Chicano Nationalism, Revanchism and the Aztlan Myth

Summary

Most Mexicans believe that the United States unfairly took from Mexico what is now the Southwest of our country, and that it is legitimate for them to ignore U.S. immigration law when illegally crossing the border.

A small, and perhaps quixotic, but active and vocal movement shared by Mexicans in both Mexico and the United States calls for the restoration of the ceded territory to be returned to Mexico, or alternatively for the creation of an "Aztlan" country made up of this territory and Northwestern Mexico. This movement is popular among youth of Mexican ancestry—who call themselves Chicanos—especially on U.S. university campuses, and it has spawned militant offshoots, but, in general, it does not represent a significant separatist political movement.

Mexico is not trying to restrict illegal migration by its nationals to the United States, and in some ways is working to encourage and legitimize it. Mexico is also pursuing policies to exert influence through its nationals and Americans of Mexican ancestry in U.S. domestic politics.

Because of illegal immigration, the amnesty in 1986 and large families, the size of the population in Southwestern states that identify themselves as Mexicans has risen rapidly.

Background

Mexicans are taught in school that the United States unfairly took much of Mexican territory in 1848 in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-U.S. War. The ceded territory included what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Utah, which the United States received in exchange for $15 million plus the U.S. assumption of millions of dollars of Mexico's debt.

The ceded territory was very sparsely populated at the time, with only an estimated one percent of Mexico's population, and part of that composed of American settlers. There were no known significant natural resources in the area at the time other than the land.

Mexicans have never forgotten the loss of territory, and this sense of loss has been enhanced by such developments as the subsequent California Gold Rush, touched off in 1848, the discovery of major oil fields in Texas in the 1880s, and the evolution of California and Texas into major centers of economic power in the United States.

A June 2002 Zogby poll of Mexicans found that a substantial majority of Mexican citizens believe that southwestern America is rightfully the territory of Mexico and that Mexicans do not need the permission of the U.S. to enter. The poll found that 58 percent of Mexicans agree with the statement, "The territory of the United States' southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico." Zogby said 28 percent disagreed, while another 14 percent said they weren't sure.1

Pushing a Chicano Agenda in the United States

Latinos in the United States also increasingly learn the Mexican view of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and, if they go to college, they are likely to be indoctrinated about the Latino "Aztlan" heritage. This is a myth that ascribes the origin of the indigenous people who governed in Latin America before the European conquest to an area comprised of the Southwest of the United States and the Northwest of Mexico. In practice, the calls for the restoration of Aztlan tend to merge with the revanchist theme of recovering the lost Mexican territory. However, the one difference is that the Aztlan movement calls for establishment of Aztlan as independent from both Mexico and the United States. It would become the Republica del Norte (Republic of the North).

An example of this doctrine was attributed in an AP story in 2000 to a University of New Mexico Chicano Studies professor named Charles Truxillo. Terming the Republica del Norte "an inevitability," he described the area as encompassing all of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and southern Colorado, plus the northern tier of Mexican states: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Le€n and Tamaulipas. The professor commented that the new country should be brought into being "by any means necessary," but has modified that to say that it was unlikely to be formed by civil war, and instead would be created through the electoral pressure of the future majority Hispanic population in the region. While Prof. Truxillo's motives and objectives shouldn't be attributed to the Mexican-American community at large, the danger lies in the ability of highly motivated and well-financed radicals to leverage the growing number of Mexicans in the U.S. to achieve their political ends.

It is clear that there is a "fifth column" movement in the United States that professes greater allegiance to a greater Mexico or a breakaway, separatist movement based on a Latino homeland, despite the efforts of Latino politicians to dismiss it as a quixotic idea of rambunctious Latino youth, largely on university campuses. Nevertheless, the size of this movement and its activities do not at present constitute a security concern.

It is also clear that there is an active effort by the Mexican government to organize Mexicans living in the United States to demand political rights and to influence their activities towards furthering the political objectives of Mexico. This paternalistic and intrusive posture of the Mexican government goes beyond Mexicans living in the United States; Mexico also asserts that it represents Americans who renounced their Mexican citizenship when they became naturalized U.S. citizens, and they have encouraged persons born in the United States to Mexican parents to apply for Mexican nationality.

By asserting responsibility for the safety and welfare of its nationals living in the United States, Mexico has undertaken to convince local governments throughout the country to recognize the Mexican consulate-issued matricula consular identity document for official purposes in this country — even though the document has value only to Mexicans without legal status in the United States and has no validity in Mexico as an identity document. The Mexican government has also actively lobbied state governments to issue driver's licenses to Mexican illegal aliens residing in the United States. In addition, Mexican President Fox has aggressively pushed President Bush to adopt legal status for Mexicans who have illegally entered the United States.

