Dorany Pineda, Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2019
Today, however, many of the children and grandchildren of those who marched half a century ago find themselves in a debate over the role of words like “Chicano” in the fight for rights in the age of Trump.
The uproar began in March, when leaders of MEChA — Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, founded as a national Mexican American student group after the blowouts — voted 29 to 3 to drop any trace of the word “Chicano.”
They also supported removing “Aztlán,” the name of the mythical ancestral home of the Aztecs in what is now the U.S. Southwest.
Supporters of the change said the two words were too Mexican-centric and excluded the LGBTQ population, non-Mexican Latinos, indigenous people and other groups. In a statement days later, the group used gender-neutral terms like “Mestizx” (for mestizo), reflecting just how much the student organization had evolved.
In the late 1960s, the Latino civil rights movement was fueled mostly by the American-born children of Mexican immigrants.
MEChA was at the forefront of the struggle, pushing for the establishment of Chicano and ethnic studies programs across the country.
Though people of Mexican origin still make up the majority of Latinos in the U.S., immigration from that country has slowed, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Meanwhile, the number of immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has risen.
The name change won’t take effect until MEChA representatives meet again next year to vote on an alternative.
But within days of the decision, San Diego State’s MEChA chapter separated from the national body. In a statement, UCLA’s chapter announced it also was seceding from the national organization and would keep “Chicanx” and “Aztlán” in its name.
“What happened is tantamount to me going to a Black Lives Matter organization and complaining that they’re xenophobic and racist because they don’t talk about brown lives and that they should change their name to All Lives Matter,” said Adrian Alvarez, 56, who joined MEChA while at UCLA in the 1980s. He’s now an activist with Unión del Barrio, a national human rights organization headquartered in San Diego.
MEChA isn’t the only Latino organization to wrestle with changing its name along with the times.
Students at Columbia University are petitioning to rename its “Raza Grad,” a ceremony honoring students of Latin American descent, to something more inclusive. In 2017, the National Council of La Raza became UnidosUS in an effort to attract millennials — after years of defending itself against critics who decried the term “la raza,” which literally translates to “the race” but more accurately means “the people.”
Over the years, many have accused MEChA, La Raza and their siblings of being anti-white and dedicated to racial separatism.
But the whole reason MEChA was created was “to make sure we don’t lose those connections” to the Mexican community, said Irene Monica Sanchez, 36, a professor at Bard College in Los Angeles who also teaches high school Chicano and Latino studies.
In 1969, students drafted the organization’s manifesto and declared that MEChA would be the student branch of the Chicano movement, so that young Mexican Americans could be themselves, learn their history and embrace their culture.
To many students of Central American descent, however, the change is long overdue.
The focus of the group’s leaders on Mexican issues and culture, the 23-year-old said, “just bled into every aspect of the club, whether it’s how things were run … what kind of food they have at the event, what kind of music they played.”