American Renaissance

Defining Chicano Culture

Book conveys rich history via ABCs

Marc Cabrera, MontereyHerald.com, Feb. 23

A is for Aztlan, B is for Barrio, and C is for La Causa in a new book by two Salinas residents who aim to teach young people about Chicano culture.

“The ABC’s of Chicano Style,” is a children’s book that references Chicano culture for each letter of the alphabet. Each entry gives definitions, including the description of Aztlan as the mythical land of the southwest region of the United States that was once occupied by the indigenous Aztec civilization, and barrio, which is Spanish for neighborhood.

The book defines Chicano or Chicana as being “a political state of mind (that) includes all Spanish-speaking and indigenous peoples who are conscious of their heritage and contributions to history.” The book was written by Juan Oliverez and illustrated by Efrain Gomez, Salinas residents who have set out to teach children of all races.

“This was originally meant to be a children’s book that would give kids a concept of their past, as we become fifth — and sixth-generation Mexican Americans here in the U.S.,” said Oliverez, a teacher and University of California at Santa Cruz graduate.

The book is already being used at Hartnell College in the school’s Chicano studies course. It is also available on the group’s Web site, www.chin-gao.com.

Gomez, a graduate of CSU-Monterey Bay’s teledramatic arts and technology program, set out to draw a book that would appeal to young people, using accessible images to illustrate some complicated ideas. The book’s illustrations are printed in black and white in a simplistic style that adds to the book’s youthful theme.

“It was kind of hard because we were trying to draw concepts rather than physical objects,” Gomez said. “Some things were simpler, but for others, like the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista Liberacion Nacional, an indigenous activist group based in Chiapas, Mexico), I wasn’t too sure what to use.”

The illustration for E is for EZLN, featuring an image of the movement’s leader, Subcomandante Marcos, is the book’s cover.

Marcos is the Zapatista Army leader who led indigenous soldiers in a revolt against the Mexican government and the North American Free Trade Agreement 10 years ago. While the image is familiar to most Chicano activists, it confused people who didn’t immediately recognize his masked likeness, Oliverez said.

“We thought that to us, that’s common knowledge,” he said. “You’ve got to know those things. But some people didn’t.”

Some of the books definitions go for a softer touch. For instance, Q is for Quinceanera, the Catholic coming-of-age ceremony for girls on their 15th birthdays. The accompanying illustration depicts a girl in a dress, smiling and holding a bouquet of flowers.

Other examples are more political. K is for Karl Marx, and the definition features an image and brief biography on the author of “The Communist Manifesto.”

“It kind of became more sophisticated, even though we were trying to keep it basic,” said Oliverez. “It definitely has an activist side to it, even though we want to put it out for young people.”

Oliverez and Gomez hope to parlay their effort into more media ventures. They have already began distributing a clothing line, Curvas, with products aimed at creating “a more natural image of women.” They also plan on reprinting the book and distributing it to colleges and universities with Chicano Studies programs.