etymology of chicano

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Apr 28 13:34:35 UTC 2013

On Apr 28, 2013, at 8:14 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> My recollection from the '60s is that "chicano" - as it was reported on in
> the news - was once almost always in mildly derogatory contexts. I recall
> my surprise when I first heard it used neutrally (ca1970?).
> JL

Same here; I assumed the Chicano Studies programs that began sprouting up in the 1970s at California universities involved reclamation/reappropriation, as in the more or less contemporaneous (or later?) Queer Studies.

> On Sun, Apr 28, 2013 at 3:54 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: etymology of chicano
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> On Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 10:43 AM, Gregory McNamee <gm at
>>> wr=
>> ote:
>>> The explanation advanced down here in Arizona, where the word *chicano*
>>> probably originated and is first attested, is that it's a slangy
>> shorteni=
>> ng
>>> of *mexicano*, "Mexican." In some areas the *x* is pronounced "sh," which
>>> usually becomes "ch" in word-initial position. The pronunciation varies
>>> from "chicano" to "shicano," though, and I've seen it spelled *xicano*,
>>> which better reveals its etymology.
>>> That's the way I've heard it, anyway. OED agrees, with first attestation
>>> in 1947
>> That's the impression that I have from decades of listening to Latin DJ
>> Chico Sesma, when I lived in Los Angeles. Google:
>> *"Born* in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, in 1924, Lionel "*Chico"
>> Sesma*=
>> was
>> raised there by his Mexican-American father, _from Arizona_, and his
>> Mexican mother, from Sonora, Mexico."
>> He discussed the word _chicano_ on his show, which featured _la musica
>> afro-cubana_ as opposed to the music of Mexican America. He said that some
>> _angele=C3=B1os_ objected to his constant use of the word where _anglos_
>> co=
>> uld
>> hear it, considering it demeaning, because of its supposedly having
>> originated in Mexico as a mildly-contemptuous term for "Anglo-Mexicans," to
>> coin a term, from the United States.
>> This was ca. 1957 and I have no opinion as to the truth of Chico's origins
>> story, which, IMO, doesn't  contradict what Gregory says, in any case.
>> Clearly, nobody in California is disturbed by the use of the word nowadays,
>> as the name of the Department of _Chicano_/_Chicana_ Studies at my alma
>> mater, UC Davis, attests.
>> --=20
>> -Wilson
>> -----
>> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
>> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>> -Mark Twain
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
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> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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