Over on ADS-L we’ve been discussing the etymology of chicano/Chicano, and Jon Lighter introduced the question of the social status of the ethnonym; it was his recollection that in the 1960s the word was used disparagingly, and that was my recollection and Larry Horn’s as well. But on the whole it’s been reclaimed, a process that was already underway by 1970, with the rise of chicano political consciousness.

The etymology. The OED and other dictionaries treat chicano as a shortened (and altered) version of mejicano (also spelled mexicano) ‘Mexican’. Merely clipping mejicano would give jicano, with an initial fricative, not the affricate of chicano; hence the reference to alteration. Purely orthographic clipping from mexicano would give xicano; then, since initial X is incredibly infrequent in Spanish spelling, you’d be free to assign it the affricate pronunciation rather than the fricative — and indeed Xicano / Xicana are reasonably well attested as alternative spellings of Chicano / Chicana.

But none of that explains where the initial affricate comes from in pronunciation. One possibility is that it was influenced by Spanish chico ‘small, little’ or ‘boy’, used as a common personal (first) name, as a common nickname for a Latino man, and as a common form for referring to or addressing a Latino man generically.

The reclamation. OED2’s first cite for chicano, somewhat disparaging in tone, is from Arizona:

1947   Arizona Q. Summer 12   From the center of downtown Tucson the ground the banks of the Santa Cruz river. Here lies the sprawling section of the city known as El Hoyo… Its inhabitants are chicanos who raise hell on Saturday night.

Some people, both chicanos and not, still find the word disparaging these days. But in the late 1960s, with a rise in ethnic political consciousness, came a reclamation of the term: Chicano Studies programs appear in universities, and there’s a Chicano political movement. The reclamation is recognized in OED2:

A person of Mexican birth or descent resident in the U.S. (particularly in those areas annexed in 1848), esp. one who is proud of his Mexican origins and concerned to improve the position of Mexicans in the U.S.; a Mexican-American.

And in the draft additions of August 2007:

Chicano movement n. U.S. (now chiefly hist.) a movement seeking political, social, and cultural recognition for Chicanos.

The movement rose to prominence in the late 1960s and 1970s in association with the broader civil rights movement in the United States at that time.

(The first cite is from 1969, with chicano movement.)

Then the ethnic studies programs in universities. The Wikipedia entry on Chicana/o Studies (which is something of a mess) tells us that the nation’s first Chicano Studies department was at Cal State Los Angeles in 1968, and that other programs followed, “usually after intense battles between students and administration”, at San Fernando Valley State (now Cal State Northridge) in 1970, UC Santa Barbara in 1971, and the University of Texas at El Paso in 1970. The entry continues:

By the mid-1970s, Chicana feminists challenged the masculine domination of the field, making gender issues central to the concerns of the academic community. After intense struggle at the National Association for Chicano Studies the name of the association was changed to Chicana/o Studies, underscoring that Chicanas were equal partners in the area of Chicana/o Studies.

On sex-marking in Chicano and Latino, see this posting.)

Some schools continue to use Chicano Studies as the name, and some offer a specialization within Ethnic Studies, but there are other possibilities: Mexican American Studies; Chicano and Latino Studies, Chicano / Latino Studies; Chicana and Chicano Studies, Chicana/o Studies (also Chicano/a Studies). Stanford has folded as much as possible into the name of a program that’s part of the Center for Comparative Studies of Ethnicity:

the Program in Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies

(commonly referred to as “Chicano Studies”, for ease of reference). In any case, there’s a lot of chicano floating around on college campuses.


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