I am Joaquin >>> Who is a Chicano? What is it the Chicanos Want?

Posted on April 5, 2012


I felt like getting back to my roots today and wanted to share some thoughts on the “Chicano” term I use to describe myself, if and when I don’t use Mexican-American.

Below you will find one of the most important literary works in the Chicano Movement of the 1960s, I am Joaquin.   The poem illustrates the struggles of being faced with economic injustice and fighting for equal rights, simultaneously conveying the struggle in trying to find inclusion in a hybrid mestizo society.  Below the poem there is an article, Who Is A Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?  written by Ruben Salazar.  I felt it would be a good juxtaposition to share both pieces together.  The first with the fire of passion to brew the soul and another with a great take on trying to make sense of all the passion behind the loaded term “Chicano.”

I Am Joaquin

by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales 

Yo soy Joaquín, 
perdido en un mundo de confusión: 
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion, 
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society, 
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes, 
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society. 
My fathers have lost the economic battle 
and won the struggle of cultural survival. 
And now! I must choose between the paradox of 
victory of the spirit, despite physical hunger, 
or to exist in the grasp of American social neurosis, 
sterilization of the soul and a full stomach. 
Yes, I have come a long way to nowhere, 
unwillingly dragged by that monstrous, technical, 
industrial giant called Progress and Anglo success…. 
I look at myself. 
I watch my brothers. 
I shed tears of sorrow. I sow seeds of hate. 
I withdraw to the safety within the circle of life — 
I am Cuauhtémoc, proud and noble, 
leader of men, king of an empire civilized 
beyond the dreams of the gachupín Cortés, 
who also is the blood, the image of myself. 
I am the Maya prince. 
I am Nezahualcóyotl, great leader of the Chichimecas. 
I am the sword and flame of Cortes the despot 
And I am the eagle and serpent of the Aztec civilization. 
I owned the land as far as the eye 
could see under the Crown of Spain, 
and I toiled on my Earth and gave my Indian sweat and blood 
for the Spanish master who ruled with tyranny over man and 
beast and all that he could trample 
I was both tyrant and slave. 
As the Christian church took its place in God’s name, 
to take and use my virgin strength and trusting faith, 
the priests, both good and bad, took– 
but gave a lasting truth that Spaniard Indian Mestizo 
were all God’s children. 
And from these words grew men who prayed and fought 
for their own worth as human beings, for that 
I was part in blood and spirit of that courageous village priest 
Hidalgo who in the year eighteen hundred and ten 
rang the bell of independence and gave out that lasting cry– 
El Grito de Dolores 
“Que mueran los gachupines y que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe….” 
I sentenced him who was me I excommunicated him, my blood. 
I drove him from the pulpit to lead a bloody revolution for him and me…. 
I killed him. 
His head, which is mine and of all those 
who have come this way, 
I placed on that fortress wall 
to wait for independence. Morelos! Matamoros! Guerrero! 
all companeros in the act, STOOD AGAINST THAT WALL OF INFAMY 
to feel the hot gouge of lead which my hands made. 
I died with them … I lived with them …. I lived to see our country free. 
Free from Spanish rule in eighteen-hundred-twenty-one. 
Mexico was free?? 
The crown was gone but all its parasites remained, 
and ruled, and taught, with gun and flame and mystic power. 
I worked, I sweated, I bled, I prayed, 
and waited silently for life to begin again. 
I fought and died for Don Benito Juarez, guardian of the Constitution. 
I was he on dusty roads on barren land as he protected his archives 
as Moses did his sacraments. 
He held his Mexico in his hand on 
the most desolate and remote ground which was his country. 
And this giant little Zapotec gave not one palm’s breadth 
of his country’s land to kings or monarchs or presidents of foriegn powers. 
I am Joaquin. 
I rode with Pancho Villa, 
crude and warm, a tornado at full strength, 
nourished and inspired by the passion and the fire of all his earthy people. 
I am Emiliano Zapata. 
“This land, this earth is OURS.” 
The villages, the mountains, the streams 
belong to Zapatistas. 
Our life or yours is the only trade for soft brown earth and maize. 
All of which is our reward, 
a creed that formed a constitution 
for all who dare live free! 
“This land is ours . . . 
Father, I give it back to you. 
Mexico must be free. . . .” 
I ride with revolutionists 
against myself. 
I am the Rurales, 
coarse and brutal, 
I am the mountian Indian, 
superior over all. 
The thundering hoof beats are my horses. The chattering machine guns 
are death to all of me: 
I have been the bloody revolution, 
The victor, 
The vanquished. 
I have killed 
And been killed. 
I am the despots Díaz 
And Huerta 
And the apostle of democracy, 
