By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Illustration by Mark Dancy Dear Mexican,
I am agüerowho considers himself fairly knowledgeable about Mexican culture, but there is one mystery that still eludes me: Why does some Mexican music sound just like polka? What is it that Mexicans love about those wheezing accordions and that redundant "oompah-pah" rhythm? Is there some historic connection between beaners and Polacks? Also, since polka-type music has deep roots in both European and Mexican cultures, do you think gringos and Latinos could smooth over racial tensions with a giant Polka-palooza?
Few traits of the Mexican race perplex gabachos more than our love of Bavarian-style banda sinaloensebrass bands and accordion-based conjunto norteñopolkas. It?s a question the Mexican gets all the tiempo: faithful reader Whipped Beaners & Other Delights claims "that fucking German oompah music you guys listen to" is proof Mexicans "like Nazis," while Annoyed HB Citizen wonders why "Mexican hillbillies" love "that stupid polka music." But the answer no es that complicated: both banda sinaloense and conjunto norteñoare testaments to what Americans lionize as the melting pot but Mexicans know as la raza cósmica—the cosmic race. Banda sinaloensedates to the late 1800s, when Germans migrated to central Mexico and supposedly hired kids to play the oompah music of the Deutschland. Conjunto norteño also originated during this time in northern Mexico, thanks to the accordion-obsessed colonies of Czechs, Poles and other Slavs who lived in that region.
So what's with the bewilderment and sneers whenever I blast Banda El Recodo as I cruise through SanTana's ritzy, retre-white Floral Park district? It's a misunderstanding: gabachosdon't get that Mexicans keep the culture of ethnic white America alive with our happy mestizo polkas, mazurkas and waltzes. We'd love to hold a Polka-palooza with ustedes, Cuñado, but the only gabachos who would show up are the octogenarian fans of the Lawrence Welk Show. And then they would call us wabs.
Do you know the name of the Mexican song that goes, "Ay yi yi yi, Ay yi yi yi yi?" I think it's a really famous ranchera song. I'm sure it doesn?t come across quite so clear in the e-mail as it does when I belt it out.
Ya Llegó la Caderona
Dear Big-Hipped Gabacha,
You mean every ranchera song? The song you're specifically referencing is "Cielito Lindo," which means "Beautiful Little Heaven," but gabachos know it better in its bastardized form as "The Frito Bandito Song" ("Ay-yi-yi-yi/I am the Frito Bandito/I love Fritos corn chips/I love them, I do/I love Fritos corn chips/I steal them from you!"). But one of the defining characteristics of ranchera music—songs of lament traditionally backed with mariachi—is the glorious grito: the shriek or soulful stream of consciousness a singer lets out during a song?s emotional climax. Some of the more famous ones include Javier Solis' "¡QUE-A!", Pedro Infante's "¡AAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHA!" and Vicente Fernández's immortal "¡A-ha-ha-hai!" I'm sure it doesn't come across quite so clear in this column as it does when hombres belt the gritos out, Caderona, but they kind of confirm that stereotype about Mexican men being inarticulate, drunken divas, ¿verdad?
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