“Embracing Chicana as my identity means that I will not comply and sit quietly inside of the racist box that has been created to overgeneralize and segregate my people.”
On October 5th, 2014, Generation Justice aired a radio show that was, in part, about Chicano and Chicana identity. I have identified as Chicana my entire life, and I began to understand this aspect of my identity at a very young age. My mother, Rosemarie Romero, worked with Chicano Studies and the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico for much of my life. She would take me to every rally, march, and conference that she was a part of. These activism-enriched spaces were my playgrounds as a child.
I remember groups of people with fists held high. I remember banners and signs with empowering messages. I remember bandanas and strong voices. I remember lip liner and low riders. But, most clearly of all, I remember the words, “que viva la raza!” Everywhere I went, people were constantly saying this. I knew what it meant: “long live our people.” But it wasn’t until I got older that I began to realize that it means so much more.
When I was about eight years old, I traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies conference with my mother and her co-workers. The events of this trip changed my entire perspective about what I’m up against in this world. We all went to a concert in the Plaza. While we were walking around, somebody backstage had a heart attack, but, fortunately, we had a medical professional in our group. Later, when a cop showed up, the situation was being taken care of, but the police officer insisted that we didn’t belong backstage. My mother’s co-worker, Daniel, put his hand on the cop’s shoulder and very kindly said, “he has it under control, sir.” The aftermath is somewhat of a blur, but I ended up in tears, and my mother’s co-worker, Daniel, ended up in jail.
This is when I began to understand that the Chicano movement that my mother had so long been a part of was very much about taking a political stance. I knew that those activists I had been around my entire life were fighting for something, and, after that day, I understood that they were fighting for equality and justice. In other words, had Daniel not been dressed in baggy pants and a white t-shirt, and had the hand he respectfully placed on the cop’s shoulder been white instead of brown, the situation would have likely turned out differently. It is because of instances like this, instances of overwhelming oppression, segregation, and racism, that I take pride in claiming my Chicana identity as the very antithesis to these issues.
Eighteen years later, the fight for equality and justice continues. However, my knowledge and understanding has broadened significantly since that day in the plaza when my friend was brutally taken by the police. I no longer view “que viva la raza” as a statement that is only suitable for my people, because it is suitable for all people. When my Palestinian brothers and sisters say, “viva, viva Palestina,” they are also saying, “que viva la raza.” When my Mexican brothers and sisters say, “viva Mexico,” they are also saying “que viva la raza.” When my African American brothers and sisters say, “black lives matter” or “hands up, don’t shoot,” they are also saying, “que viva la raza.” And when I say, “que viva la raza,” I am saying, “long live ALL people.”
Chicanismo promotes equality, and it is an important aspect of my identity for many reasons, but mainly because my mother didn’t have to explain to me why I am Chicana, she showed me. I am mestiza (of mixed blood) and many generations of my family have lived on the land that I live on today. When the term “hispanic” was created, it made people of color feel like their own ethnicity was not important enough to be individually recognized. Embracing Chicana as my identity means that I will not comply and sit quietly inside of the racist box that has been created to overgeneralize and segregate my people. As my mentor, Enrique Cardiel, put it: “saying that I am Chicano (Chicana) is taking a warrior stance.”
photo credit: taubuch