Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968

By Anthony Macías. Durham: Duke University Press, September 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0822343394, $89.95; paper: ISBN 978-0822343226, $24.95. 408 pages.

Review by Darius V. Echeverría, Rutgers University

During the late nineteenth century and running through the Great Depression, xenophobic ideas and practices began to exert greater force throughout America. People were defined ever more sharply on the basis of their nationality, language, religion, and phenotype. They were incrementally limited in their legal status, voting privileges, and the jobs they could obtain. Indeed, degrading images of legally vulnerable groups such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and various Latino/a subgroups, especially Mexican Americans, became part of popular culture in the songs people sang, in the products people bought, and the illustrations they saw in books, magazines, and media imagery. Thus, many Americans remained outside of meaningful mainstream culture, thereby relegated to second-class citizenship and the underbelly of the U.S. economy. Indeed, Mexican Americans found themselves in the anomalous position of living in a land of plenty to which they were denied access. A small but influential handful, however, notably from the “Mexican American generation,” rejected second-class citizenship, thereby “transform[ing] Los Angeles and enrich[ing] American culture” (2). In this spirit, the author’s thoroughly researched book makes an important contribution in providing an overview of how Mexican Americans throughout Los Angeles embraced cultural pride to counter patterns of prejudice. In doing so, Mexican Americans drew on popular music, dance, language, and a style that was both Mexican and American to reevaluate their worth in a society that only accepted upward mobility through “whiteness.” This hybrid of “Mexican” and “American” ethos peppered with African American popular cultural traditions fostered a subculture whose arrangement was unique, and whose amalgamation was distinctive from either “Mexican” or “American” cultures. Equipped with this empowering “mojo” that was predicated more on a bicultural identity rather than Mexican nationalism, Mexican Americans challenged the standard for measuring acceptability and cultural worth. This was accomplished by not only separating from Anglo American identity, but through creating ethnic Mexican diverse modes of celebratory expressions. Inevitably Mexican American Angelenos developed a unique social acclimatization experience because of their day-to-day encounters with racializing prejudice. These experiences compelled many to find refuge in music, running the gamut from jazz, to rhythm and blues, to rock and roll. The book is carefully organized into five chapters supported by a tightly woven introduction and conclusion. With the exception of chapter five, which in part serves as a synthesizing section, the material is arranged in chronological order. Chapter one is crucial to the overall work because it demonstrates that Mexican Americans not only appreciated traditional music, but were just like any other American music lovers, enjoying swing music and dancing the jitterbug. Chapter two is valuable for several reasons, but none more important than exploring how 1940s African American cultural expressions influenced evolving Mexican American music, dance, and urban life. Chapter three builds on chapter two by providing a greater understanding of how indirect and direct cultural forces among and between Chicanos/as and African Americans changed forever how each respective community dealt with an unfriendly urban world. Engaging with and exchanging ideas among a range of communities in dance halls, ballrooms, and auditoriums encouraged a growing respect for differences. In particular, pockets of Mexican American and African American communities overlooked their workforce rivalry in an effort to build a bridge toward tolerance and understanding. Notwithstanding, Mexican Americans, like Asian Indians and African Americans during this period, recognized that rejecting non-white culture while associating with Anglo identity was advantageous for securing better job opportunities. Although Macías provides a cursory discussion of this daily reality, greater depth and inclusion of other comparable communities would have given sections of the work more force and variety. Nevertheless, chapter three also introduces actors that affected the trajectory of the marriage between seemingly distinct musical cultural domains. This dynamic helped shape and guide the aforementioned communities’ political ideology, identity maturation, organizational support, and socio-economic outlook. Chapter four delves deeper into Mexican American musical tastes and tunes throughout the rock and roll era. The final chapter illustrates the widespread acceptability and increasing aptitude of Chicano music subgenres while underscoring its importance in challenging institutions that discouraged and devalued Mexican American thought, culture, and heritage. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Mexican American Mojo is how Macías skillfully blends the oral testimony of key artists to the larger framework of urban culture. These rich interviews add clarity and continuity to scholarship on music and movements. Focusing on specific localities, events, and high schools, Macías, a California university professor, cogently reveals how Chicanos/as established strong bonds of community solidarity and companionship in order to confront anti-Mexican sentiment. In turn, scores of Mexican Americans summoned the courage to break through Eastside Los Angeles, and by extension, the Jim Crow geography of much of the American southwest. As a result, acculturation and assimilation rates among Mexican Americans increased. The author appreciates this point, so a thoughtful conversation with the former is expressed throughout which demonstrates that assimilation was a complex process fueled by countervailing factors such as popular music and fashion trends. Similar to claiming cultural citizenship, Mexican Americans made their mark on U.S. popular culture by appropriating big band swing music, jitterbug dancing, and many more public forums of expressions. The circumstances of poor health, inordinate dropout rates, hard work for low wages, high unemployment, police brutality, societal stereotyping, ethnic Mexican deportation drives, urban renewal, political exclusion, anti-miscegenation policies, and real estate redlining created an unstable social position for Mexican Americans, inspiring many to redefine themselves in order to break the cycle their parents experienced. As noted, the author raises numerous intersections between African Americans, Latinos/as, and Japanese Americans. One hopes that more scholarship in Chicano/a Studies will explore the patterns of competition and cohesion among Mexican Americans and other groups. By challenging some assumptions of the roles played by Mexican Americans in cultural maintenance, this case study builds not only on popular culture scholarship, but helps put civil rights struggles in proper interracial context. In scope and significance, this work is a model for a community’s popular culture history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nuevo Plan de Aztlan

WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America honor our Native American heritage with all our hearts and minds;

WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America honor the sacred call of our Native American ancestors for peace and justice throughout our Americas; and

WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America recognize La Raza has been struggling with a new wave of racial harassment, discrimination and persecution in our Americas since September 11, 2001.

NOW THEREFORE, We the Chicanos y Chicanos of the United States of America resolve as follows:


This resolution may be cited as Nuevo Plan de Aztlan.


Nuevo Plan de Aztlan is based on the following terms:

a) Americanas y Americanos

Americanas y Americanos are ALL AMERICANS regardless of our races, colors, languages, cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, religions or creeds.

b) Aztlan

The concept of Aztlan is derived from the Nahua history of the Mexicas before their southern migration from Norte America into Centro Mexico during the 11th Century. Aztlan today is Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos regardless of where we were born, live or die.

c) Carnalismo

Carnalismo is the love and compassion Chicanas y Chicanos have for each other as carnalas y carnales (sisters and brothers). Carnalismo is what unites and strengthens Chicanas y Chicanos as we work together for peace and justice.

d) Chicanas y Chicanos

Chicanas y Chicanos are Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos based on our Native American heritage.

e) El Movimiento

El Movimiento is the Chicana y Chicano Movement for peace and justice. El Movimiento is comprised of numerous academic, athletic, artistic, business, commercial, cultural, educational, political, recreational, social, spiritual, wholistic and other Chicana y Chicano organizations and individuals working for peace and justice throughout Aztlan, our Americas and the world.

f) Heritage

Our Native American heritage includes our ancestral lands and freedoms; and all the histories, cultures, traditions and mores of our Native American ancestors.

g) Indigenas

Often called Native Americans or American Indians, Indigenas are all the indigenous peoples of our Americas including those of mixed-race heritage like La Raza.

h) La Causa

La Causa is for peace and justice, the eternal cause of Chicanas y Chicanos who recognize there can be no true peace without true justice, i.e., the abolition of poverty, racism, sexism and all other injusticias in our Americas.

i) La Raza

Chicanas y Chicanos can be Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow and(or) any other “skin color” like the rest of La Raza and the human race. The concept of La Raza was derived from a 1925 essay published by Jose Vasconcelos, a Mexican educator who called the millions of mixed-race Indigenas with Latin-American and(or) Latin-European ancestors La Raza Cosmica.

La Raza is comprised of every race, color, nationality, ethnicity, culture, language, religion and creed in the world. This rich diversity is the unifying power, force and strength of Chicanas y Chicanos, and of all La Raza as we grow to know, understand and honor our great heritage.

j) Latinas y Latinos

Latinas y Latinos of our Americas are Indigenas with a Latin-American and(or) Latin-European heritage. Millions of Latinas y Latinos also have African, Asian and other Non-Latino ancestors.

k) Racism

·Racial categories are crude labels based on parentage, genetics and(or) physical traits, not religious or scientific proof of one’s superior or inferior nature like racists believe.

·Racism is the belief one or more “races” are inherently “superior” to one or more other races. [Example: Many Americans believe “White people” are inherently superior to “Non-White people” and that “Black people” are inherently inferior to all other people.]

·Racism includes the belief “mixed-race” people like La Raza are inferior to those with birth parents of the same race. “Race-mixing” is still condemned by racists today. · Indigenas were considered savages (less-than-human) when Europeans first invaded and occupied our Americas. "Christianized" and(or) otherwise assimilated Indigenas are still considered inferior by today’s racists.

·Racists are not just poor or poorly educated citizens, there are wealthy and highly educated racists throughout government and society who strive to protect and preserve their privileged status via institutional, industrial and commercial racism. Racists are not just White, either; there are Brown, Black, Red, Asian and other racists, too.

·The racist imposition of the colonial English language on Indigenas continues to cause horrendous problems for Chicanas y Chicanos in education, employment and virtually all other aspects of life in the U.S. Laws, rules and regulations are selectively enforced by local, state and federal institutions against La Raza, as English is used as a weapon to deprive Chicanas y Chicanos of liberty, equality and justice throughout our lives.

