I’d like to start off by saying that I self-identify as Chicano. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word Chicano, it is a term that was widely adopted in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement and is used by people who are of Mexican descent living in the United States. There is no other term of self-identity that I feel more comfortable using. With that being said, I fully support the somewhat recent use of the word Chicanx to include non-binary people. I also support people who decide to use the terms Chicana or Chicano if they choose to identify with either the masculine or feminine versions of the word.
What I do not support are the terms “Xicana,” “Xicano” and “Xicanx”. I do not support the trending use of these new terms because I believe that it is disingenuous to the cause that it represents. When I come across someone who identifies with either of these three terms, the usual explanation is that they use it because they believe it’s their way of paying homage to their indigenous roots by using the letter X, which is a letter commonly found in the Nahuatl language. But I’d like to pose a serious question; how does replacing the Ch with an X show respect or pay homage to indigenous roots?
Let’s break this down.
The Mexica were a Nahuatl-speaking group of indigenous people who traveled from their unspecified homeland of Aztlán in what is believed to be somewhere in northwestern Mexico or the southwestern United States. They settled in a swampy lake which would come to be known as Tenochtítlan (present day Mexico City) after witnessing the prophecy of an eagle perched atop a nopal cactus with a snake in its beak.
Nahuatl is an indigenous language, which included numerous different dialects, spoken by the Mexica and many other indigenous groups in Mexico and Central America. The Nahuatl language was very widespread. It was spoken and written by many people in Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Now, when I say written, it’s very important to understand how this language was written prior to Spanish arrival. Nahuatl was not a written language in the present day sense that they used letters to represent phonemes to sound out words, no. The Nahuatl language was represented visually by the use of pictographs. A pictograph is a pictorial symbol (an illustration) used to represent a word or phrase. Nahuatl’s pre-Columbian pictorially written language was complex, beautiful, artistic, and ingenious.
After the arrival of the Spanish and the subsequent downfall of the Mexica empire in 1521, the Spanish began transcribing the Nahuatl language using Roman letters. In the decades that followed, indigenous people still used pictographs in addition to the Roman alphabet being imposed on them by their Spanish colonizers. It was a short-lived conflict as the Spanish language eventually became the dominant language of Mexico. When Spanish colonizers attempted to transcribe Nahuatl, they had to find a way to make sense of phonemes (sounds) that were not found in their own language. This included the “sh” sound. For those of you who are Spanish speakers, you know that there is no “sh” sound in the Spanish language.
Because of this, colonizers needed to use a letter to represent this sound. So the Spanish decided to use the letter X to represent this foreign sound that they could not pronounce.
Now, let’s get back to the terms “Xicana”, “Xicano” and “Xicanx”. How many people using these new terms have actually studied Nahuatl or know indigenous people who have a grasp on the Nahuatl language? The fact that Nahuatl is no longer the language spoken by the majority in Mexico and the fact that Nahuatl is only taught in an academic setting at a handful of institutions in the U.S., my guess is not many.
Even for the people who do happen to know someone who speaks Nahuatl, they would know that the letter X in Spanish-transcribed Nahuatl is not used to represent the “ch” sound, it’s used for the “sh” sound. So unless people are pronouncing these words as “Shee-can-a,”, “Shee-can-o” and “Shee-can-ex” (which they aren’t), the alterations of these words make no sense. I see no connection to indigenous roots by using these variations of the words Chicana, Chicano, and Chicanx. If there is any connection by using the X in place of the Ch, it would be a connection to European colonizers.
I have noticed that these new terms have been used more and more recently. I’m unsure how many of the people using these terms know about the indigenous history of Mexico. We now have famous social media accounts using these words, which adds to their popularity. This only exacerbates the problem and encourages more people to use the terms. I’m only one person and I’m sure there are thousands of people out there using “Xicana”, “Xicano”, and “Xicanx” to self-identify. They are using these terms with a good heart. I get it—it’s important to recognize our indigenous roots. But we must do this in a way that truly highlights indigenous culture, not arbitrarily using a term you saw someone else use. Using a letter from a European language that was forced upon people during colonization in order to pay homage to an indigenous culture just seems counterintuitive to me, but hey, who am I to tell you how to identify?
Dominick Ortiz obtained his B.A. in Chicana & Chicano Studies and Urban Studies and Planning from California State University, Northridge.
The best Nahua (Aztec) word is auacatl meaning avocado which translates to alligator testicle.
amazing post. I bump into this… “a proud queer Xicanx-Boricua from Oklahoma and Tejas” and as a Mexican I have never seen “xicanx” before, i was confused, but i figured, it must be some random new term. In my opinion, a term used to look “cool”. i guess i can say “me lleva la Xingadx con esta gente.
This is what anal looks like. Xicano!
Like many, I self-identify as Xicano but actually had the privilege of studying Nahuatl. As you mentioned in Nahuatl X is pronounced “shee” and that is how I pronounce Xicano. I’m not the only one, many of the folx I learned Nahuatl with do the same. If the use of the colonizer’s alphabet is why people should stop using
Xicano, Xicana, and Xicanx then the same logic should apply to Chicano, Chicana, and Chicanx. Maybe As a movement we need to focus on pronunciation instead of spelling….
the X in Xicano has been used since the 70’s and 80’s it’s not a new term at all! you’ll see it in old posters they knew exactly what they were doing . NOT LATINO NOT HISPANIC ! WE ARE INDIGENOUS!
