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The Search for Aztlán

A response to The Search for Aztlán by Ruben Chavez:

Thank you Rob for forwarding that excellent article on "The Many Masks of Aztlan". Very informative. The accuracy of Aztlan in the article is about 90% percent accurate with about 10% margin of error. This may be due to the fact that their is a plentiful amount of interviewed sources, which may seem a little conflicting in Johnson's article.

What makes it a hard subject is first, there are two Aztlans being spoken here in this article. The first is the historical/mythical Aztlan and it's origins of the Aztecs and secondly the symbolic Aztlan of the Chicanos. When reading the differing opinions, you have to take into account the background of some of the Hispanos interviewed. (A) Some are too young to remember the Chicano movement, so they rely on second hand information. (B) Others who do remember have become more educated, moved on in social status and moved to middle class neighborhoods, some of those...not all may lose touch with the heartbeat of the old barrios and also the younger Latinos, and (C) educated professionals who were born and raised in Mexico, but now reside in the U.S. Case in point:

>> Jose Fuentes-Salinas, 44, a psychologist and cultural correspondent for the Spanish-language daily La Opinion, sees Aztlan as a cultural cliché that smacks of an outmoded and restrictive worldview.

Growing up in his hometown of Zacapu, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, "We had many influences..."We got here [the United States] and we had a tag that you're not supposed to represent anything but mariachis, tacos and folk art. And that's stupid."

Aztlan, he believes, is symptomatic of such retrograde reasoning. <<

Mr. Fuentes-Salinas' opinion is spoken from a Mexican's perspective on something American, that he doesn't totally understand.

I do not mean to be insulting whatsoever, just speaking a truth. While my father is from Veracruz, Mexico, (I'm proud of that and of my heritage) I was born in San Francisco, with my mother's side of the family, (they are Latinos too) being here in the U.S. since about the 1650's from New Mexico. I was lucky to have the best of both worlds. But my father's cultural experience and viewpoint varies vastly from mines and other Chicanos here in the U.S.

If they had interviewed my father about the meaning of Aztlan, he would have laughed and had the same opinion of Mr. Fuentes-Salinas. To him Aztlan is the old ancient mythology that is depicted on the Mexican Flag. And for him that is correct. My father would definitely had thought the Aztlan of Chicanos was a farce.


Let me give you a good accurate definition of Aztlan, straight from the horse's mouth. I was there at the tail end of the Chicano Youth Movement, toward the end of the seventies, I was sixteen and seventeen years old at the time. I was taught Mexican and Mexican-American history in the old humble classes of "Servicios De La Raza" and "The Crusade For Justice" (the heart of the Chicano movement in Denver). I didn't realize it at the time but "The Crusade For Justice" kind of had a tarnished image. When I would mentioned that name, I would get horrified responses, "you cavort with those militant, terrorist types?" Like I said, it was the waning years of the "Crusade For Justice", they were no longer a political machine or a threat, by then they just took the role of a boxing center, educating and sold some killer burritos. No propaganda, education from plain old history text books on Mexican-American history which help build your self-esteem in your culture and identity. Never dwelled or mentioned any perceived injustices that may have been inflicted on us as a group. I wish there were more education of that sort for our youths to counter-balance the Hispanic void in our printed, audio and visual media. That is the reason I created El Ojo.

So to the definition of Aztlan:

It's more about the spirit of a community. Where there is a Hispanic community, that's where you would find Aztlan. Whether it's in Denver, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Chicago or San Antonio. It's the culture, the food, the people. It's the hybrid culture of America and Mexico combined. Perhaps the controversy surrounds on what to call it. Some of us call it Aztlan, others La Raza (The Race) while others call it (La Gente) The People. Whatever name we give it, it's the same. We are not confused about our identity as some might elude. It just goes by different names.

For example there is the never ending controversy in what to call us. Chicano? Latino? Mexican-American, or Hispanic? We are very grounded in our identity, in what and who we are, but the name can be elusive.

I notice that some of the Hispanos interviewed, felt that Aztlan and it's ideology is obsolete and needs to be put to rest. I could see where a person could have that misconception. Us older Chicanos, as we move up the social ladder and as we mature in society, might forget the old Spanish neighborhoods and how it is like to live there. But it's all still there, it may be a different generation of kids, but the Latino culture is still there and intact, with the same Aztlan spirit or mindset, for the lack of a better name. The kids are very proud of their culture and heritage, but they are still in need of knowing their past and their contribution to American society.

This says it all:

>> Its viewpoint is perhaps best summarized near the end, in an interview with Rudolfo Anaya..."The myth of Aztlan belongs to the people," Anaya says. "It doesn't have to be understood rationally. It's understood in the heart." <<


>> Among Chicanos, Montoya believes, Aztlan's significance is now largely metaphorical. It is taken literally mostly by conservative non-Latinos fearful of what some have dubbed "the browning of America."

"...and it certainly is a carryover of the anti-immigrant hysteria...that we're going to create a nation and exclude everybody and take over busboy jobs and dishwashing jobs and we're basically going to take over the San Fernando Valley and parts of L.A...I know the yearning is more spiritual. Middle-class Mexicans are not willing to leave their communities to go create Aztlan." <<

Rob's reply
>> The accuracy of Aztlan in the article is about 90% percent accurate with about 10% margin of error. <<

Did anyone say anything that was literally inaccurate? Or did the article merely emphasize views that you don't think are representative? I don't think you can talk about accuracy levels or margins of error if the issue is the amount of emphasis on one viewpoint or another.

>> I would get horrified responses, "you cavort with those militant, terrorist types?" <<

Right. I got that in response to my "El Dorado" posting. The guy started by asserting the "facts" about the Aztecs, but his real agenda was clearly to bash the Mexica Movement, an unrelated subject.

As with other multicultural ideas, I think it's cool for Latinos to hold the idea of Aztlán. As the article implied, it's not much different from white boys who build their worldview around Star Trek, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Myst, Doom, Pokemon, rap, heavy metal, or whatever. It's ludicrous for Anglos to complain about minorities balkanizing themselves (i.e., by thinking about Aztlán) when they join innumerable churches, movements, and self-help groups. If believing in Aztlán is more of a problem than believing in Ayn Rand, the Confederacy, or the Second Coming, I don't see how.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, as usual!


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