Author’s note: This is a series of four different contributions.
The “we” is again being reconstructed, as is the history of yesterday, the history of today, and the history of tomorrow.
-- Juan Gómez-Quiñonez, UCLA Chicano Historian
My path on Chicanismo started in a community college classroom in the year of 2016. I was taking a Mexican-American history course on a Saturday morning and it was one of the last requirments for my AA degree and graduation. The instructor, whose name I don’t remember, insisted on beginning the class on the “ancient” Olmeca civilization of central Mexico. His point of doing this was to contextualize for students the long history of central Mexico. We later learned of the Tolteka, the “Aztec”, and the Maya civilizations’ influences throughout North America, specifically of Anahuac, or central Mexico. We would trace the history of Mexican Indigenous peoples from their resistance since 1519 with the arrival of Hernan Cortes to the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Towards the end of the semester, we discussed the incarnation of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. It was here that a broad knowledge base of my own history as a Mexicano was presented to me. I never learned this in high school, and my Elders and parents never spoke of this history. I only knew I was from Mexico with Mexican heritage, but also as a US-born “citizen” who experienced a purely US education system. I would write a poem, titled “La Lucha Dentro” (I am aware of my bad Spanish grammar) that expressed my consciousness at that time that won 1st place in a poetry & essay contest at my community college. Here it is, something I want share to contextualize my beginnings:
I am the product of colonialism:
The fucked form of human violence.
It was the slaughtering of those
Who were perceived
Less than human.
The act of savagery to dehumanize
An entire people deemed savages.
An attack on identity—they were
Lost inside the void of what is ostracized.
Hernán Cortés y Moctezuma:
From massacre to rape--
The conflict inevitably birthing
I am Spanish and Mexica blood.
I am the mutt of two cultures:
And so the conception of
Mexican culture was born,
And passed down
From those before me--
They kept pride in who they were,
And who they will continue to be:
Mexican and Latino.
And revolutions went their way, only
To be undermined by selfish systems.
And time birthed a new engagement:
Mexicans in White America.
Los abuelos in the fields, the factories,
Under a slavery wage
To feed their families.
And their children faced their struggles.
So America fucked my parents’ generation.
It was a new colonialism
To assimilate or to die—these youth.
And a new struggle raged forth,
One modern, in a post-colonialism,
To create a new class of people.
It became a new identity and culture
Permeating América—Las Chicanas y los Chicanos.
I was a child born after this generation.
When I was little I was taught Spanish.
My adolescent years I abandoned it.
I was stuck in between White
And my rich Mexican heritage.
Now as a man,
Lost to what culture I would belong to,
I struggled within but was found.
Yo soy Chicano;
The fucking political remains.
Resistance lives in my blood,
Revolution runs through my tongue.
My generation of Xicanos y Xicanas
Is the generation of subversion,
Of dissent within the system.
We are the representations of History.
We are the agents of decolonization.
This is who I am:
Anzaldúa’s left hand of darkness,
Cisnero’s fiery poetry,
Chávez’s brown empowerment,
NietoGómez’s feminist voice--
The cultivation of Brown Power.
¡Viva la Raza!
¡Viva todos que luchan
Porque la lucha hoy
Es la lucha de autonomía.
Resistir a la colonización
De la mente.
Y resistir el odio
Por lo que eres.
Nosotros somos revolucionario!
I reflected on this poem as I entered UCLA. I still didn’t know what it meant for me, nor did I have an idea of what it would mean almost two years later. This poem was to be published in the Say the Word Anthology published by LASC’s English Department.
The testimonio I present here is my creative project to write what I have never written. It is to try and understand, specifically, how I came to the consciousness I now have and continue to transform. It is also for those interested in the personal ideas, reflections, and actions I have taken in my own journey. It is for the community college student, the high school student, the Punks, the Chicanos, the Hispanics, and the Latinxs. It is for all interested on the topics of Indigeneity, Indigenous consciousness, and personal growth. This is a testimonio that many won’t like, and it is one that I am sure will spark points of disagreement. But it is my story, my perspective, and mine only. This testimonio is rooted in my creative projects as a Zinester in LA and will attempt also to reflect and highlight that experience as a legitimate form of Indigenous knowledge production in our modern times. As a detribalized Urban Native Punk, I hope to transgress coloniality and to disrupt settler logics through this writing. I can only hope I am able to convince the reader of that.
