View Full Version : Mexican-American Identity Terms Circa 1960

07-22-2016, 03:50 AM
Hey All, I'm wondering if anyone has any info on what terms members of a Mexican-American community in 1960 would use to describe their own background and/or ethnicity. The research I've done so far seems to indicate that Chicano/a, Hispanic, and Latino/a became more prevalent in the mid-to-late 1960s, but I couldn't find much on terms used before that. I'm looking for terms people would actually use to describe themselves, not ones that would be used by outsiders referring to them. This is a small town in Arizona primarily consisting of second- or third-generation American citizens, if that helps narrow it down. Thanks!

Siri Kirpal
07-22-2016, 06:48 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I was raised in San Diego from 1956 on. Chicano was in use by the mid-60s, but I didn't hear it before then. Ditto Latino (but that one might have been prevalent elsewhere. I had (still have) a close friend from 1963 on, who is second generation Mexican-American. He often simply referred to himself as Mexican. I believe Hispanic was around by then. That's the best my memory's coming up with.


Siri Kirpal

07-22-2016, 07:21 AM
I grew up in the 50s/early 60s in a part of America that was very what we call now Chicano. Back in the day people said Mexican when they wanted to be civil even if the person was a third generation American citizen--like the family that owned a local body shop. They were Mexican from Frank Senior (who was a veteran of WW1 and a citizen) all the way to Frankie, his grandson, my classmate.

We were Catholic. My mother was president of the Daughters of Isabella. Every month a different group of ladies would put on a fund raising dinner. One of the most successful was the dinner the Mexican Ladies put on every Dec. in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was the only time we had turkey and mole, ensalada noche Buena, arroz, etc. A delicious time was had by all and we spoke very highly of the wonderful Mexican Ladies although I am positive every one of them was a bona fide voting US citizen with sons in Vietnam! Many years later Mexican restaurants sprang up around town but back in the 50s Mexican food was a once a year treat because those items had not yet made it to the non-Chicano Kansan's table.

I used to eat fresh tortillas after school with my good friend Teresa, who was Mexican although her English was perfect. We were the smartest kids in class. always neck and neck. She eventually became a Math teacher. Her mom and aunt made the tortillas by hand, before they went to work. Her apartment was closer so we usually had our after school snack there. Her mom and Aunt were at work, in the hospital laundry across the street so Teresa got to cook. With actual fire on an actual stove! She would hold a couple of tortillas over the gas burner to warm them and then smear them with peanut butter and Karo syrup, roll them into flautas and serve them up. At ten I wasn't allowed near a stove so this was very impressive to me. Later she became a principal. I've always thought that I could have become a principal too, if my mother had trusted me around a stove!

I didn't know what to call the tortilla treats--they were a new and novel food. Avocados, frijoles refritos, quesadillas, all were unknown back then to us--strange, exotic, Mexican. I've always loved the language--prettier, funnier than Spain Spanish, the music, the food.

(Hell, we didn't taste spaghetti until I was in 9th grade and then only because we were stranded in Colorado Springs without a car and only Chinese and Eyetalian restaurants within walking distance. Every one knew that Chinese Food would kill you so we had to go with Eye-talian but mom ordered it without sauce for us, because she heard that the sauce was indigestible. We ate it naked!--just steaming piles of pasta swimming in butter, cheese and oregano--like THAT wouldn't kill you!)

If people did not want to be civil there were other names for people of Mexican heritage but they were not an option for my sibs and me. Mom was pretty handy with a bar of Ivory Soap and did not mind feeding it to us, no matter how much we screamed and gagged. She figured something as clean as soap must be harmless although Moo Goo Gai Pan would kill you. --s6

Deb Kinnard
07-22-2016, 08:57 PM
I grew up in Chicago in the 50s and 60s, and we called everybody Mexicans because that was how they referred to each other. I'm sure some of my schoolmates weren't from Mexico, were from Puerto Rico and other parts, but it was easier that way because it was their own term. Many of their families went back to Mexico frequently, so my classmates would disappear from school for a few months and then reappear later. I don't remember anyone in my area using Chicano until the very late 60s, and I never heard Latino until I got to college.

Siri Kirpal
07-22-2016, 09:42 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

To add on to shakey's description of the food: We had some Mexican neighbors, and the missus always brought over tamales for us at Christmas. We always gave them Scotch shortbread.

(Side note: I wasn't raised with a horror of Chinese or Italian foods the way shakey was. We were eating pizza before it became American fast food, and I had a Chinese best friend whose mother taught my mother how to cook REAL Chinese food.)


Siri Kirpal