At the end of 2004, the Mexican government unveiled a comic book as a "Guide for Mexican [Illegal] Migrants." This guide, widely distributed in Mexico and the United States, goes far beyond warning Mexicans illegally entering the United States of the dangers of that action, and constitutes a form of 'How To' guide for evading the greatest dangers and apprehension by U.S. authorities. It, therefore, is an encouragement to disregard U.S. immigration laws.

While the entirety of these aggressive activities of the Mexican government appear to go beyond the bounds of normal diplomacy, the U.S. government has yet to make any public protest.

The Latino Population Wedge

While the Aztlan proponents may have no intention of engaging in anything other than rhetorical obeisance to mythology, and the Mexican government may be only stretching the limits of accepted diplomatic behavior, the fact is increasingly clear that Latinos, the majority of whom are Mexican nationals and Mexican ethnics, are rapidly becoming a major political force in the U.S. Southwest.

In each of the above seven states, the population describing themselves as Mexican or of Mexican ancestry in the decennial census increased at a significantly higher rate than the increase in the overall population between 1980-2000. Every indication is that the higher rate of increase will continue unless the illegal entry of Mexicans and other Latinos is curbed.

California—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in California identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 177 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 60 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 20 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 84 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period. Those identifying themselves as Hispanic increased by 6.4 million persons over those two decades while non-Hispanics grew by 3.8 million persons.

Arizona—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in Arizona identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 219 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 194 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 69 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 86 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period.

New Mexico—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in New Mexico identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 136 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 60 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 28 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 66 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period.

Texas—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in Texas identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 113 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 123 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 26 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 73 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period. Those identifying themselves as Hispanic increased by 3.7 million residents over those two decades while non-Hispanics grew by 2.9 million residents.

Nevada—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in Nevada identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 1,179 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 631 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 115 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 78 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period.

Utah—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in Utah identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 454 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 234 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 45 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 79 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period.

Colorado—Between 1980-2000 the number of Census respondents in Colorado identifying themselves as a Mexican national/ethnic increased by 232 percent and those identifying themselves as Hispanic by 117 percent while the non-Hispanic population increased by 40 percent. The increase in the Mexican national/ethnic population was 80 percent of the increase in the Hispanic population over that period.

Implications of the Growing Mexicanization of the Southwest

In 1999, the Texas border city of El Cenizo, near Laredo, established Spanish as its official language and declared the town a ''safe haven'' for ''undocumented workers.'' City officials also warned that city employees cooperating with the U.S. Border Patrol would face dismissal. El Cenizo, a colonia chartered as a city only in 1989, had grown to a population of 8,000 by 1999, more than two-thirds of whom spoke little or no English.2

Numerous cities in the region have non-compliance policies with the federal immigration authorities and have adopted other policies that accommodate the presence of increasing numbers of illegal residents, such as creating day-labor hiring centers, recognizing Mexican government-issued consular identity cards for official purposes, and issuing driver's licenses and official identity cards without regard to legal status.

The cumulative effect of the spreading adoption of these policies that accommodate illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, is encouragement of illegal immigration and the growing creation of barriers to effective enforcement of the nations immigration law.

It is likely that the country will increasingly be confronted with an aggressive Chicano agenda pushed by activists such as Esteban "Art" Torres (former Chairman of California's Democratic Party), who at a January 1995 Hispanic gathering to discuss non-compliance with Proposition 187 at the University of California Riverside reportedly said, "Remember 187 is the last gasp of White America in California!"3

Mario Obledo, who was California's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Gov. Jerry Brown, and who founded MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) commented, "California is going to be a Hispanic state. Anyone who doesn't like it should leave. Every constitutional office in California is going to be held by Hispanics in the next 20 years." People who don't like such demographic changes "should go back to Europe."4

Jose Angel Gutierrez, an author and associate professor of political science at the University of Texas-Arlington, voiced a similar theme in greater specificity. According to the Aztlan website, he made the following comment on August 29, 2003.

When we reach majority status over a greater geographic spread by 2030, the national, state and local governments certainly will be heavily indebted and nearly bankrupt, knee-deep in racial turmoil based on meager allocations for the public good.

Knowing that white America has not and does not recognize our welfare or destiny as intertwined, we must forge ahead with our own strategic plan, vision and timetable. We will not become an underclass to whites or blacks or Asians. We will seek and find our own public partners to meet destiny.5

Not only does the Chicano power movement hold the potential for aggravating U.S.-Mexican diplomatic conflict, the movement that espouses the Aztlan myth also has troubling foreign policy overtones, as the Aztlan website demonstrates with the following statement:

La Raza [the Race, referring to Latino ethnicity] is a victim of the same political and economic forces that are oppressing the Palestinian people and other people of color around the world. We must awaken to this fact and understand the hidden strategies and tactics being utilized to subjugate our people in order to devise effective counter-measures to neutralize them.6

The above and numerous other commentaries on the website demonstrate an anti-Semitic, pro-Arab bias, that was described by Gabriel Lerner, Nation-at-Large Editor of La Opinion newspaper in Los Angeles as having a Nazi character, and has provoked statements of concern by the Israeli government.