But allow me to backtrack a bit: I was a Punk kid who grew up in the City of South Gate, and I admit here that I was full of angst and anger in this world for no reason other than wanting to be different. But I knew I was different, just not in the ways I could see then. I attended a Catholic pre-school I don’t remember much, and attended San Gabriel Elementary School for Kindergarten till 5th grade. My mother, after a separation and divorce from my father at my age of eleven, enrolled me into West Middle School in the affluent City of Downey. It was here I discovered reading alone in the library, with a few friends scattered throughout my whole junior high school experience. I went to Warren High School after, and not much changed. This was my transition into a Punk kid. I started to listen to Street Punk and mostly early Proto-Punk my freshman year. I was into the Ramones, the Casualties, Global Threat, the Sex Pistols, and many more. I had a small group of friends who were Punk and Metalheads, but most of us didn’t do much except play a lot of video games. This was my life, busing back and forth for almost four years to Downey, a place I never connected to and never understood.
Remembering my life during that time is complicated. A lot of things manifested and there were so many experiences that I have no real time to write about. All I know is that I came out of it still a Punk kid with a GPA of 2.5. Remembering those times with my mom, she regretted that decision to send me to Downey. I don’t know whether we can measure the right or wrong of that, but it did shape who I was and who I continue to be. My self-separation from other students was prompted by not wanting to associate myself with that crowd of students. I disliked the environment, attitude, people, and education from that institution. I never took it serious. All I personally wanted was an out, an escape from all of that pressure, assimilation, and corporate philosophy. When I started to listen to anarchist Punk my world opened a bit more.
It was high school I began a resistance to the neoliberal order, through Punk. I delve into anarchism and anti-fascist politics that I would continue to ponder on when I entered community college. Why did I go into community college? Long story. But the point is simple: I wanted something that I knew I was capable of. In this point in my life, I still don’t know what it is. Yet, it wasn’t the best of times when all I wanted to do was to go to shows, get drunk, and never really saw a tangible future for myself. It wouldn’t be until I obtained an Indigenous consciousness at UCLA that I saw myself trying to find Home by inserting myself in the LA Punk scene. Although I had a radical politics and very strong anti-authoritarian stance, I didn’t really do anything about it. That’s my self-critique. But community college changed that.
I am in an office with Dr. Daniel Ortega, both Puente and EOPS counselor at Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC). Ortega, what most students called him, is a Chicano from Southeast LA just like me. In fact, he grew up around the same friend groups as my father running all over LA doing graffiti as a crew. I owe it to Ortega for getting me through community college. I also owe it to my tia Rosanna for humbly giving me a place to call Home; I owe it to my father who supported me and let me share a room with him; I owe it to my mother, that although we did not have the best relationship at the time, she financially supported me. I owe it to mi familia. I also owe it to LASC for teaching me and giving me the consciousness I do now. Community college transformed my life. I always wonder what it would have been like without it. It was here that I grew my color consciousness, radicalized my anti-racist stance, and built a strong connection to my own Mexican identity. And it was in that single and only Mexican-American history class that I understood myself as a Chicano. But I am sitting here for the first time reflecting on my life and my future. What does that look like for someone like me? A Punk Mexicano who never had the time to sit down and think about what I wanted for a future? Ortega helped me with that, he saw potential in me. From there birthed a destiny I always had in my blood.
