The United States: a melting pot for those wishing to leave their native land behind in order to discover new opportunities, new careers, and new lives to lead. The mixture of people from so many nations has created communities where Somali refugees live side by side with those immigrated from Brazil, from Nepal, from Russia, etc.. Any number of people from any place in the world may find home here. The descendants of one such group of people exist within the United States in a culture of their own. Often they are observed and stamped with stereotypes by those existing in other social classes as miscreants. However, the Chicano culture and language existing within the United States contains rich history from those who needed a fresh start in life and created one for which they hold much pride.
Unlike other languages that have developed over time, Chicano English was not characterized by the assimilation from one language (Spanish) to another (English) that seized one’s lifestyle as a whole. Rather, it was the development of bilingualism among the children of Mexican migrants who were born within the United States. The largest majorities of these peoples may be found in five states along the Southwestern region of the United States, namely California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 2). The correlation between hispanic populations and the use of Chicano English is more prominent along the U.S. and Mexico border due to the constant interaction between the two cultures. Though Chicano English is ever changing and developing from what it used to be in these regions, its unique history still plays a significant role in its usage today.
Its earliest history may be found when observing the Spaniard conquistadors which came to inhabit and rule over the native people groups existing in regions around the Southern United States and Mexico, introducing Spanish as the forced language to those preexisting there. As more came to explore the United States, the Spanish speaking peoples came into contact with those who spoke English and visa versa, as “…English speakers learned Spanish because they desired access to natural resources…” (Fredric 120). As time wore on and more English speakers began to spread throughout the developing nation, linguistic pride began to have its effect on those living close to the border of Mexico. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War and subsequent American victory, the number of Anglos living in the area rose drastically in order to drive out the Spanish language existing there and replace it with English. Because of that moment in time, Chicano English began to emerge as a form of bilingualism and the inward Spanish roots were seen as a source of pride in their resiliency.
Today, the Chicano language is developed by those who are Native English speakers but who are in consistent communication with Mexican Spanish. As these individuals grow they retain information around the formation of the languages individually and bring them together to create Chicano English. The language they developed is deemed to be improper at times due to its origin and word usage. The use of codeswitching (alternating between two or more languages while speaking) and changes in intonation within this English dialect make the language seem unintelligible to American English speakers. The Spanish it is paired with also impacts its perception. Chicano English, especially around the border of the United States is based on rural Mexican Spanish (Penfield 9) which is less associated with proper speech because of its intonation and different vocabulary. Since this ” variation of spanish is non-standard,” (40) it influences how the dialect is accepted.
Tracking etymology can be a bit difficult for the Chicano-English culture, as many of the words do not belong to certain form of spelling. In fact, it is one classified as a “speech community,” one in which the language is coined mostly in verbal form rather than written. “The concept of speech community is often debated, partly because it shifts the focus away from linguistic features onto social and cultural traits” (Fredric 110). In the case of Chicano English, social and cultural traits are extremely important, as many of the words listed in the dictionary and those used in the Chicano language focus on objects, people, and concepts that deal especially with their own cultural values. However, some words may be traced in their encounters with other cultures through time. For instance, the names given to the Chicano people group can be traced through the ages to its original form: “Calo.” The progression runs as follows:
Calo? Pachuco Calo? Cholo? Cholito
“Calo” was a term which originated from Spaniards of the high social class observing gypsies in the area. The culture, such as manner of dress, and language were so unique in their minds that the people were dubbed “Calos.” When the Spaniards came to the Americas, the dress and linguistic features of the people they met so reminded them of the gypsies they’d witnessed in Spain that the same name was given. Later, the word “Pachuco” was added to Calo, meaning “a male who comes from El Paso” (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 11), and was popularized soon after World War II ended. As many languages incorporate abbreviation, so did Chicano English as it abbreviated “Pachuco Calo” to simply “Cholo.” While lack of appreciation for Spanish speakers within the United States remained a popular opinion held by many Anglos, so that “Cholo” began to mean “one of mixed blood,” pride over one’s culture and language also continued taking root within the Chicano culture. Within the Chicano community, “Cholito” or “Cholita” became words of endearment towards children. Just as the changes which occurred throughout the years to the word “Calo,” so other words in Chicano follow from cultural relevancy and change with interactions with other cultures.
In short, Chicano English might have stemmed out of years of systemic oppression, first from the Anglo overthrow of the Spanish in the Southern United States and later in discrimination towards Chicano “slang” usage, but it has become a dialect of English that is as important to the culture as can be. The words chosen for this dictionary express words that are not only used commonly but have significance to the culture of the Chicanos. Penfield and Onstein-Galicia describe this by saying,
…as a variety of Spanish it serves not only as a strong in-group symbol to bind the sub-culture together but it also serves a more practical function of keeping much of the conversation secret to out-group, mainstream members. This latter function has been useful in maintaining protection from police and other outsiders who frown on the activities of the sub-culture, but it has equally served to maintain some of the prestige and glamour to on-lookers or outsiders in mainstream Spanish-speaking society who, perhaps, are a little envious of the success of the Cholo sub-culture in defying the norms and values of the majority culture” (11-12).
As stated earlier, the Chicano language derives from an informal or improper version of Spanish, so many of the words or phrases listed would be viewed as slang, all highly conversational and what you would see when walking about in a Chicano community. This culture, which highly values its oddities as much as its normalities, led the authors of this dictionaries to converse sources that include some more recent and popular choices for words, ones which may be viewed as slang by the outside world but held by pride within the Chicano community.