Politics of distraction- relatives, be mindful to no drown in nuances, respect each others differences and celebrate our greater similarities. I ask, who wins when we nit pick on these nuances? How does this support our collective liberation and how does this support our movement in ending the violence our peoples and lands are experiencing?
Very well said. Respectfully celebrating the change or shifts. But overall focusing on the movement.
While it’s true Classical Nahuatl is only alive in academia, there are currently 2 million ppl who speak modern Nahuatl, most of whom are indigenous Americans, many of whom are part of communities that have been speaking Nahuatl since before the Spanish holocaust in 1521. I’ve read on Native sites that Nahuatl is still the lingua franca for indigenous ppls thruout the western Americas.
I agree with yr pt that letter-based Nahuatl is a colonial construct created by Spanish Friars, & thoroughly christianized young indigenous boys descended from the Nahua nobility of the former Triple Alliance nation, who had been educated in Catholic seminaries.
But you’re incorrect about Nahuatl being a dead language, like Euro languages it has evolved – Classical Nahuatl is akin to Old English – but it is still spoken by millions of ppl today
So they used the letter “X” to represent the Nahuatl language’s sound of “Sh”. So with their Spaniard letter, the Spaniards adopted the Nahuatl language’s EXCLUSIVE SOUND to theirs… isn’t this representative of the Indigenous people in some form when one nowadays chooses to spell “Chicano” as “Xicano”?
Whatever. Just don’t call me latin or Hispanic anything. I survived the 70’s and the rampart division to be called latinx?
I agree with Kit many native communities still use the nahuatl Language also know as “hablar el mexicano”.
In additon when you say Maya Inca Mexica Zapoteca …and many other Indigenous peoples tribes names their identity where and are not tided to gender related. From what it was explained to me by OGs of yhe movement the use of the term Xicana original attempt to challenge the machismo in the old Chicano movement.
And if we are going to give birth to a new Nation it will be a Xicana woman who does ….
The current use of Xicanx comes from the queer community to also chalenge our gender norms
Shouldn’t that be pronounced “shee-can-esh”, if x = ‘sh’ sound?
Hmm interesting post. I think it’s good to be aware that the “ch” sound is something that came from European colonizers, but I think it equally pays homage to our indigenous roots. Using X is better than using Ch if that is the goal, especially if pronouned “Sh”.
The terms “xicana”, “xicano”, and “xicanx” we’re not created to reject colonialism and embrace our indigenous roots.
Rather, they were created when chicana feminists had reformed the conversation and erased the original machista nature of the chicano movement.
In addition, adding the x serves as a way to become more inclusive of people who are non-binary or do not fit the basic binary.
Actually, Medieval Spanish DID have the ‘sh’ sound, and it was represented with the letter X (as it is in other iberian languages like basque, catalan and portuguese). Likewise the letter J actually was pronouced as a ‘zh’ just like it is in french and portuguese. Over time the two sounds merged and came to be pronounced with the sound they use today. we know these sounds existed in Medieval Spanish because they still exist in the Judaeo-Spanish/Ladino language used by Sefardi Jews.
So it not quite the case that the Spaniards used a random letter for a sound they could not pronounce, but in fact they used a letter to represent a sound that was subsequently lost in Spanish (but retained in Nahuatl). This is also the reason why México and Texas ended up being re-spelled ‘Méjico’ and ‘Tejas’ (mostly confined to Spain, however), because the sounds previously distinguished by X and J had merged; but eventually the original spellings of México and Texas won over the respelled variants.
Your logic seems somewhat misinformed at times. I realize you are talking more about your personal preference than any hard facts but that can be misleading when it’s framed as if you are an authority on the subject. One of the things I have issue with is your reference to Aztlán as the homeland of the Mexica/Aztec people. Aztlán is a fictitious place referred to in folkloric legends. The actual homeland of the indigenous groups of hunter gatherer tribes in the region which came to be called Mexico in 1821 was known as Anáhuac.
[Anáhuac, historical and cultural region of Mexico. The heartland of Aztec Mexico, Anáhuac (Nahuatl: “Land on the Edge of the Water”) designated that part of New Spain that became independent Mexico in 1821.]
Arguing over the spelling of a language that was forced upon native peoples is like African Americans defending the slave master’s Christian religion which was used to justify the violence and enslavement of said people instead of embracing their native religious practices.
Terms like “Chicano/Xicano” and “Aztlán” are trappings of a quasi-revolutionary political movement that was spawned during the American civil rights era (mainly in California and New Mexico). It’s entwined with Mexican American’s hybridized form of unique personal identity that represents varying degrees of Mexican-ness and American-ness but never 100% of either. The idea of, “too Mexican to be American and too American to be Mexican” comes to mind. Although the hardcore Chicanos would vehemently disagree. They love identifying with Mexico but they really are the red-headed step children of their ancestors tierra natál.
