Competing Ethnic Mexican Worldviews in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1920-1970

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Theme: Competing Ethnic Mexican Worldviews in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1920-1970

During the twentieth century several important economic and political shifts in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands caused ethnic Mexicans (Mexican nationals and U.S.-Mexicans) to rethink their position in the region, nation, and world. Between the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the Chicano Movement in the long decade of the 1960s, Mexican nationals and U.S.-Mexicans used cultural productions to articulate their sense of belonging. There were three competing worldviews during this time. Two of these were sponsored by centralizing states. The U.S. state and Mexican state were interested in securing the political and cultural allegiances of this transnational community. The other tried to articulate a sense of belonging outside of authoritative nationalisms.

  1. Flaco Jimenez – “La Piedrera” (1928)

Flaco Jimenez was an accordion player from San Antonio who popularized a regionally specific genre of music, the Texas-Mexican Conjunto. The conjunto paired the European accordion with the guitar and bass. This music became popular among the growing working-class ethnic Mexican population in the early twentieth century. Regardless of citizenship, both groups identified with the music, using it to establish political connections and establish community. This type of music helped bridge cultural chasms that were emerging among the community by the 1920s. Increased migration from Mexico had augmented the numbers of Mexican nationals and there was an intra-community debate surrounding the construction of “Mexicanness” in the U.S.

  1. Lalo Guerrero – “Los Chucos Suaves” (1942)

Guerrero was born in Tucson, Arizona but eventually found his way to Los Angeles, California. Once there, Guerrero, in addition to musician Don Tosti, helped popularize the “Pachuco Boogie Woogie.” By the 1940s, Mexican-American nativity had dramatically increased since its nadir in the 1920s. These youths were born in the U.S. and attended American schools. They were bilingual and bicultural. The song “Los Chucos Suaves” exemplifies the cultural changes of the Pachucas and Pachucos. The song does not have an accordion and it is not a traditional Latin American format. Instead, the song is inspired by American jazz, yet still retains a Latino flair. The maracas, the bass line, and the use of Caló, or the Pachuco slang illustrate the cultural fluidity of these Mexican-American youths who see themselves as both American and Mexican, but not solely one. The lyrics stress the bicultural reality of Mexican-American youth in the 1940s by stating Pachucas and Pachucos can dance a wide variety of dances—cumbia, rhumba, guarache—but also the boogie-woogie and jitter-bug.

  1. Beto Villa – “El Primero” (1948)

Villa’s band was emblematic of a new genre of music that began to develop in the Southwest in the middle of the twentieth century, the Mexican-American orquesta. While the conjunto was primarily working class music, the orquesta was the chosen style of a small but influential middle-class Mexican-American community. This music was associated with groups like the League of Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum. While these were early civil rights organizations, their members also subscribed a particular type of social conservatism that stressed assimilation, capitalism, patriotism, and conservative gender roles. The Mexican-American middle-class in the mid-twentieth century was conservative in political, social, and cultural outlook. They would have thought the Pachuco Boogie-Woogie scandalous and the conjunto low class. Villa’s orchestration, his choice of American influenced rhythms, and his hiding, and in some cases eliminating, of the accordion shows the assimilationist bent of the Mexican-American orquesta.

  1. Pedro Infante – “Dicen Que Soy Mujeriego” (1948)

Infante was part of a larger shift in Mexican culture beginning after the institutionalization of the Mexican Revolution. After the subsidence of violence, the revolutionary state set out to create a new coherent Mexican nationalism, a project that had plagued the nation through the nineteenth century. Building on indigenous and socialist themes, the Mexican state believed they could create, as Jose Vasconcelos wrote, a “raza cosmica,” or a cosmic people. In other words, integration not racial segregation would be the foundation for the new nation in the twentieth century. The combination of the indigenous past and the industrial future would help forge a new nation. In an effort to create this new nationalism, the Mexican state began to promote Mariachi music domestically and internationally. Mariachi music had previously been a regional music but started to transform into a national symbol. Through film and radio the Mexican state popularized the music because its themes reflected key tenets of Mexican political and social identity: bravery, virility, chivalry, . Songs like “Dicen Que Soy Mujeriego” foreground men as central social and political actors. Their power was manifest in their sexual virility and their virtue in their chivalry. While in reality the charro was a mythical figure of the past, he was a national metonym, an example of what every Mexican man was supposed to be. These films and songs were promoted in the United States as well and were popular and influential.

  1. Carlos Santana – “Oye Como Va” (1970)

By the mid-1960s, some Mexican-American youth began calling themselves Chicanas and Chicanos. The term, with a history rooted in a working-class migratory history of the twentieth century, was used as an affirmation of identity and culture and as a term of resistance to assimilation. Chicanas and Chicanos saw themselves as a community that had unique transnational and indigenous qualities that would allow them to fight back capitalist penetration and colonial conquest. Building upon a long history of cultural syncretism, they believed that cultural mestizaje was a crucial ingredient to social resistance. Santana’s music adopts these themes. Santana combined American rock, Afro-Latino rhythms, and Mexican culture into a transnational ethnic Mexican music. For this generation, his music, along with others like El Chicano, was the soundtrack to the .

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