Another Chicano organization is the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztl€n (MEChA). MEChA is a student, university-based organization that has been challenged on some campuses as "racist" for its ethnic advocacy orientation, but reputedly does not share the questionable anti-Semitic orientation of the Aztlan website, which is operated independently. A paramilitary offshoot called the Brown Berets of Aztlan, styled on the Black Berets group, was repudiated by MEChA after it became involved in a shootout that resulted in the death of a deputy sheriff in 1967. The Brown Beret leader, David Sanchez, was arrested as part of the 'L.A. Thirteen' and jailed for conspiracy to create riots, disrupt the functioning of public schools and disturbing the peace.

The Brown Berets apparently continue to exist as an organization, as evidenced by a KCBS TV interview in 2000 in which Augustine Cebeda, identified as a member of the Brown Berets de Aztlan, stated, "Mexicans have every right to be here. This land was stolen from us."7 Another, more militant, comment attributed to Cebeda was the following:

"…Go back to Boston! Go back to Plymouth Rock, Pilgrims! Get out [of the U.S. Southwest]! We [Mexicans] are the future. You are old and tired. We have beaten you. Leave like beaten rats. You old white people, it is your duty to die."8

MEChA adheres to a document called the Aztlan Plan. The first point in the plan is, "We are Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztl€n reclaiming the land of our birth."

The greater political activism of persons who identify themselves as Mexican in the United States is being aggressively promoted by the Mexican government. One of the means set up by the Mexican government to advance its agenda is the creation in 1994 of the Fundacion Solidaridad Mexicano Americana (the Mexican-American Solidarity Foundation). According to an ACN news account, the Foundation, comprised of high level Mexican government officials and the leadership of national Mexican-American organizations such as the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, sponsored its "First Forum on Binational Thought" in Mexico City on April 28th - 29th, 2004.

This thumbnail description of the growing Mexicanization of the Southwest has not described documented trends in the increasing fiscal burden on the state governments related to services for illegal alien residents nor issue such as the quality of services provided in emergency medical facilities or the strains on the public education system. But, it is clear that there are negative results that accompany the growing legal and illegal Mexican population in the region. In that sense, the process of demographic change is not a 'win-win' situation. As Chicano politicians gain more influence, other politicians lose influence. And, as rapidly increasing numbers of Latinos have gained access to the public services provided by the federal and state governments, the quality of those services has been undermined.

Although the evolving demographic change in the Southwest may not be a 'zero-sum' situation, it, nevertheless, is clear that what is seen as a gain by the growing Chicano population is often seen as a loss by other sectors of the population.

The above examples of the growing political clout of Latinos is consonant with our representative democracy, and is only intended to show that as the Chicano population continues to grow, we may expect a similar growth in Chicano elected officials, especially in the Southwest of the country. This is what the Latino leaders are referring to when they talk about taking control of the Southwestern states through the ballot box.

Current demographic data indicate that the process of Chicano growth in the Southwest will be rapid if current trends continue. In Arizona and Texas, the Mexican national/ethnic population could reach majority status by the middle of this century. In California and New Mexico, it could rise to more than 45 percent. In Nevada and Utah, it could rise to more than one-third of the population, and in Colorado to more than one-fourth of the population.

The large influx of immigrants from Mexico—articularly to the U.S. Southwest—differs in important ways from the traditional immigration model this country has experienced. In addition to the sheer size and longevity of this wave of immigration, the United States has no historic precedent of large numbers of people coming to this country who could argue that they were returning to a country that was once theirs. The assimilation process is likely to work (or not work) very differently among people who believe they are coming home, rather than moving to a new country where they will have to earn acceptance.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that due to many social factors—particularly low educational achievement—his unprecedented group of immigrants is entering American society at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, and large numbers of them are remaining there even after several generations in the United States. This reality breeds the kind of resentment and alienation that makes them susceptible to the siren songs of radical activists who will seek to use the community's frustrations to achieve their own agenda.

While it is important not to overestimate the potential consequences of mass migration from Mexico, it would be imprudent to dismiss them out of hand.




[1] Jon Dougherty, "Mexicans: Southwest U.S. is ours," WorldNetDaily.com, posted: June 13, 2002.

[2] Brent Nelson, "[La] Republica del Norte: The Next American Nation," The Social Contract Press (Fall 2000), citing Joyce Howard Price, "Officially, They Speak No Ingles; It's Spanish Only for Town in Texas," The Washington Times, 14 Aug. 1999, Sec. A, p. 1.

[3] Frontpage Magazine, Website visited December 10, 2004.

[4] See http://www.illegalaliens.us/aztlan.htm visited December 10, 2004.

[5] Aztlan website, consulted December 10, 2004.

[6] Aztlan website visited December 10, 2004.

[7] Quoted on the American Patrol website, consulted December 10, 2004.

[8] See http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/aztlan.htm consulted December 10, 2004.

January 2005