I saw a home-made sticker on the back windshield of a car today. It said, Chicano Por Vida. Chicano For Life.
Well, yah, I thought, unless you use skin bleach or dye your hair blond and use blue contact lenses, you pretty much stay the way you were born for your entire life, qué no?
Pues, no. Not always. There are ways to lose your chicanismo. You could end up somewhere in Colorado where people pronounce the names of the towns like Buena Vista as Booney Vista, or Salida as Sa-LYE-da (Spanish pronunciation has the i sounding like a long e).
My sister who lives in Denver once told me she met a guy who introduced himself as So-and-so Mon-DRAgon — first syllable Rasta-style and the last part pronounced ala the fire-breathing variety. (In Spanish, emphasis is on the GON.)
I bet the Chicano Por Vida guy would never mispronounce his name. He probably doesn’t try to erase his accent so he sounds more like a news anchor than a vato from the barrio. I like that he’s made this proclamation. Chicano Por Vida, hombre. Embrace it. Love it.
I used to be ashamed of it. My parents moved us to a mostly white middle-class suburb/enclave inside a mostly working-class Chicano part of town. The kids in my neighborhood called our school Vato High — its real name was Valley High — and they called the Chicanos spics. I told my friends I was Italian. It took me until college before I reclaimed my brown self.
I can already tell my girls are trying to figure out what to think about their ethnicity. When Dee was five she came home from school wondering why her skin wasn’t pink. And this year when Em made a doll representing her heritage, she picked Jim’s Swedish roots instead of mine.
I just keep andando. We don’t speak Spanish at home, although I do make sure we roll the r’s in our burritos. And Em is in an afterschool Spanish class and picking up the language pretty well. I feed them the food I grew up on, and mostly I remind them that brown is beautiful.
Ya veremos. I figure if I live as Chicana Por Vida, they might choose to do the same.