·Private industry (“free enterprise”) also causes havoc for Chicanas y Chicanos by perpetuating racist stereotypes and beliefs about La Raza for profit and gain. [Example: Mass media and the “entertainment” industries commercialize racist stereotypes and beliefs about Latinas y Latinos throughout the world, while pretending to be “spreading freedom and democracy” alongside the Pentagon.]

l) Terrorist(s)

A terrorist or terrorists are human beings who use unwarranted violence and(or) the threat of violence to kill, rob, rape, torture, imprison or otherwise impose their will over other human beings.


Nuevo Plan de Aztlan addresses the alarming attacks orchestrated against Indigenas throughout Norte America since September 11, 2001 (9/11). U.S. officials are using La Raza as a scapegoat or smokescreen to distract or divert attention away from their heinous war crimes in the Middle East.

According to their domestic propaganda, the “real problem” and therefore actual enemy or threat to national security is Mexicans and other Indigenas “invading” Norte America, not the Pentagon killing, torturing, maiming, imprisoning and destroying other indigenous peoples' lives in faraway lands.

Thousands of racist media, vigilante, “homeland security” and other hostile actions have been executed against Indigenas since 9/11, as tens of thousands of these indigent men, women and children have been rounded up and herded out of Norte America like cattle.


Indigenas have suffered centuries of injusticias including genocide, rape, torture, mayhem, kidnapping, slavery, peonage, poverty, homelessness and groundless imprisonment at the hands of the original European invaders and occupiers of our Americas.

The offspring of these European terrorists expect Chicanas y Chicanos to ignore or forget this true account of their ancestors’ horrendous atrocities, as if these abominations against our Native American ancestors never occurred or mattered.

As English imperialism via the U.S. government seeks to conquer the entire world, La Raza is increasingly faced with discriminatory law enforcement, housing, education, employment, healthcare, mass media, entertainment and other racist industrial, commercial and institutional policies and practices, especially since 9/11.

The offspring of the European terrorists who originally stole our ancestral lands are guilty of receiving this stolen property. Receiving stolen property is no less a crime than stealing it. These aliens remain in denial as they continue to exploit, oppress and otherwise deprive us of our ancestral lands and freedoms from generation-to-generation much like their terrorist ancestors did against our ancestors for the past few centuries.

U.S. racists are now working to outlaw MEChA and other Movimiento organizations being blamed for “too many Mexicans” and other Indigenas in Norte America today. Local, state and federal government agencies have also made it extremely difficult for the Partido de La Raza Unida to rise politically against this institutionalized harassment, discrimination and persecution in any significant way.

These same racists oppose Chicana y Chicano Studies, affirmative action, financial aid, bilingual and multicultural education, ethnic studies, fair housing, equal employment opportunities and all other ways and means of attempting to create level playing fields for La Raza, as if the U.S. only belongs to Anglo-Americans and everyone else is a second-class citizen at best.


The 21st Century campaign against Mexicans in the also aimed at Chicanas y Chicanos since we are all familia. Chicanas y Chicanos have a natural, inherent or innate relationship with Mexicanas y Mexicanos because of our common Native American heritage that is everlasting.Other Indigenas throughout our Americas are suffering from these racist attacks too.

We are all being treated as a threat or potential threat to national security by the racist U.S. government at the local, state, federal and international level.


a) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must reach beyond nationalism to establish and(or) coalesce with parallel movements of other Indigenas united around our multilingual, multiracial and multicultural heritage throughout our Americas and on outlying islands.

b) El Movimiento’s mass communication, organization and mobilization initiatives call for Chicanas y Chicanos to join forces with all La Raza against our common exploiters and oppressors because we cannot be free unless and until all La Raza is free.

c) Economic justice cannot be achieved without social and political justice. La Raza must join together as an international union of Indigenas to work for this justicia as opposed to permitting the racists to continue to exploit and oppress La Raza via commercial, industrial and institutional racism from generation-to-generation.

d) This indigenous union must ensure liberty, equality and justice for all Americanas y Americanos so We can all live, work and travel freely in peace and justice throughout our Americas for so long as the rivers flow.

e) The first priority of our new union is to abolish poverty, racism and sexism throughout our Americas.

f) This union must ensure all workers in our Americas receive good jobs and compensation so that all Americanas y Americanos can have nice homes in safe and secure neighborhoods and communities. People unable to work will also have nice homes in these safe and secure neighborhoods and communities because no one will live in poverty or homelessness in our Americas except by her or his own choosing.

g) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must ensure our children learn about our indigenous ancestors, at home and in all the schools, colleges and universities of our Americas so they and future generations will know, understand and honor our Native American heritage.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will live our daily lives in accordance with Nuevo Plan de Aztlan to the best of our abilities.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will encourage Chicana y Chicano organizations everywhere to review, adopt and incorporate Nuevo Plan de Aztlan into their own missions, goals and objectives so all Indigenas can stand united against the new wave of racial harassment, discrimination and persecution La Raza faces in the 21st Century.

Copyright 2008 Internet Mecha. Nuevo Plan de Aztlan may be reproduced, republished and disseminated freely.