The Chicana/o movement reflected a broad and deep range of activities, most of which proved seminal to the debates, issues, and forms of later years. By the late 1970s, activists and goals diffused, and priorities and means were transformed. The intensity of the movement's momentum diminished somewhat, and activism too often became a consciously delimited activity for individuals. Mexican-American political players were no longer easily identifiable as stemming from two or three sectors within the community, nor did they share the same ethnic fervor or radical perspective as the militant Chicanas/os who had first created the context and opportunity for empowerment. Rather, spokespersons and leaders, women and men, became a complex amalgam of backgrounds, interests, ways, and goals. A growing number of professional politicians surfaced from a variety of Mexican communities, each of them espousing the concerns of a unique political constituency, and were increasingly acknowledged or tolerated as public "leadership." Many young Mexicans had explored the forbearance of the establishment and, in every way accessible, pursued what the system offered and accepted pragmatic ways of achieving reformist results. Almost bereft of resources, activists transmuted their energy into assets for their community. In that turnabout, young Chicanas/os motivated a large percentage of their community leaders to exhibit a stronger public image. In effect, they demanded that society at large receive a new message about what it meant to be of Mexican descent. They also generated support for educational, political, and economic advancements.
Public officials began addressing issues of concern to Mexican-Americans in a more considerate manner. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Chicana/o movement forced certain concessions from the Anglo institutional mainstream, and some of these concessions—voting and representational rights, partial bilingual education, meagerly funded Chicano studies programs and unenthusiastic affirmative-action employment practices—created a setting from which a viable Mexican middle class could expand to local prominence. The 1960s and 1970s activists also laid the groundwork for a series of economic advancements, so that by the 1980s a Mexican middle class had indeed effectively consolidated within the community. The short-term occupational gains of the 1970s were perhaps magnified by the economic setbacks of the 1980s and the consequences of 1990s globalism. Mexican-Americans suffered the effects of drastic federal policy changes lessening government support for affirmative action and civil rights affirmations. But as with other U.S. constituencies, some Mexican-American analysts in the late 1980s totaled the score card. The score was short but the game was still on.
In retrospect, the late twentieth century looms as a time of cultural revitalization within the community. This was evident in the energies directed toward education, unions, the arts, the media, and religious institutions, as well as in a period of increased efforts at social integration. In a whip of that cultural whirlwind, the Chicana/o community remains tempered by a uniquely Mexican-American concern for both cultural continuity and political affirmation while testing how pluralistic the allegedly diverse system is. In the 1990s, dominant social elites put forth two overarching responses: promulgate the belief that civil rights gains had consolidated, and propagandize the notion that Mexican aliens subverted the society by their presence. In this context, the master narrative of the Chicana/o movement is still being elaborated.
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Irene Vasquez Morris
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