It is also misleading to imply that the Aztec were the only indigenous tribe of people in the area and that they spoke one clearly defined language (Nahuatl). The region known as Mexico was rife with thousands of small unique hunter gatherer tribal societies with their own dialects and unique customs and practices. Nearly all of these were exterminated by the Spanish, the proprietors of the language about which you wrote your article. The Aztec themselves were comprised of at least 7 different tribes. This vision of a single Aztec warrior nation/culture is a common Chicano misconception that has continued on especially within Chicano gang culture. It has almost as much to do with actual history as Mel Gibson’s cinematic depiction of the Maya.
If you truly want to encourage Chicanos to embrace more of their indigenous heritage then educate them about all of the parts of their culture that stems from their oppressors and help them identify and celebrate those which are truly native to the pre-colonial time period. That would be time well spent.
U mean Xican@’s had the nerve to “appropriate” something too?
As a Mexican myself that came to the US, I was always confused with the Chicano movement. the word Xicano confuse me since in Mexico, using the word X as CH just sounded weird.
As I read this post I kind of found myself agreeing but as I read through the comments, I had a very neutral stance on the matter.
Like I say I was always so confused because to me, “El Pueblo”, Mexican communities are forged by our blood, tradition, culture, and family. Is there a need to differentiate yourselves from your family and yourself? I always wonder why not called themselves Mexicans. Is being Mexican not good enough? We are all from the same cloth after all. The undocumented, the residents, the citizens. It does not matter what your national status is, Mexico is Mexico. Your community will still be your community.
Is what I use to thought.
With more years passing by, I started thinking is the Xicano instead of Chicano, or Chicano instead of Mexican…in the end, is it so bad?
I was born in Mexico and migrated to the US. Very typical story from our land. But in the Chicano/a, even though Mexican, they still have to suffer between two sides. Your blood is a dye with people who were born on the belly bottom of the moon, but you were born on the land of stars.
It must be difficult to be in two societies telling you to choose when maybe you want to choose both. I came to respect the Chicano movement a bit (since well as a stubborn Mexican, I still think of them as Mexicans and nothing else). That is how they view themselves, and that is how they try to claim respect from US and Mexico.
Words change over time as it fits the community of people where they live in. Xicana feels weird, but it’s a form of a symbol that they take pride in. For me, it’s more natural to call them Mexicanos/as, but I was not born in the US, and I was not in their shoes. This feels like a dual game called Fire Emblem Fates where there are three routes. Conquest is the family where you are currently living in, and Fates is where your birth family is from. Revelations are where you somehow try to make both works. Taking an identity that you can respect, takes a lot of effort, and in turn, it would be rude to make it look like it’s made up.
If the word Xicano is a coin since the 70s and the youth are reclaiming it again, then what are we old geezers to stop them on how they identify themselves?
Reclaiming your indigenous roots is a great thing, I do not see how you do it by changing a letter though. I feel like actions speak louder than words, by trying to learn their language, traditions, and their current cultures. Maya and Nahuatl may be the current top indigenous languages but there are still so many other indigenous languages in Mexico! They may not reach 1 million speakers but that does not make them any less valuable. I think paying homage is respecting with actions and understanding your culture and the people who continue our indigenous culture. For me just changing one word and doing anything else about it, it does not make it very respectful.
But like I say, I have my opinion, but in the end, I have my story and you have yours. If Chicago, Xicana, and xicanx, make you feel part of the community and help el Pueblo, then be more than welcome (Not like my opposition will stop your identity in any way).
As Mexican, we have pride in our blood, our land, and our culture. But in the end, we are all humans, we all had the same beginning, and we travel around the globe from societies, and make labels for our identities. Chicano people are doing the same thing as we have been doing for thousands of years.
But I would like to say some things. I say all that but in the end, as a Mexican, I would like to say, WE ARE INDIGENAS, and that can not be denied. Indigenous languages are not DEAD! I love the Aztecs but it’s not the only culture in Mexico! There are Mayas, Huichol, Zapotecas, and Tarahumaras! All these cultures are still practicing the culture!!!! People put too much focus on the Aztec empire, I get it but why do Chicanos focus so much on Aztecs? Why Aztlan? A lot of them, especially in states like California and NM come from the northern states of Mexico. One very famous culture in the north of Mexico, especially in Chihuahua is Taramahura. Why did so many focus on the empire that was on the central states? Yes, people move and reallocated, and has been over 500 years but, why focus so much on the central estates when there are so many others in the North? And if we focus on an empire as big as the Aztecs, why do they not say about the Maya?
There was a comment that mentioned that highlighted the Aztecs and the rest as hunted and gatherers. Even if a true lot of them were (and nothing wrong with that), I do not think is fair to just call all of them hunted gatherers just because their culture was not like Aztecs or the Maya.
Anyway, if I have offended anybody, I am sorry for my rudeness. I hope this comment was not that intolerant, especially to the Xicano/a.
Y pues….VIVA MEXICO CABRONES!!!!!!!!!!!!