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Mexican Immigrant Corridos

Ballads are songs that tell a story, often a sad one. Corridos are a form of Mexican ballad that describe the difficulties of life. Mexican immigrants brought corridos with them and even composed new ones that drew upon their experiences in the United States. This selection of corridos illustrates common immigrant concerns—difficult working conditions, nostalgia for home, and unease with the effects of a foreign culture on immigrants' traditional customs and beliefs.

"The Immigrants" ("Los Enganchados"—"The Hooked Ones")

On the 28th day of February
That important day
When we left El Paso,
They took us out as contract labor.

When we left El Paso
At two in the morning,
I asked the boss contractor
If we were going to Louisiana.

We arrived at Laguna
Without any hope.
I asked the boss
If we were going to Oklahoma.

Along the line of the Katy
There goes a very fast train.
It runs a hundred miles an hour
And then they don't give it all the steam.

And he who doesn't want to believe it,
Just let him get on board.
Just let him get on board at night;
He will see where he gets to.

We arrived on the first day
And on the second began to work.
With our picks in our hands
We set out tramping.

Some unloaded rails
And others unloaded ties,
And others of my companions
Threw out thousands of curses.

Those who knew the work
Went repairing the jack
With sledge hammers and shovels,
Throwing earth up the track.

Eight crowbars lined up,
We followed disgusted;
To shouts and signs
We remained indifferent.

Said Don José Maria
With his hell's mouth,
"It would be better to be in Kansas
Where the government would maintain us."

Said Jesus, "El Coyote,"
As if he wanted to weep,
"It would be better to be in Juarez
Even if we were without work."

These verses were composed
By a poor Mexican
To spread the word about
The American system.

"The Beet-Field Workers"

In the year 1923
Of the present era
The beet-field workers went
To that Michigan, to their grief,
Because all the bosses
Began to scold,
And Don Santiago says to them:
"I want to return
Because they haven't done for us
What they said they would;
Here they come and tell you
That you ought to go up there
Because there you will have everything
Without having to fight for it.
But these are nothing but lies
And those who come and say those things are liars.
When we get there
They begin to scold us,
And then we say to them:
"We are going back
Because there in San Antonio
We just enjoyed ourselves.
The 18th of February,
Oh, what a day to remember!"
When we arrived at Houston
We didn't find anything to do.
The times were very hard
And didn't seem to want to get better.
When we arrived at Houston,
Working night and day,
They didn't give us anything to eat,
Nothing more than just watermelon.
On leaving the state of Texas
At two in the morning
I asked the boss contractor
If we were going to Louisiana.
We arrived at Kansas City.
Juan, "El Coyote," yelled out,
With his hat on one side,
"I will not go back to Kansas
To work for the county."
Juan, "El Coyote," yelled out
With that mouth of hell,
"I will not go back to Kansas
To work for the government.
I shall not sing my farewell
Because I do not have it with me;
I left it in the state of Texas
To make them remember me."

"The Farm Where I Was Born"

I don't care to dance in the halls
That you have here;
What I want is an earth floor
Like on the farm where I was born.

I don't care for your automatic pistols,
That you have here;
What I want is a black rifle
Like on the farm where I was born.

I don't care for your silk shirts
That you have here;
What I want is a suit of blue jumpers
Like on the farm where I was born.

I don't care for your carriages or automobiles
That you have here;
What I want is a cart with oxen
Like on the farm where I was born.

I don't like your wide trousers
That you have here;
I like them close to the skin
Like on the farm where I was born.

"The Flappers"

Red bandannas
I detest,
And now the flappers
Use them for their dress.
The girls of San Antonio
Are lazy at the metate
They want to walk out bobbed-haired,
With straw hats on.
The harvesting is finished,
So is the cotton;
The flappers stroll out now
For a good time.
On which, with the girls
And with some moonshine,
It staggered around and I smoked marijuana.
What nights those were which will never return!
I'll never forget when I was a bootlegger
The times that they followed me. The Ford ran so much
That it seemed to me
It was going to fall apart.
It was a good one and never broke down
Whether it was going up
Or whether it was going down.
My friends always said
That it looked more like an Overland
Than a Ford.

"The Railroad"

The passing engine
Can't do anything good
Because at dusk it is at your home
And at dawn in a strange country.
Oh! What sadness!
The Mexicans will have
To see the railroad train
That the Americans bring.
The tiny little engine
Is the one that's been left here
And they want it to go
As far as San Luis Potosí.
Listen, listen,
To the train puffing;
The train which carries men away
And never brings them back again.

Source | "The Songs of the Immigrant," in Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930), 84-93.
Creator | Unknown
Item Type | Music/Song
Cite This document | Unknown, “Mexican Immigrant Corridos,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 17, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/2221.

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