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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

5. Masculine

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton
- Cherokee Memorials
- Louise Amelia Smith Clappe
- James Fenimore Cooper
- Corridos
- Caroline Stansbury Kirkland
- Nat Love
- John Rollin Ridge
- Catharine Maria Sedgwick
- Walt Whitman
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Corridos

Guadalupe Posada, Verdaderos Versos de Macario Romero
[7354] José Guadalupe Posada, Verdaderos Versos de Macario Romero [The Truth about Macario Romero] (1912), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-DIG-ppmsc-04557].

Corridos Activities
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The corrido, a narrative ballad usually sung or spoken to music, was the most important literary genre of the southwestern border region, where it achieved its greatest popularity between the 1830s and the 1930s. Developed by Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in the former Mexican province of Nuevo Santander (currently Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas), corridos drew upon traditional Spanish ballad forms to articulate singers' experiences of cultural conflict in the borderlands. The word "corrido" is derived from the Spanish correr ("to run"), signaling the rapid tempo and brisk narrative pace that usually characterize these songs. Corridos do not have refrains or choruses; rather, the lyrics move the listener through the narrative quickly and without digression. Often composed within a short musical range of less than a single octave, corridos enable the performer to sing at high volume. Singers are often accompanied by guitar or the bajo sexto, a twelve-string guitar popular in Texas and New Mexico.

Corridos were usually composed to record political and social conflicts, current events, and extraordinary occurrences. While they were sometimes printed and distributed as broadsides, their primary mode of circulation was through oral performance. Some of the most famous of these broadsides were illustrated by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada on topics such as the Ku Klux Klan, the American "mosquito" (invaders), and episodes of violence in the Southwest. In this way, Latinos' borderland experiences--and political protests--were recorded in the memories and artistic expression of the people who learned the corridos. Many nineteenth-century corridos are still sung and recorded, and Mexicans and Mexican Americans continue to compose new corridos: popular musicians who use the corrido form include Los Tigres del Norte and the late singer Selena. Today, as then, corridos function as a kind of "musical newspaper" of the poor and oppressed; as musician and author Elijah Wald exposes in Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas, contemporary corridos record the stories of drug traffickers, government corruption, bloody battles in Chiapas, and immigrant hardship in the United States.

Traditional corridos were a product of the dynamic culture within the border communities, where Mexicans, European Americans, and Native Americans vied for land rights, employment opportunities, and political authority. Expressing intercultural conflict from a Mexican point of view, the ballads often focus on an "outlaw" hero who defends his rights--as well as those of other Mexicans--against the unjust authority of Anglo rinches ("rangers") or other officials empowered by the American government after its annexation of Texas. The rinches were the Texas Rangers, who are sometimes celebrated outside of the corrido tradition as proponents of law and order in the Southwest. In reality, the Rangers were part of the European-American colonization movement and were partially responsible for the enormous number of lynchings of Mexicans and Chicanos in Texas and other areas of the Southwest.

Corridos serve as records of these and other injustices. Most corrido heroes are driven to crime only as a last resort or out of an honorable desire to avenge wrongs that have been perpetrated against them. For example, Gregorio Cortez kills two Texas sheriffs after they shoot his brother, and Rito Garcia shoots Anglo officers after they invade his home without a warrant. Corridos also celebrate figures who challenge political boundaries through their labor, such as vaqueros ("cowboys") and smugglers. "Kiansis," a corrido that asserts the vaqueros' superiority to Anglo cowboys, chronicles the Mexican cattlehands' drive into the American territory of Kansas. These songs provide an important counter story to western novelist Owen Wister's famous racist claim that only Anglos make good cowboys. Wister is the author of The Virginian, an early cowboy novel, and was a classmate of President Theodore Roosevelt (a popular target of early corridos' fury), who led the Rough Riders.

Some corridos close with their heroes' triumphant return to the Mexican community, while others narrate their capture, imprisonment, or execution. Whatever their fate, the men who are the subject of corridos are always celebrated as heroes because they defend their rights courageously and skillfully. Effectively translating political ideals of protest and resistance into a popular form, corridos functioned as powerful expressions of Mexican and Mexican American cultural pride. Today, they are recognized as one of the most important foundations for the rich Chicano literary tradition that developed in the twentieth century.

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