The Chicano State of Mind

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Growing up with a Mexican heritage in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas meant being taught respect. Respect of our elders and respect for our “betters.” And “betters,” without much elaboration to small brown kids in the Valley back in my day, meant the Anglos, the Whites, the landowners.

THE CHICANO STATE OF MIND

By Al Garcia

Growing up with a Mexican heritage in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas meant being taught respect.  Respect of our elders and respect for our “betters.”  And “betters,” without much elaboration to small brown kids in the Valley back in my day, meant the Anglos, the Whites, the landowners.  As children of tenant farmers, field workers, farm hands and day-laborers, we knew our place, just like our parents did.  We kept to our “barrios,” farm houses or labor camps and knew to be subservient in every way, every day.  That was life in the Valley when I was growing up in the 1950s.

In many respects, because of my brown skin, and the bigotry, hate and prejudice I experienced growing up at a time and in a place that did not recognize me or my kind as equals among men, I can relate to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to the protesters and marchers that are filling our streets with their passion and rage at the indignities, humiliations and injustices perpetrated against people simply because of the color of their skin. 

In the early days – the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, too often brown-skin Mexican-Americans in Texas suffered the same fate as George Floyd, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, and countless other Black lives.  Today, people say their names, and they remember the atrocity of their deaths, and the pain and tears they left behind.  For the many Mexican-Americans killed or murdered by police, Texas Rangers or white farmers and ranchers along the Rio Grande, no one says their names, because no one remembers their names, their faces, their pain or their fear.  No one heard them when they too may have cried out, “I can’t breathe.” 

Times have changed, and I have grown older, a bit wiser, and acquired the wisdom that comes with having lived, and having seen the best and worst of our inclinations.  And over the years, I have seen the Rio Grande Valley evolve and grow.  There is a new dynamic that has overtaken decades of Chicano use and abuse. Yet, I sense that the true Chicano state of mind remains shackled and bound to decades-old sensibilities and cultural upbringing that refuses to fully appreciate and acknowledge the changing times and the new force emerging throughout the Valley and throughout the State. The new dynamic is the emergence of the Mexican-American/Hispanic voter – the new Chicano. Yet there still remain those who are living in the past, and timid about the future.

The Chicano state of mind does not surprise me in the least.  It is a state of mind of respect, dignity and pride.  These are the things our parents and our ancestors instilled in us growing up in the Valley.  It was the character and the strength of our Mexican culture and heritage that made possible the endurance and patience of our parents and ancestors.  We learned early on to accept, to respect and to recognize those superior to us, those who made decisions, whose who owned the land and the houses and the creatures that roamed their lands, including all brown-skinned people from the south.  And we learned well.

Although things have changed in the course of my generation, and Chicanos have become visible and strategic in both social and political factions of life in the Valley and in Texas, there still remains that engrained suggestion and allusion of deference to the once ruling class of Texans that refuse to fully dislodge the semblance of a culture no longer accepted or tolerated.

As a Chicano raised in the 1950s White Texan culture, I have noticed that we still walk a step behind, and not alongside of our fellow White Texans. We still defer, instead of prefer, when seeking equal service or acceptance. We still tolerate being classified and branded differently for all sorts of reasons, causes and motives -- simply because of the color of our skin and the birthplace of our ancestors. We still accept, and some even assent, to the demeaning and debasing of our heritage and our ancestral homes south of the Rio Grande. The Chicano frame of mind – born, nurtured and engrained in us, still seems intent on obfuscating the line between what once was and what is.

As a young Mexican boy growing up in the Valley, it is hard to put aside or forget the way it used to be.  My parents’ generation had it hard.  They suffered and they endured personal, social and cultural indignities.  My generation had it better – and with our parents’ help, we took a giant leap across the social and political divide and landed on our feet.  We worked.  We studied.  We pushed ourselves beyond the boundaries.  Now, the next generation simply has to walk the trail that was blazed before their time, but with some understanding of what got them to where they are today.

What we must do is learn to walk alongside our fellow Texans with confidence and pride, and not one step behind.  We must voice our preference and not simply defer and listen, like those before us, to those who used to tell us what to do, and what to think.  We must keep our Chicano heritage and legacy intact and learn to give our respect, our loyalty and fidelity only as it is deserved and earned, no matter the color of the person or what station a person may hold.  There is no entitlement to respect, as once was true and the rule along the Rio Grande.  That is the true Chicano frame of mind – respect, loyalty, pride, dignity – given for the right reason, not just because it is a part of who we are.

Since my return to the Valley, I am relearning the Chicano frame mind -- not as it used to be, but as it should have been from the very start.

My regret, that I cannot say the names of those who were killed and murdered along the Rio Grande simply for being brown, being poor, and for believing in America, before American began to believe in them.


Submitted: May 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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