Mexican Musicians in California and the United States, 1910-50
Koegel, John, California History
Mexican musicians have continuously crossed the United States-Mexico international border in both directions in search of professional opportunities. The period from the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to approximately the middle of the twentieth century is especially important since it represents the time when Mexican (and Latin American) popular and art music came to prominent national attention throughout the United States, within and outside Spanish-speaking communities. The Mexican musicians profiled here, as well as countless others, have transmitted musical styles and repertories that have enriched musical life in both countries and have crossed the boundaries between the many manifestations of musical culture and mass media in the twentieth century: film, radio, television, recordings, musical theater, opera, concerts, and print media. They have also moved between a "mainstream" English-speaking context and local Latino society in California and the Southwest, New York, Chicago, and, more recently, in Mexican and Latino diasporas throughout the United States. While most of these musicians have been male, a significant number of women musicians have made important contributions to musical life on both sides of the border, especially in the popular music world. (1)
Significant work has been produced by a number of scholars concerned with popular music, recordings, popular culture, and cinema that is crucial to an in-depth understanding of the role of Mexican and Mexican American musicians in the United States. (2) Additionally, the outstanding and absolutely essential Frontera Collection of Mexican American Music (UCLA, Arhoolie and Los Tigres del Norte Foundations) makes available on the internet thousands of recordings of Mexican and Mexican American popular music, principally from the pre-World War II period, including recordings by some of the performers studied in this article. (3)
In recent years, significant interest has been aroused in the contributions of Latino performers in Hollywood, especially with the release of films such as the HBO/Cinemax documentary The Bronze Screen. (4) And the creative work of Latino writers is being studied as part of Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project (University of Houston). (5)
Because of the dispersed nature of the historical record, perhaps, and understandable nationalist sentiment, Mexican writers most often focus on the work of Mexican popular musical performers within Mexico and Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, on their activities in the United States. Chicano scholars naturally concentrate on the creation and reception of a distinctly Chicano or Latino popular culture in the context of Latino communities in the United States, along with their interest in and connections to Latin America. However, the extensive careers of the leading Mexican popular musicians in the United States--and especially in California--from the Mexican Revolution to the immediate post-World War II era have received much less attention in the scholarly literature, though the careers of important Mexican art music composers such as Manuel M. Ponce, Carlos Chavez, and Silvestre Revueltas and their connections to musical life in the United States have been extensively studied.
While the contributions of a number of musicians active on both sides of the border are examined here, the life and career of one individual in particular is singled out for closer scrutiny: Mexican operatic tenor, film star, recording artist, and recitalist Jose Mojica, who personified the urbane, middle- and elite-class musical establishments. Mojica moved easily between both countries, and between Spanish- and English-speaking audiences in California and throughout the United States. He also crossed the borders between high art and popular culture through his recordings of Mexican and Latin American popular songs, recital tours, and work in the early American cine hispano (Spanish-language cinema) of the 1930s, the Hollywood studio response to a perceived need for Spanish-language sound films, geared toward U. …