Narcocorridos: Giving Mexican-American Youth a Sense of Cultural Identity in the US Victor Guzman Psych 141-1979 Con cuernos de chivo y basuca en la nuca/ Equipped with guns and bazookas Volando cabezas al que se atraviesa/ Heads fly of those who stand in the way Somos sanguinarios locos bien ondeados /we shed blood, crazy in the head Nos gusta matar / we like to kill Pa dar levantotes somos los mejores /we’re the best ones to get the job done Siempre en caravana toda mi plebada /always on caravans with all my people Bien empecherados blindados / bullet-proof vested
Y listos para ejecutar/ and ready to execute Despite Mexico’s symbolic musical representative of the Mariachi band, the more modern music genre of narcocorridos has become more prevalent amongst today’s Mexican-American youth in the United States. The lyrics above are a preview of what the narcocorrido is- a genre known for its story-telling demeanor, its main instruments of the tuba, and accordion, and its lyrical content: the lifestyle and mentality of a drug trafficker in a Mexican drug cartel. Very recently, the narcocorrido has gained much popularity and has even evolved into its own very distinct genre.
It’s popularity, however, also gives rise to immense criticism of the genre’s explicit lyrics. The evolution of the corrido into a blood-curling yet catchy style of song has led to two different results. The controversial narcocorridos have gained enough popularity to be arguably giving druglords more fame and power. On the other hand, however, they have also given youth a means from which to gain a sense of cultural identification on the U. S. side of the border. Narcocorridos are a more explicit and more recent version of the traditional corrido that historically dates back to earlier Spanish ballad styles (Wald 3).
The Spanish word corrido means two things. It can either signify a story that is orally told, or it can also be used to describe something that is continuous. Putting these two definitions together, we come up with the corrido lyrical style, which tells a continuous story throughout the duration of the song. In order to understand the evolution of the corrido, it is important to be able to understand US-Mexico relations, especially when it comes to the treatment of the Mexican campesino or rural worker in the U. S.
A clear understanding of the historical struggle of the poor campesino will make it easier to grasp the perspective that is taken when the lyrics talk about all of the hardships and situations that are mentioned in most of these corridos. Traditional corridos have always been known as the story telling musical genre. Originally, corridos were not their own genre. They were a lyrical style of storytelling that was incorporated into songs of different Mexican regional genres. Overall, the corrido was utilized to make a social statement.
Corrido stories in the early 1900s to 1960s talked about topics from love ballads, to life in the borderlands and resistance to oppression from predatory and hypocritical laws and policies in the United States. The result of these laws and policies has contributed immensely to the most popular topics that are written and sung about in early corrido styles. One of the earliest examples of this is the result from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 in which Mexicans living on the newly annexed U. S. side of the U. S. Mexico border were by law supposed to be given U. S. citizenship and first-class status. Many Mexicans were stripped of their land and were never given the citizen status that was promised to them by the treaty, which is a common topic of traditional corridos. Corridos were very political and could be used as a temperature check for the social, political and economic situation of rural folk in Mexico. The political-economic state in the third-world country was becoming more desperate for many rural folks and for many who did not risk traveling to the U.
S. to test their fate, another quickly emerging option was to join the underground drug trafficking market. The changing climate in the drug trafficking world did not go without having any effect on the corridos, of course. As history evolved, so did the style of the corrido. The corrido was incorporated into different genres of regional music, particularly of the Northern part of Mexico, known as musica nortena. These songs ranged from love ballads to songs that make political statements and even stories about what Wald calls “smuggle stories” (Wald 3).
Many were written about legendary figures like Pancho Villa (Quinones 27). The norteno group Los Tigres Del Norte is given the credit for officially taking corridos to the next level- that of narcocorridos and giving the grounds for which the narcocorrido takes off. They sing about the rise of drug traffic in the US-Mexico borderlands as well as about the injustices that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have faced and continue to face in El Norte, a very popular nickname for the United States.
Los Tigres del Norte (who originate from the United States) never fail to make a political statement, shedding light on controversial issues such as the rising power of the drug cartels in Mexico, which results because they present an alternative to poverty that Mexicans face every day. The following are two stanzas from a corrido by Los Tigres del Norte: A mi me gustan los corridos / I like listening to corridos porque son los hechos reales / Because they tell of true tales de nuestro pueblo. / of our town.
Si a mi tambien me gustan porque / I like them as well beacuse en ellos se canta la pura verdad / through them we sing about truth Pues ponlos pues, orale ahi va. / Listen to them, here it goes. Soy el jefe de jefes senores,/ I am the chief of chiefs, men me respetan a todos niveles,/ They respect me at all levels y mi nombre y mi fotografia,/ and my name and my photograph nunca van a mirar en papeles/ they will never see in the newspapers porque a mi el periodista me quiere/ because journalists like me y si no mi amistad se la pierde. and if they don’t they lose my friendship. This song is called El Jefe de Jefes, or the Chief of Chiefs. The first stanza is told from the perspective of the singers, and the second stanza is told from the perspective of the drug lord whom the song is about. In the case of this song, the drug lord is Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a drug trafficker from Sinaloa, Mexico who was also known as “El Senor de los Cielos” or the “Lord of the Skies” (Wald 59). He got this nickname because of the fleet of jets that he owned and operated in his transportation of drugs as the leader of the Juarez Cartel (Quinones 71).
Not once during the song do the Tigers of the North mention Amado’s name in the lyrics, but they refer to his watching over others from higher altitudes, which alludes to his nickname of “Lord of the Skies. ” The goal of the song is not to glorify the drug lords that they mention in their songs, but just as they warn, they are singing to tell a tale of the unfortunate truth and not to side with or give credit to drug smugglers. Whether the result of these songs actually gives druglords glorification is the question of controversy. Another acknowledged pioneer of the narcocorrido was Chalino Sanchez of Sinaloa, Mexico.