Francisco Madero. 
I am 
The black-shawled 
Who die with me 
Or live 
Depending on the time and place. 
I am faithful, humble Juan Diego, 
The Virgin of Guadalupe, 
Tonantzín, Aztec goddess, too. 
I rode the mountains of San Joaquín. 
I rode east and north 
As far as the Rocky Mountains, 
All men feared the guns of 
Joaquín Murrieta. 
I killed those men who dared 
To steal my mine, 
Who raped and killed my love 
My wife. 
Then I killed to stay alive. 
I was Elfego Baca, 
living my nine lives fully. 
I was the Espinoza brothers 
of the Valle de San Luis. 
All were added to the number of heads that in the name of civilization 
were placed on the wall of independence, heads of brave men 
who died for cause or principle, good or bad. 
Hidalgo! Zapata! 
Murrieta! Espinozas! 
Are but a few. 
They dared to face 
The force of tyranny 
Of men who rule by deception and hypocrisy. 
I stand here looking back, 
And now I see the present, 
And still I am a campesino, 
I am the fat political coyote– 
Of the same name, 
In a country that has wiped out 
All my history, 
Stifled all my pride, 
In a country that has placed a 
Different weight of indignity upon my age-old burdened back. 
Inferiority is the new load . . . . 
The Indian has endured and still 
Emerged the winner, 
The Mestizo must yet overcome, 
And the gachupín will just ignore. 
I look at myself 
And see part of me 
Who rejects my father and my mother 
And dissolves into the melting pot 
To disappear in shame. 
I sometimes 
Sell my brother out 
And reclaim him 
For my own when society gives me 
Token leadership 
In society’s own name. 
I am Joaquín, 
Who bleeds in many ways. 
The altars of Moctezuma 
I stained a bloody red. 
My back of Indian slavery 
Was stripped crimson 
From the whips of masters 
Who would lose their blood so pure 
When revolution made them pay, 
Standing against the walls of retribution. 
Blood has flowed from me on every battlefield between 
campesino, hacendado, 
slave and master and revolution. 
I jumped from the tower of Chapultepec 
into the sea of fame– 
my country’s flag 
my burial shroud– 
with Los Niños, 
whose pride and courage 
could not surrender 
with indignity 
their country’s flag 
to strangers . . . in their land. 
Now I bleed in some smelly cell from club or gun or tyranny. 
I bleed as the vicious gloves of hunger 
Cut my face and eyes, 
As I fight my way from stinking barrios 
To the glamour of the ring 
And lights of fame 
Or mutilated sorrow. 
My blood runs pure on the ice-caked 
Hills of the Alaskan isles, 
On the corpse-strewn beach of Normandy, 
The foreign land of Korea 
And now Vietnam. 
Here I stand 
Before the court of justice, 
For all the glory of my Raza 
To be sentenced to despair. 
Here I stand, 
Poor in money, 
Arrogant with pride, 
Bold with machismo, 
Rich in courage 
Wealthy in spirit and faith. 
My knees are caked with mud. 
My hands calloused from the hoe. I have made the Anglo rich, 
Equality is but a word– 
The Treaty of Hidalgo has been broken 
And is but another threacherous promise. 
My land is lost 
And stolen, 
My culture has been raped. 
I lengthen the line at the welfare door 
And fill the jails with crime. 
These then are the rewards 
This society has 
For sons of chiefs 
And kings 
And bloody revolutionists, 
Who gave a foreign people 
All their skills and ingenuity 
To pave the way with brains and blood 
For those hordes of gold-starved strangers, 
Changed our language 
And plagiarized our deeds 
As feats of valor 
Of their own. 
They frowned upon our way of life 
and took what they could use. 
Our art, our literature, our music, they ignored– 
so they left the real things of value 
and grabbed at their own destruction 
by their greed and avarice. 
They overlooked that cleansing fountain of 
nature and brotherhood 
which is Joaquín. 
The art of our great señores, 
Diego Rivera, 
Orozco, is but another act of revolution for 
the salvation of mankind. 
Mariachi music, the heart and soul 
of the people of the earth, 
the life of the child, 
and the happiness of love. 
The corridos tell the tales 
of life and death, 
of tradition, 
legends old and new, of joy 
of passion and sorrow 
of the people–who I am. 
I am in the eyes of woman, 
sheltered beneath 
her shawl of black, 
deep and sorrowful eyes 
that bear the pain of sons long buried or dying, 
dead on the battlefield or on the barbed wire of social strife. 
Her rosary she prays and fingers endlessly 
like the family working down a row of beets 
to turn around and work and work. 
There is no end. 
Her eyes a mirror of all the warmth 
and all the love for me, 
and I am her 
and she is me. 
We face life together in sorrow, 
anger, joy, faith and wishful 
I shed the tears of anguish 
as I see my children disappear 
behind the shroud of mediocrity, 
never to look back to remember me. 
I am Joaquín. 
I must fight 
and win this struggle 
for my sons, and they 
must know from me 
who I am. 
Part of the blood that runs deep in me 
could not be vanquished by the Moors. 
I defeated them after five hundred years, 
and I have endured. 
Part of the blood that is mine 
has labored endlessly four hundred 
years under the heel of lustful 
I am still here!

