Saturday, March 9, 2019
March 9-10, 2019: Tejano Traditions
[On March 6th, 1836 the Alamo, a San Antonio fort and part of the newly independent Texan Republic, fell to Mexican forces. That battle became a rallying cry for the remainder of the war between Texas and Mexico, and so this week I’ve AmericanStudied a handful of the ways the Alamo has been remembered. Leading up to this special weekend post on Tejano culture and legacies!]
On three products of Tejano culture (the cross-cultural Hispanic American community of South Texas).
1) Gloria Anzaldúa: I said a lot of what I would want to say about the Tejano author, scholar, poet, and general badass Gloria Anzaldúa in that hyperlinked post on her groundbreaking, challenging, and wonderful book Borderlands/La Frontera. That book itself exemplifies Tejano culture, from its multilingualism to its numerous crossings of genre borders to its extended engagements with Mexican, indigenous, Anglo, and cross-cultural histories, literatures, religions, and communities. But just as exemplary is Anzaldúa’s homeland, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas: a region that, as that hyperlinked article notes, suffers from some of America’s worst systemic poverty; that has become a site of border contestations (as I write this post in early January President Trump is planning to visit RGV, and ironically enough Anzalduas Park, in support of his stupid border wall); but that is also a rich resource of all the American histories and stories Anzaldúa brought to life so pitch-perfectly.
2) Tejano music: Speaking of pitch, in 21st century America the word “Tejano” is often used specifically to refer to a broad genre of popular music that has developed over centuries and become internationally known over the last few decades. No single artist contributed more to that latter trend than Selena, the Mexican American singer who rose from South Texas roots to become a pop sensation and icon before her tragic murder by a former business associate when she was just 23. But of course any musical genre is much bigger and more diverse than a single artist can capture, and Tejano is even more so, as it combines Latin cultural traditions like the corrido and mariachi music with European-influenced forms such as the accordion-heavy polka (South Texas had significant German and Czech immigrant communities in the 19th century). Embodied by early 20th century musical and cultural pioneer Narciso “Chicho” Martinez, this accordion-driven Latin-flavored music was like nothing America or the world had ever seen, and has continued to evolve and influence numerous other artists and genres over the century since.
3) Tex-Mex cuisine: Not sure I have to write much about the culinary glory that is Tex-Mex. But I suppose this much needs to be said: as is often the case with national culinary traditions, what we call “Mexican food” here in the United States is much more accurately described as Mexican American food, as it differs greatly from cuisine in Mexico itself and has evolved in much the same cross-cultural way as American Chinese food (to cite the most famous such example). I could say some more analytical stuff, but honestly I’m just lost in reveries of La Hacienda, my childhood favorite restaurant and to my mind the once and future embodiment of Tex-Mex. That it briefly turned into an Irish pub (which still served some of its Tex-Mex classics!) before shutting its doors permanently and tragically when I was in high school only adds one more layer to La Hacienda’s exemplification of cross-cultural culinary perfection, and also as it turns out segues nicely to next week’s St. Patrick’s Day series!
That next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?