That to be Chicano one must be mestizo is a recurring theme in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ epic poem I am Joaquin. The implication that one must be a hybrid of indigenous and Spanish ancestry to qualify as Chicano is not subtle and has led to negative ramifications. This strict blood test has done more harm than good to the Chicano movement as it emphasis a certain hybridization rejected by many Mexicans; all the while excluding a group of people Luis Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino and author of Aztlan, alludes to as Spanish Arabic.
The emphasis on mestizaje has led to the belief that Mexicans and Chicanos possessing tanned skin must be mestizo. The implication that tanned Mexicans and Chicanos are partly descendants of Indian blood is implied in I am Joaquin when Gonzales writes that the “chattering of machine guns are death to all of me: Yaque, Tarahumara, Chamula, Zapotec, Mestizo, Espanol”. The implication is that such indigenous people make up all of “Corky” Gonzales, who is Joaquin, who embodies all Chicanos.
Indigenous blood as a requirement to identify as Chicano is limiting to those without it and leads to inaccuracies when self-identifying. Because of their tanned skin and Gonzales’ emphasis on mestizaje, many Mexicans and Chicanos are erroneously inclined to identify as mestizo when they can trace their origins to the Middle East. A close reading of the following excerpt sheds light on this omitted history of Chicanismo: “[P]art of the blood that runs deep in me [C]ould not be vanquished by the Moors. I defeated them after five hundred years, and I endured.” This passage tells us that Gonzales is aware that Moors, people of Northern Africa and Middle Eastern descent, were a significant part of Spain for many years. Gonzales’ failure to realize or acknowledge that the Moors intermarried with Spaniards, contributed to the Spanish language (e.g. Guadalajara), and made the trip to the new world along with native Spaniards, explains his omission of anything Middle Eastern contributing to Chicanismo.
Inaccuracy aside, it was reckless and harmful to peg Chicanismo to mestizaje. The harm in coupling Chicanismo to mestizaje is best captured by Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz in his work The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings. Viva Mexico, hijos de la chingada is a ritual cry most utilized on September 15, Mexican Independence Day. Paz sheds light on the word Chingada and its connection to the mestizo. Paz explains that the “Chingada is the Mother forcibly opened, violated or deceived” (79). There is little doubt Paz is alluding to the raping of indigenous women by Spanish conquistadors. Paz continues by stating that if you are a hijo de la Chingada, you are the “offspring of violation, abduction, or deceit” (79). Mestizaje is born out of this violation; a long-ago violation that for many Mexicans and Chicanos is a contemporary and perennial source of humiliation. This violent origin, writes Paz, “is a secret conflict that we have still not resolved” (87). Paz incisively posits that “the Mexican breaks his ties with the past, renounces his origins, and lives in isolation and solitude” (87). For Paz, the “Mexican does not want to be either an Indian or Spaniard. Nor does he want to be descended from them” (87). By pegging Chicano identity to mestizaje, Gonzales has tied Chicanos to an identity rejected by many Mexicans, and which is a source of conflict to the mothers and fathers of Chicanos: Mexicans.
In his book Aztlan: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature, Luis Valdez describes mestizos as a “powerful blend of Indigenous America with European-Arabian Spain, usually recognizable for the natural bronze tone it lends to human skin” (xiv). Yes, Valdez, like “Corky” Gonzales, emphasis mestizaje; however, Valdez at least extends the parameters of mestizaje to incorporate Chicanos of Middle Eastern ancestry. On the contrary, Gonzales’s focus and advocacy of mestizaje has had a stifling effect on the recognition of Middle Eastern contributions to Chicano identity. With today’s technology, Chicanos suspicious of their genetic makeup can ascertain their origins. This will perhaps allow other terms (e.g. Spanish Arabic) to compete with mestizo as a way groups of Chicanos identify.
Analyzing the use of mestizaje is not an attempt to displace mestizaje as a component of Chicanismo. Rather, its function is to hold up a mirror to Chicanos who have long suspected they are not mestizo. One should not blame Gonzales’s use of mestizo as a qualification for Chicanos. Rather, fault is placed on his myopic explanation of whom Chicanos are. The differences between indigenous men and women of North America and those of Middle Eastern descent are apparent, ready to be discerned by someone making a moderate effort in seeking an accurate origin of Chicanos.