I have endured in the rugged mountains 
Of our country 
I have survived the toils and slavery of the fields. 
I have existed 
In the barrios of the city 
In the suburbs of bigotry 
In the mines of social snobbery 
In the prisons of dejection 
In the muck of exploitation 
In the fierce heat of racial hatred. 
And now the trumpet sounds, 
The music of the people stirs the 
Like a sleeping giant it slowly 
Rears its head 
To the sound of 
Tramping feet 
Clamoring voices 
Mariachi strains 
Fiery tequila explosions 
The smell of chile verde and 
Soft brown eyes of expectation for a 
Better life. 
And in all the fertile farmlands, 
the barren plains, 
the mountain villages, 
smoke-smeared cities, 
we start to MOVE. 
La raza! 
Or whatever I call myself, 
I look the same 
I feel the same 
I cry 
Sing the same. 
I am the masses of my people and 
I refuse to be absorbed. 
I am Joaquín. 
The odds are great 
But my spirit is strong, 
My faith unbreakable, 
My blood is pure. 
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ. 


Reprinted from the los angeles times, friday, february 6, 1970
Who Is A Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?
By Ruben Salazar


A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.

He resents being told Columbus “discovered” American when the Chicano’s ancestors, the Mayans and the Aztecs, founded highly sophisticated civilizations centuries before Spain financed the Italian explorer’s trip to the “New World.”

Chicanos resent also Anglo pronouncements that Chicanos are “culturally deprived” or that the fact that they speak Spanish is a “problem.”

Chicanos will tell you that their culture predates that of the Pilgrims and that Spanish was spoken in America before English and so the “problem” is not theirs but the Anglo’s who don’t speak Spanish.

Having told you that, the Chicano will then contend that Anglos are Spanish-oriented at the expense of Mexicans.

They will complain that when the governor dresses up as a Spanish nobleman for the Santa Barbara Fiesta he’s insulting Mexicans because the Spanish conquered and exploited the Mexicans.

It’s as if the governor dressed like an English Redcoat for a Forth of July parade, Chicanos say.

When you think you know what Chinos are getting at, a Mexican-American will tell you that Chicano is an insulting term and may even quote the Spanish Academy prove that Chicano derives from chicanery.

A Chicano will scoff at this and say that such Mexican-Americans have been brainwashed by Anglos and that they’re Tio Tacos (Uncle Toms). This type of Mexican-Americans, Chicanos will argue, don’t like the word Chicano because it’s abrasive to their Anglo-oriented minds.

These poor people are brows Anglos, Chicanos will smirk.

What, then, is a Chicano? Chicanos say that if you have to ask you’ll never understand, much less become a Chicano.

Actually, the work Chicano is as difficult to define as “soul.”

For those who like simplistic answers, Chicano can be defined as short for Mexicano. For those who prefer complicated answers, it has been suggested that Chicano may have come from the work Chihuahua—the name of a Mexican state bordering on the United States. Getting trickier, this version then contends that the Mexicans who migrated to Texas call themselves Chicanos because having crossed into the United States from Chihuahua they adopted the first three letters of that state, Chi, and then added came, for the latter part of Texano.

Such explanations, however, tend to miss the whole point as to why Mexican-American activists call themselves Chicanos.

Mexican-Americans, the second largest minority in the country and the largest in the Southwestern states (California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado), have always had difficulty making up their minds what to call themselves.

In New Mexico they call themselves Spanish Americans. In other parts of the Southwest they call themselves Americans of Mexican descent, people with Spanish surnames or Hispanos.

Why, ask some Mexican-Americans, can’t we just call ourselves Americans?

Chicanos are trying to explain why not. Mexican Americans, though indigenous to the Southwest, are on the lowest rung scholastically, economically, socially, and politically. Chicanos feel cheated. They want change. Now.

Mexican-Americans average eight years of schooling compared to the Negroes’ 10 years. Farm workers, most of whom are Mexican-American in the Southwest, are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act unlike other workers. Also, Mexican-Americans often have to compete for low-paying jobs with their Mexican brothers from across the border who are willing to work for even less. Mexican-Americans have to live with the stinging fact that the Mexican is the synonym for inferior in many parts of the Southwest.

That is why Mexican-American activists flaunt the barrio work Chicano—as an act of defiance and a badge of honor. Mexican-Americans, though large in numbers, are so politically impotent that in Los Angeles, where the country’s largest single concentration of Spanish-speaking live, they have no one of their own in the City Council. This, in a city politically sophisticated enough to have three Negro councilmen.


Chicanos, then, are merely fighting to become “Americans.” Yes, but with a Chicano outlook.


Posted in: Perspective