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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Corridos


The corrido is perhaps the most important expressive form for the Mexican Americans of the Southwest during the period from 1865 to 1915. The corrido (from correr, the Spanish verb to run) is a fast-paced narrative ballad whose roots may be traced to the romances of medieval Spain. In colonizing what is now the American Southwest, the Spaniards carried their musical traditions with them and these flourished, simultaneously preserving old songs and themes and adapting to the particular circumstances of life in the New World. Of the various Spanish musical traditions that prospered in the Southwest—the copla, the danza, and the décima for example—the corrido stands out, in terms of quantity, persistence, and historical and cultural interest. Countless corridos emerged in the Southwest, generally composed anonymously and transmitted by word of mouth to commemorate events and experiences of sometimes epic proportions. As the distinguished folklorist Américo Paredes has shown, the corrido thrived particularly in circumstances of cultural conflict; in the Southwest this often meant between Mexican American and Anglo-American.

As a distinct ballad form, the corrido first appeared in Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and began to emerge in the American Southwest soon thereafter, most conspicuously in the border regions of south Texas where Mexican and Mexican American cultures were virtually indistinguishable.

"Kiansis," the oldest of the corridos presented here, dates from the 1860s (a more precise date of origin is impossible for such an anonymous song) when cattle drives from Texas to Kansas were conducted regularly, more often than not with Mexican American as well as Anglo cowboys. "Kiansis," like virtually all corridos including the others printed here, was composed in Spanish and is presented in translation without any attempt to preserve its original rhythm or other poetic qualities. Notice that "Kiansis" depicts the sometimes fierce rivalry between Mexican American and Anglo-American cowboys. In their songs, Mexican Americans liked to point out that ranching in the Southwest was essentially a Mexican institution that Anglos had later claimed as their own.

"Gregorio Cortez" and "Jacinto Trevino" are probably the best known of Mexican American corridos, again dealing with episodes of conflict between a Mexican American and Anglos, in this case Texas Rangers. These two ballads date from the early 1900s and feature violent conflict. Gregorio Cortez, an ordinary rancher and farmer, shoots the "major sheriff" in defense of his brother and then flees for the Mexican border, knowing he'll not receive justice in a Texas court. He skillfully eludes his hundreds of pursuers but finally surrenders when he realizes that other Mexican Americans are being punished in retribution. "Jacinto Trevino" presents a similar scenario: a fight breaks out in a south Texas saloon, the Texas Rangers come to arrest Trevino and he backs them down, finally making his way to safety. Both corridos present admittedly biased versions of Mexican American/Anglo conflict, but also provide a necessary counterbalance to the conventional and better-known accounts of Texas Ranger heroics in American folklore and popular culture.

Like the corridos noted above, "El Hijo Desobediente" (The Disobedient Son) is from Texas but this time focuses not on a broad cultural issue but a family matter. Considered one of the greatest of all ballads from along the south Texas border, "El Hijo Desobediente" poignantly relates the tragedy of a young man trapped in his excessive masculinity.

The final two corridos are of rather recent origin, demonstrating that the corrido tradition is still active. "Recordando al Presidente" ("Remembering the President") was composed by Willie López of McAllen, Texas to commemorate John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, who was widely admired in the Mexican American community. The "Corrido de César Chávez" is notable for several reasons. It focuses on the work of one of the great contemporary Mexican American heroes, César Chávez, who dedicated his career to fighting for decent working and living conditions for farm workers. Secondly, this ballad was composed and recorded by Lalo Guerrero, one of the most gifted and influential of contemporary Mexican American musicians. Both of the contemporary corridos are of known authorship and have been sold commercially, indicating the adaptability of this musical form to contemporary circumstances.

Raymund Paredes
University of California at Los Angeles


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
Kiansis I/Kansas I (c.1860 - c.1869)
Hijo Desobediente/The Disobedient Son (c.1910)
Recordando al Presidente/Remembering the President (c.1963)
Gregorio Cortez (c.1976)
Jacinto Trevino (c.1976)
Corrido do Cesar Chavez/Ballad of Cesar Chavez (c.1993)

Other Works



Cultural Objects
text file Corridos Website, includes sound and video files

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Pedagogy
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this topic.



Links

Corrido Web Projects
(http://www.sp.utexas.edu/jrn/stuproj.html)
Student projects with links to audio and text resources and a few overview essays.

Corridos
(http://www.geocities.com/a1ma_mia/corridos/)
General historical information and a few songs and ballads.

Corridos de la Revolución
(http://www.sp.utexas.edu/jrn/revcor.html)
Links, photographs, and information (some in Spanish).

Corridos Sin Fronteras
(http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/csrc/Corrido.htm)
TSite, available in Spanish and English, providing information and transcripts from a conference on corridos.


Secondary Sources

María Herrera-Sobek, The Mexican Corrido: A Feminist Analysis, 1990

Américo Paredes, "With His Pistol in His Hand," A Border Ballad and Its Hero, 1958





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