I started buying vinyl records to keep my mind off of everything. I remember going into records stores all the time and hitting up various websites to quench my thirst for vinyl. I still remember the moments when I would get something cool: like when I got my A//Political Discography record; when I finally got Doom’s Police Bastard 7 inch; and also when I got a hold of a copy of Dystopia’s Human = Garbage LP. Those were fun moments while I was in community college hustling and bustling five classes a semester. I was first exposed to Zines through the Anarchist Punk scene when I happened upon Zine issues on sexual consent, a Punk band’s chronology, and a few other radical topics. While I was reading books like Sartre’s Between Existentialism and Marxism, Blackwell’s ¡Chicana Power!, and Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; I grew a strong interest in Zines. I got a hold of more Zines when I bought underground 7 inches or CDs like Gloss’s Self-Titled and Pat the Bunny’s The Volatile Utopian Real Estate Market. I also got my hands on more issues of Zines when friends would send them my way. My world expanded with this DIY network of Zine-making, publishing, and sharing. This was my beginning to Zines.
I was twenty years old and graduated with my AA degree in Liberal Studies. I was still anarchist, reading Marxism, poststructuralism, critical theory, and now more Chicano literature. I remember that summer after graduation, 2016, and I mostly did nothing. I took a break. I allowed myself to simmer in not only my small accomplishments and growth, but to reflect on everything. I was accepted to UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA. I was denied from UC Berkeley, my first choice: but I’d like to think that things happen for a reason. I hung out with my homies that summer, going to parties, Punk shows, and doing me. When I SIR’d to UCLA as my choice school, I was invited by MEChA de UCLA to attend their Transfer Raza Day. I was ecstatic mostly because I learned about MEChA in my Mexican American history course and the types of struggles they engaged in inside of academia and the community. I was motivated because it finally gave me a reason to attend university: I would finally be part of a political organization that also happened to be Chicano. I remember going to the Transfer Raza Day at UCLA and my most memorable memory was the guest speaker who was a Mexican American high school educator in Tucson, Arizona. It felt like familia that day, and I could not be more happy that I would be part of it once I got there. And it would take me a full two quarters to recover myself after I left MEChA de UCLA.
I attended the Academic Advancement Programs’ (AAP) Transfer Summer Program (TSP) at UCLA. It was an intensive five week summer program that would dictate the next year at UCLA. Long story short, it was not my best experience. Although I connected with the Mechistas at UCLA, my experiences with the TSP cohort were terrible. Reflecting now, it was a time of mistakes and a time of understandings. It was my first time since community college trying to make friends that would be more than temporary. It’s safe to say that I only talk to a few of those students I made friends with. My advice: trust nobody. That’s how bad it was. Of course, there would be two stories circulating around… I know, a bunch of chisme. It took a long time for me to get over the whole thing and I am glad to say how much it doesn’t bother me anymore. I came out of it clear visioned: I knew I had to be cautious about people and their intentions, their motivations, and their behavior. Aside from all that, I was brain-dead from the intensive work I had to balance. I learned how to write a bit better for academic contexts and I was introduced to research. More importantly, I was building a stronger conception of Chicanismo.
My lasting friend group consisted of the homies Ramon, Paula, and Maritza. It was in this friend group that discussions on Chicanismo were had, as well as the contentious topic of Indigeneity. It is also where I met my current partner, Maritza. Both of our journeys at UCLA were very difficult, sometimes impossible. It was these friends and their strong intellectual passions that helped me understand my own positionality in the world. Sometimes we never ask ourselves those questions, of who are we really. I started to say Xicano, with the X and not the CH anymore. Although I pondered the CH in Chicano, I wanted to identify more with our Indigenous heritage and not the european. Yet, it took some time for me to really understand that notion and to understand what Chicanismo really was too. It was during this time that gender and sexuality within our communities were discussing the topic of gender-neutral terms. So the X was also placed at the back (i.e. Chicanx). This for me would be a continuous conversation throughout UCLA. And as evident in how I have been writing these words such as “Chicano,” I use them in the ways that I did during my consciousness to them. So during TSP, I used “Chicanx/Xicanx” and I would continue to experience how these were fluid in their own journey through social media and academic spaces.
We, Ramon, Paula, Maritza, and I (calling ourselves the Radical Xicanx Clika), walked into our first official MEChA meeting. From there, well, the rest is history. There is so much that happened my first academic year that I am afraid to write it, to write it into existence and give it a name. This fear is because I have strong feelings about it, both negative and positive. From what memory serves me, that first Fall quarter was not that significant except for continuing to build good friendships. It was all premature at that time, but it was a sense of familia that I had and wanted to hold onto.
