2015

Definition of the Term Chicano

Chicano is a term one hears when referencing the large ethnic group with Mexican heritage in the United States of America. If one wishes to refer to a woman who is of Mexican descent that resides in the United States then the term used is Chicana.

History of the term Chicano

For those who know their US History, Chicano also is a term that became prevalent during the Civil Rights Era (1960s) when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta worked to form a union to protect migrant workers from human rights abuses. Today, the term seems to have lost its political edge and is used to self-define. That is to say, one may choose to call him/herself a Chicano if s/he has Mexican heritage and lives within the USA. Another common term is Mexican-American which means exactly the same thing but it does not contain the political history of the Civil Rights Era as the term Chicano/a does.

Cesar Chavez: An American Hero Official Trailer(2014) -

Southwest USA used to be Mexico

Before the USA became a nation (1776), there were thousands of Mexican people living in what is now the southwest of the US. In fact, there have been Spanish speaking people there since the Spaniards expanded their presence north in the 17th century. When Mexico achieved her independence from Spain in 1821, these territories were part of Mexico. Families that were from Spain originally had their nationality change again in 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe resulted in Mexico losing almost half of her territory, what is today California, Nevada, most of Arizona, Utah and parts of Mew Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming were acquired by the USA. Folks that went to sleep as Mexicans, woke up the next day as citizens of the United States of America!

Cesar Chavez

Viva Cesar Chavez
Viva Cesar Chavez | Source

Edward James Olmos


Sandra Cisneros


A Few Famous Chicanos

Cèsar Chávez (1927-1993) was born on a ranch in Yuma, Arizona. He became a charismatic leader and union organizer. He founded United Farm Workers with the goals of improving working conditions for the workers. In 1965 he organized the first successful strike to gain contracts for the workers in California. His dedication to civil rights and non-violence are his legacy to all Chicanos and all citizens of the USA.

Edward James Olmos is everywhere! He is seen on TV, in the movies and also in plays. He was born in 1947 East Los Angeles, California, USA. He earned a Tony for his acting of the role of El Pachuco in Luis Valdez’ play Zoot Suit. He earned an Emmy in 1985 for his role on Miami Vice. In 1989 he took home the Oscar for his role in the film Stand and Deliver. More recently, you may have seen his work n the film Selena or the TV series American Family. Mr. Olmos is a humanitarian as well as an activist promoting and celebrating the work of Latino artists. He is well respected by the Latino community at large for his work with the nation’s youth in particular.

Sandra Cisneros is a well-known author of poetry, novels and stories. She was born in Chicago in 1954. The House on Mango Street, published in 1984 has won many awards and is taught widely in the United States in both High Schools as well as Colleges and Universities. She has written many other works that have been translated to Spanish, German and other languages. Ms. Cisneros was one of the first authors to employ code-switching in her writing, which privileges the bilingual reader (English-Spanish).

Sandra Cisneros reads from The House on Mango St.


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    • yoginijoy profile image

      yoginijoy 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Latino/a has become the catch-all term used by many--Latinos and non-Latinos. Chicano/a is used much more in artistic circles, especially with literary authors such as Cisneros.

      Yes, history will prove the usefulness of Spanish! That is for sure. Thank you for the votes. I appreciate them greatly.

    • Louisa Rogers profile image

      Louisa Rogers 5 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

      I hear the word "Latino" used much more than "Chicano." Where we live in Northern California, I never hear "Chicano." I find it amazing that California and Texas will soon have more native Spanish speakers than English. History reversing itself. Voted up and useful.