His lyrics are also very explicit stories of struggle that comes with being involved in the drug-trafficking industry. By mentioning the drug lord’s name in his songs, Chalino crosses into a new realm of narcocorridos, which directly tells the tale of particular people, giving them credit for their involvement in the drug traffic industry. Mexican politicians have tried implementing different anti-cartel laws and policies to defeat drug trafficking and its resulting violence. After Felipe Calderon’s presidential election in 2006, he declared an official “War on Drugs. Ever since then, violence in Mexico has increased significantly, partly because the government is going after drug lords constantly and casualties on both fronts are only growing. This reality simultaneously led the corrido to focus much more heavily on a more particular aspect of the industry- death and violence. With violence increasing South of the border, music industries in the United States have taken advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on the situation by glamourizing the narcocorrido: A la moda y en buenos carros/ Fashionably updated and in the best cars Y mis plebes bien armados / My minions well armed
Bien vestidos y de traje / Well dressed and in suits Y por dentro empecharados / With bullet-proof vests underneath Lentes Prada y sus rosarios, / Prada shades and their rosaries brillantes por todos lados. / Gem studded clothing and accessories Asi se navega el jefe,/ This is how the chief navegates A la moda trabajando / Working Fashionably Ya lo conoce la gente / Everyone knows him Y tambien a sus muchachos / as well as his people Esa granada y basuca / The granade and bazooka Devolada arremangamos / We quickly roll up
These are the lyrics from “A la Moda” by Mexican-American singer and composer from Pasadena, California; Gerardo Ortiz. The song talks about the life of luxuries and riches that a drug trafficker lives. Many other artists have risen with this new genre and have made similar efforts to glamorize the life of a drug trafficker. Mexican nightclubs in the San Francisco Bay Area are witness that the style depicted in these lyrics is also sported by the youth that attend. The music played at these places is predominantly none other than the narcocorrido.
At the age of 22, Gerardo Ortiz is one of the most important narcocorrido artists today, and is the owner of his own apparel boutique in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico called “Anvem” which features bloodstains, guns, marijuana leaves, camouflage and soldier silhouettes in the designs among other things. His clothing can be seen sported by youth at different Mexican nightclubs in the Bay Area and in other Southern California nightclubs that I have attended to. Apart from the dress style that many Mexican-American youth have adopted, a new style of dance has also surged.
There have also been many dance groups arising across the Bay Area, such as “Club Destructores” of Oakland, or the “MacDaddy’s” of San Jose. These groups dance to corridos and even host as well as participate in different dance competitions across the SF Bay Area. By witnessing the cultural impact that these songs have firsthand, one can conclude that these songs are not just glorifying drug traffickers, but they have also created a sub-culture amongst Mexican-American youth in the U. S.
Most of this youth has no affiliation with druglords whatsoever, myself included, but have found a genre that is based on stories they we are raised hearing-those of drug cartel violence- since many families flee Mexico to escape the violence in their hometowns (McPheters XI). Many Mexican-Americans in the U. S. are raised thinking they are “ni de aqui, ni de alla,” neither from here (U. S. ) nor from there (Mexico). This is a result of U. S. anti-immigrant animosity coming from policies such as Prop 187 and 209.
These policies limit the possibilities for immigrants and people of color, and were perceived by many to be racist policies. These have led Mexican-Americans to feel like they don’t truly belong in the U. S. and are not considered American if their people are being attacked in such a way. At the same time, not being Mexican Nationals, Mexican-American youth know they are not from Mexico either, so they have a “borderless” culture of having been brought up in a country that does not necessarily embrace their culture while having ethnic origins from a country in which they were not born.
After understanding these important dynamics, we can see why narcocorridos have created a phenomenon that has appealed so much to Mexican-American youth. It is a genre that has Mexican roots but which has accommodated for a culture which Mexican-Americans can call their own. They consider it their own because it is definitely not as predominant in Mexico as it is here. As Gloria Anzaldua would explain, this sense of cultural belonging is “psychic, social and cultural terrain” that is inhabited by them as it inhabits within them (Anzaldua).
Narcocorridos have become a very prevalent part of Mexican-American youth culture and do not seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Although many do not endorse the horrible things that these songs talk about, it is the harsh reality in Mexico, and many youth relate to it as a form of cultural identification. Listening to it is usually taken up with a sense of pride in knowing that this is the situation that many Mexican-American families come from. It is not pride in the cartels, but pride in the sense that while other people will criticize the situation, the people of ethnic Mexican descent will not be made to feel less.
Although narcocorridos today do to some extent glorify some of the most powerful druglords in Mexico, they also bring Mexican-Americans a source of ethnic culture with which to identify in a modern fast-paced American world. It is also a means of identity to each other that is growing quickly, while the dire situation in Mexico only seems to worsen with time. Whether this is a direct result of the narcocorrido or not is up for debate, but as long as the violence exists, the controversial genre will not be going away easily. Bibliography Anzaldua, Gloria. The Borderlands – La Frontera: The new Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books, 1999.
Beittel, June S. Mexico’s Drug-Related Violence. DIANE Publishing, 2010. Edberg, Mark Cameron. El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos and the construction of a cultural persona on the US-Mexico Border. University of Texas Press, 2004. McPheters, Mike. Cartels and Combinations. Bonneville Books. Cedar Fort, 2010. Quinones, Sam. True tales from another Mexico: the Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx. UNM Press, 2001 Smith, Mark M. “Listening to the Heard Worlds of Antebellum America. ” Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002. Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. HarperCollins, 2002.