Second Generation Chicano Assimilation and Race Politics: Creating a United Front Against Euro-White Americans Through Musical Culture
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Historically the Chicano movement focused largely on how young second generation Mexican descent people shed their Mexican American identity and embraced their Chicano identity; a period of change marked by favoring Mexican roots and ancestry, rejection of whiteness, and a refusal to assimilate. Driven by many factors including community empowerment, recognition of heritage and their homeland, and a desire for better education, young Chicanos formed a unique brand of cultural nationalism where Chicanismo shaped their politics. And while this assumption that the Chicano groups emphasized their ethnic solidarity, their participation in rock and roll, soul, latin, punk, and other genres and music indicate a cultural assimilation with other struggling communities in a group effort to staunchly reject Euro American culture (Becoming Mexican America, 7-8).

The Chicano groups cultural practices were definitely motivated by their personal desires, and their inter-ethnic cultural borrowing unconsciously was a collective statement against the racist, segregated, and white supremacist society. For many Chicano youths who liked to spend their nights dressed up and dancing to the music of famous artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and other jazz kings by Los Angeles Central Avenue or in Harlem, their zoot style personas went far beyond individual practice. By publicly performing the exaggerated style of the zoot with one another in dancehalls, movie theaters, malt shops, pool halls, and on street corners, non-white youth showed that another social world was possible. During these moments they successfully suspended segregation, claimed their bodies as their own, and destroyed old time notions that confined young women to cultural norms and challenged altogether political affairs (Ramirez, Crimes of Fashion, 8-10).

There was a demographic explosion in the 1930s and 1940s of Mexican, Filipino, Japanese, and African American communities in metropolitan areas as a result of the wartime economic boom and related Great Migration; immigration from Asia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, and the growth of first-generation Americans. The subsequent by-product was close-knit relations among diverse populations in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Sharing residential areas, frequenting the same night spots, and, in some places, attending integrated high schools led to numerous contacts among urbanites of color. Although geographic proximity did not always lead to social interaction, many young people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds commonly socialized, shared fashion, and created musical styles together. One result was that young Chicanos, as well as their Asian American and African American counterparts, constructed identities that were relational or, in other words, at least partially based upon their interactions with other racial youth and constitutive of their multi-faceted cultural world.

Fighting against propaganda for cultural homogeneity, violence, and discrimination, many wartime youths challenged negative representations of themselves and cultivated an alternative multi-ethnic vision of American identity. Among the most available strategies for thousands of young Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans, as well as many white youth, to reclaim dignity was to mobilize their physical bodies as the vehicle for a style that was all their own (Lipsitz, Time Passages). One primary example as mentioned previously was the zoot suit, with its finger-tip length coats, draped pants that ballooned out at the knees and were closely tapered at the ankle, and accessories of wide-brimmed hat and gold watch chain. The zoot style was particularly popular among young Mexican American males on the west coast and young African American males on the east coast. The improvisational and exaggerated qualities of the zoot subverted the heroic American masculinity of patriotic sailors, who in their all-white, tight-fitting, starched uniforms were starkly juxtaposed to the colorful and oversized zoot. Young women zoot suitors similarly challenged popular notions of femininity and female masculinity stemming from images of “Rosie the Riveter,” who with her heavy-duty work clothes and commitment to war industry employment clashed with women zooters short skirts, heavy make-up, and freewheeling attitude. Moreover, by dancing, dating, and, occasionally, building long-lasting relationships across ethnic lines, many zoot suitors flat out ignored the unspoken mandate of the period that they behave conservatively and not engage in “race mixing” (The Rise of a Second Generation, 268).

The music that was such an integral part of zoot subculture also exhibited an inter-ethnic politics, as Mexican American, Asian American, and African American musicians often influenced one another and performed together. In the 1940s and 1950s, for example, Cuban composers and musicians influenced jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie, mambo and jazz merged in California to form “Hollywood Latin,” and Ritchie Valens blended Mexican folk music with rock n roll (Macias, Rock con Raza). Similarly, the so-called Pachuca artists like Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero made the black tradition of scat singing their own by doing it in Spanglish, only to have black rhythm and blues artists like Chuck Higgins return the favor with songs like “Pachuko Hop.” There was also the Japanese American drummer Hideo Kawano who gigged at the Club Alabama in the heart of L.A.s African American neighborhood on Central Avenue that was extremely popular among Latino, Filipino, and Japanese American youth. He also played with Mexican American groups and sat in on sets with musician and producer Johnny Otis, who even though he was the son of Greek immigrant considered himself “black by persuasion”.

In response to violent racial acts Chicano youth cultural expressions continued to function as inter-ethnic cultural operation to reclaim their dignity and assert their confidence. Perhaps the most recognizable youth cultural phenomenon over the last 30 years is hip hop, including rapping, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Following its emergence among African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Puerto Rican youth in the South Bronx in the 1970s, an urban area often depicted as the poster child of 1970s post industrialism, hip hop rapidly spread across the country, as evident in the myriad of rap genres like West Coast gangsta rap, Chicano rap, and rap from the “Dirty South.” More recently, of course, hip hop scenes have grown across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Chicano hip hoppers, specifically, including Kid Frost, Cypress Hill (which also included Cuban and Italian American members), Lil Rob, Aztlan Underground, A Lighter Shade of Brown, The Funky Aztecs, and countless others, turned to

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Euro-White Americans And Second Generation Chicano Assimilation. (April 17, 2021). Retrieved from