The term Chicano was originally used as a derogatory label for the sons and daughters of Mexican migrants. This new generation of Mexican-Americans where singled out by people on both sides of the border; they were not "American," yet they were not "Mexican," either. In the 1960’s, it was accepted as a symbol of self-determination and ethnic pride.
The Chicano Movement also addressed discrimination in public and private institutions. Early in the twentieth century, Mexican Americans formed organizations to protect themselves from discrimination. One of those organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, was formed in 1929 and remains active today.
Chicano Movement has been fomenting since the end of the U.S.- Mexican War in 1848, when the current U.S-Mexican border took form and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans became U.S. citizens overnight. Since that time, countless Chicanos and Chicanas have confronted discrimination, racism and exploitation. The Chicano Movement that culminated in the early 1970s took inspiration from heroes and heroines from their indigenous, Mexican and American past.
The movement gained momentum after World War II when groups such as the American G.I. Forum (AGIF), which was formed by returning Mexican American veterans, joined in the efforts by other civil rights organizations. The AGIF first received national exposure when it took on the cause of Felix Longoria, a Mexican American serviceman who was denied funeral services in his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas after being killed during WWII.
Mexican American civil rights activists also achieved several major legal victories including the 1947 Mendez v. Westminster Supreme Court ruling which declared that segregating children of "Mexican and Latin descent" was unconstitutional and the 1954 Hernandez v. Texas ruling which declared that Mexican Americans and other racial groups in the United States were entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
There were several leaders throughout the Chicano Movement. In New Mexico there was Reis López Tijerina who worked on the land grant movement. He fought to regain control of ancestral lands. He became involved in civil rights causes within six years and also became a cosponsor of the Poor People's March on Washington in 1967. In Texas, war veteran Dr. Hector P. Garcia founded the American GI Forum and was later appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In Denver, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez helped define the meaning of being a Chicano through his poem I am Joaquin. In California, César Chávez and the farm workers turned to the struggle of urban youth, and created political awareness and participated in La Raza Unida Party.
The most prominent civil rights organization in the Mexican-American community is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), founded in 1968. Although modeled after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF has also taken on many of the functions of other organizations, including political advocacy and training of local leaders.
Some women who worked within the Chicano movement felt that participants were more concerned with other social issues affecting the Chicano community rather than addressing problems that affected Chicana women specifically. This led Chicana women to form the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. In 1975, it became involved in the case Madrigal vs. Quilligan, obtaining a moratorium on the compulsory sterilization of women and adoption of bilingual consent forms. These steps were necessary because many Hispanic women who did not understand English well were being sterilized in the United States at the time, without proper consent.
A major element of the Movement was the burgeoning of Chicano art fueled by heightened political activism and energized cultural pride. Chicano visual art, music, literature, dance, theater and other forms of expression have flourished. During the 20th century, an emergence of Chicano expression developed into a full-scale Chicano Art Movement. Chicanos developed a wealth of cultural expression through such media as painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking. Similarly, novels, poetry, short stories, essays and plays have flowed from the pens of contemporary Chicano writers. Chicano, Mexican-American, and Hispanic cultural centers, theaters, film festivals, museums, galleries and numerous other arts and cultural organizations have also grown in number and impact since this time. The Chicano Art Movement also opened a gate women for Chicanas who felt oppressed by Chicano men, or the Chicano Movement in general.
In 1949 and 1950, the American G.I. Forum initiated local “pay your poll tax” drives to register Mexican American voters. Although they were unable to repeal the poll tax, their efforts did bring in new Hispanic voters who would begin to elect Latino representatives to the Texas House of Representatives and to Congress during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In California, a similar phenomenon took place. When World War II veteran Edward R. Roybal ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, community activists established the Community Service Organization (CSO). The CSO was effective in registering 15,000 new voters in Latino neighborhoods. With this newfound support, Roybal was able to win the 1949 election race against the incumbent councilman and become the first Mexican American since 1886 to win a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
The Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), founded in Fresno, California came into being in 1959 and drew up a plan for direct electoral politics. MAPA soon became the primary political voice for the Mexican-American community of California.
In the late 1960s, when the student movement was active around the globe, the Chicano movement brought about organized actions, such as the mass walkouts by high school students in Denver and East Los Angeles in 1968 and the Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles in 1970. There were also many incidents of walkouts outside of Los Angeles County. Both Covina, El Monte and Alhambra, California at a high school named Northview (Covina), while El Monte and Alhambra students marched to fight for the rights of their people. Similar walkouts took place in 1978 in Houston high schools to protest a lack of academic quality for Chicano and Latino students.
Chicano student groups such as United Mexican American Students (UMAS), Mexican American Youth Association (MAYA) in California, and the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) in Texas, developed in universities and colleges in the mid 1960’s. At the historic meeting at the University of California, Santa Barbara in April 1969, the diverse student organizations came together under the new name Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). Student groups such as these were initially concerned with education issues, but their activities evolved to participation in political campaigns and to various forms of protest against broader issues such as police brutality and the U.S. war in Southeast Asia. The Brown Berets, a youth group which began in California, took on a more militant and nationalistic ideology.