During the 1970s, Mexican Americans were involved in a large social movement called the “Chicano movement. ” Corresponding with the great development of the black civil rights movement, Mexican Americans began to take part in a series of different social protests in which they demanded equal rights for themselves. Composed mainly of Mexican American students and youth, these activists focused on maintaining a pride for their culture as well as their ethnicity to fuel their political campaign. Left out of this campaign initially though were Mexican immigrants.
As is made clear in the writings of David Gutierrez, since the beginning of large amounts of Mexican immigration, Mexican Americans have opposed supporting Mexican immigrants. In fact, Mexican Americans had predominantly been some of the main supporters of immigration reform and sanction. “Historically, much of this concern has been based upon Mexican Americans belief that Mexican immigrants undercut their already tenuous socioeconomic position in the United States by depressing wages, competing for employment, housing, and social services, and reinforcing negative stereotypes about “Mexicans” among Anglo-Americans” (Gutierrez, 177).
Mexican Americans felt as though this competition was holding them back from growth and development within American society, even though they were citizens. This negativity towards immigrants by Mexican Americans was also sparked by the fact that there were separations and differences between the two groups in “class stratification, regional attachments, and subtle differences in customs and language usage” (Gutierrez, 178). These ideas were strong and were held during some of the Chicano movement, but they were not held throughout it.
As the movement continued, many young Mexican Americans began to change their opinions, and “reassess the significance of the ethnic heritage for their own sense of identity (Gutierrez, 177). ” They adopted and promoted the new identity of “Chicano,” which “established strong symbolic ethnic boundaries for young Mexican Americans who explicitly and stridently rejected the notion of inherent Anglo-American superiority” (Gutierrez, 183). This new identity automatically gave everyone something in common which in turn made the group of activists stronger, and more identifiable as a whole.
There was also the Plan of Aztlan, where Aztlan (the area interpreted as “lost territories” that Mexico surrendered to the United States after the United States Mexico war ended in 1848) represented the symbolic territorial base of the Chicano people. The Plan of Aztlan did something for the Chicanos that contradicted their previous belief that they needed to get assimilated within the American society. If anything, Aztlan somewhat diminished and rejected any connection Chicanos had with American culture and society.
Along with the changes within the movement, another momentum increasing factor was the Cisneros case ruling that “Mexican Americans constituted an “identifiable minority group” and are entitled to “special federal assistance” (Gutierrez, 186). These reformations of ideas and opinions all lead to a smaller movement within the Chicano movement. Many of the activists were coming to the realization that Mexican immigration was becoming a major civil rights controversy; one they had, but really should not have, been ignoring.
Slowly, many Mexican Americans had begun to depart from the original image of Mexican immigrants as being threats to encompassing them into their movement. During the Chicano movement, numerous Chicano support groups were created. CASA (the Center for Autonomous Social Action), though, was extremely fundamental in the exploration of the “significance of the relationship between immigration, Chicano ethnicity, and the status of Mexican Americans in the United States” (Gutierrez, 187). CASAs main goal was to “unite immigrant workers with the rest of the working class in the United States who enjoy citizenship” (Gutierrez, 188).
CASA was the main organization during the Chicano movement to completely side with Mexican immigrant workers. Along with CASA were other major groups like MAPA (the Mexican American Political Association) and LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens). These groups also made startling departures from what was considered the traditional opinion of Mexican American civil rights groups on Mexican immigration, marking “a significant shift in Mexican-American opinion on the Mexican immigration controversy” (Gutierrez, 192).
By 1975, groups that did not see eye to eye on numerous other topics had almost all joined the united front on the immigration controversy and had come to a mutual understanding of the relationship between the immigration controversy and the battle for equal rights in the United States. Including a huge uproar against President Jimmy Carters immigration reforms, these groups have continued to support Mexican immigrants and fight for their civil rights as well as the rights of Mexican Americans.
Since the Chicano movement in the 1970s helped make the need for help for Mexican immigrants visible, numerous Mexican American civil rights groups have either switched their standing on Mexican immigration or have been founded with the idea that Mexican immigrants are deserving of their civil rights in the United States just as much as their legal citizen counterparts are. Sources like LULAC, MAPA, and CASA are still readily available to this day for Mexican immigrants, as well as hundreds of other groups and associations established with the idea of helping as much as possible.
LULAC still takes very supportive stands on all sorts of topics from delayed amnesty cases to guestworker legislation, to the militarization of the United States-Mexican border. There is also the Internet based group called the Latino Issues Forum, established in 1987, who focus on policy and research analysis in the following areas: Latinos & Sustainable Development (A Crisis in Equity, Participation, and Access), Health Access, Citizenship, Higher Education, and Telecommunications.
Another very interesting Internet based group called Micasa-Sucasa, is a communication center managed by regular citizens concerned with the devastating effect that immigration laws have on thousands of people. It has a place where people can either tell their own stories, or read about others stories or feelings about immigration constraints and laws. Visitors to this site not only have access to stories, but can also contact each other, their respective Congressional lawmakers, and also have links to on and offline books, articles, and reports about immigration legislation and its development.
The NCLR, or National Council for La Raza, has conducted immigration policy analysis and advocacy activities in what it feels is its role as a civil rights organization for numerous years. MALDEF, or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, is a national non profit organization whose mission is to protect and promote the civil rights of the millions of Latinos living in the United States, and has been doing so for over thirty years.
These are just a few of the hundreds of organizations that have been established over the years, many of which have been united in the idea of equal citizenship rights for Mexican immigrants as well as Mexican Americans since the first National Chicano / Latino Conference on Immigration and Public Policy in October of 1977. The conference was sparked by then President Jimmy Carters immigration reform legislation which imposed legal sanctions against habitual employers of illegal aliens, and extended legal amnesty to hundreds of thousands of undocumented aliens in the United States.
This somehow began to open the eyes and ears of Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, to the problems involved with Mexican immigrants and their treatment in the United States. Since the unification of these groups and their ideas by the late 1970s, there has been no turning back for these groups. The efforts of contemporary Chicanos and Latinos for the equal rights of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants have continued to grow stronger together, and have begun to encompass a broader range of issues.