I remember sitting one late night at a table in one of the libraries at UCLA. It was with the Radical Xicanx Clika. I was attempting to put a Zine together called Huitzilopochtli with the help of these friends. We were disillusioned with MEChA and their strategies in the Fall. We felt as if there was no real political base to it. I don’t remember exactly what happened but we decided to keep pushing on in hopes that we could be the ones to make change. Eventually, with the encouragement of a compa named Gustavo, Maritza and I ran for the position of Chicana/o Studies Coordinator. We were voted in and sooner or later we were being introduced into all of what MEChA de UCLA was all about, i.e. its historical memory, the internal politics, and the pedo that would push us to other places. It was quite an interesting time to learn and observe. I wasn’t the best at doing what I did but I would take a lot out of it. I was learning more about myself and making new connections to people, places, and history.
Maritza and I started to meet with other Mechistas or any student interested in Chicana/o Studies. I haven’t mentioned it but I transfered into UCLA as a pre-Sociology major. Although I liked Sociology, my passions for Chicana/o Studies took reign over my interests. My switching majors was influenced by taking a class with Juan Gómez-Quiñonez and talking about Chicana/o Studies with other friends. So Maritza and I started a collective within MEChA to discuss those topics of Chicana/o Studies. After meeting a few times we named this collective El Colectivo Panche Be. It was Winter quarter and we had a small tight group.
El Colectivo Panche Be became a space that included more than Chicana/o Studies. “Panche Be” was a concept taken from a Maya maíz-epistemology that meant, “finding the root of the truth.” This collective was a space where we discussed Indigeneity, Indigenous consciousness, and unpacked the world we lived in. We looked to the MEChA papeles for guidance, to other Chicana/o Studies literature, and other decolonial texts to situate ourselves. We asked those questions of re-Indigenization; of asserting ourselves as Indigenous peoples who wanted to organize around decolonization struggles. We were reading the world in a new profound lens, learning our history and our contemporary moment. We wanted to understand ourselves in the US, not as colonized peoples, but as peoples with dignity and a complex, oversimplified history. I lead an organizing effort to put a Zine together from a Mechista perspective. I called it La Causa, in many ways to give recognition and historical memory to what our veteranxs in the Chicanx Movement called their struggles. The subtitle of that first volume was “El Espíritu de Nuestra Raza.” It was a cool moment to have a Zine in our space, circulating around Mechistas and reading what we all wrote in that small volume. It was a small run and would be discontinued after Fall 2017.
If anyone knows me they will know how much I disliked student government in high school. And if anyone knows what it takes to enter the university straight after high school, they probably were part of student government. This is a reality that many students take up. Being in MEChA often times felt like I was in student government. It was hard for me, but I got used to it. I was not used to reformist thinking. Nor did I agree with mobilizing without being an organized group or movement. To say you were in student government and were a revolutionary is a big contradiction. I feel as though many were in a process of shifting, unpacking, and transforming; while they were also in positions of leadership and assuming that their past experiences in organizing in student government were supposed to be the same. I am not generalizing here, I am being specific to my own experiences. Who knows, maybe you can relate. But this is one of the ways I have identified my frustrations with MEChA as an organizing body. It would be the transfers and radical students that pushed boundaries and who would be the marginalized, pushed out, and disillusioned. They were the one’s attempting to bring in radical politics where pretense and performance were being accepted.
In a lot of ways, I learned many new things in MEChA. I also made great friendships. And I was able to network, connect, and build something from it all. These were some of my beginnings in a path toward difficult times.
Part 2 is upcoming.
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
Indígena Scribes is our writing side-project parallel to our overarching podcast of Xicana Tiahui. Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and our zine periodical available for purchase. We hold it valuable to our hearts the written word in the spirit of the huehuetlahtolli, and we aspire to be intellectually on point as well as accessible to our gente from the barrio to the academy.