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The term refers generally to Mexicans, or people of Mexican descent, living in the U.S., and who identify as American. The etymology of the word is not clear, but linguists point to it as a variation of "Mexica," pronounced "Meshica," the name pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico used to identify themselves. In the early part of the 20th century, "Chicano" was a derogatory name used by white people to racialize Mexican Americans, but with rise of the Chicano movement in the 1960s it was reappropriated by people of Mexican descent as a way to create a proud self-defined ethnic identity. Part of this identity included an awareness of territorial longevity, that many who had been denigrated as "outsiders" to the U.S. nation-state had actually been in the Southwest border region, also known as Aztlan, for centuries prior to European incursions, and that it was the international boundary between the U.S. and Mexico that had crossed over these groups, they had not crossed the border.

The Chicano movement, which was part of the greater Civil Rights movement beginning in the 1960s, was a social and political organization initiated by Mexican American communities of exploited farmworkers in Texas and California who came together to protest and demand basic labor rights. The movement expanded ideologically to encompass various social, economic, political, and cultural issues surrounding racial inequality, and developed a rich discourse celebrating the hybrid (Indigenous-Spanish) ethnic identity and culture of Mexican American immigrants and descendants of immigrants living in the U.S. Although the movement spread across the country and has major branches in many big cities, its bases remain particularly active and are still present in the U.S.-Mexico border regions of the Southwest, in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and especially California.

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"Chicanos/Chicanas at the San Jose, California May Day March, May 1, 2006" by z2amiller is licensed under CC BY-SA.

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