Texas y Pensilvanio

Popular Travel Corridos

In the late 1920's and early 1930's increasing numbers of Mexican immigrant workers were cruelly exploited as cheap manual labor picking cotton in the Texan fields. In a desperate attempt to escape the heat and agonizing labor of the fields, these workers travelled far from home to seek employment elsewhere. Large groups of "contracted labor" in Northern cities became a popular employment alternative, although its advantages to field labor were often marginally relative. Impoverished immigrants were willing to take their chances with the "desganchistas" (contractors), choosing to lead a nomadic, lonely lifestyle that required them to spend long durations each year separated from their families and homes. Thus, travel by train to a Northern foreign destination and painful farewells to loved ones became a common experience shared by Mexican-American migrant workers. Undeniably, this experience has shaped an indelible part of the Chicano cultural (and historical) legacy, and, consequently, is reflected in their oral tradition through the production of a cycle of travel corridos. Despite the grim circumstances of their existence and the bleak, disillusioning reality of these exploitive contracted labor camps, this corrido sub-genre is characterized by optimism, the hope for a better future.

These 1930 migration corridos required the invention of a different repetoire of verbal formulas and thematic motifs for the corridista to draw upon. However, some formulas are really not "new" at all, but rather adaptions of former heroic corrido formulas. Rather humorous examples of this are Corrido Pensilvanio's line "con mi sombrero en la mano," an obvious reference to the popular iconic line, "con su pistola en la mano," from the famous Corrido de Gregorio Cortez. Also, the common formula, "vuelo vuelo palomita..." traditionally used to introduce the mensaje became "Corre corre maquinita" in many of the travel corridos. The formulaic and iconic structure, as well as the important train motif, of the 1930 migration corridos is best exemplified by Corrido Pensilvanio and Corrido de Texas.

As two of the most popular travel corridos into the 1930's, the Corrido Pensilvanio and Corrido de Texas present a curious situation that is worth investigating and reveals the misleading effects of recording label practices and their commercialization of the corrido. Each corrido individually serves as an excellent illustration of both the standard corrido criteria according to Duvalier and McDowell (as identified by code with the corrido duplications included),as well as the customary travel corrido characteristics elaborated upon later. Yet, these two corridos, produced in 1929, bear such strong similarity that it leads to suspicion. In fact, these corridos seem identical except for the different destinations and the Part III ending to Pensilvanio which includes an arrival scene. This uncanny resemblance can be interpreted in two manners: (1) these corridos are so formulaic that entire stanzas are preserved and reappear in travel corridos with virtually no change, giving the illusion that one corrido is a variation of the other (2) their similarity is a result of intentional imitation or variation. Despite existence of evidence to argue the first interpretation, more convincing evidence supports the second possibility proving El Corrido de Texas to be an imitation, or "spin-off," of Pensilvanio. Corrido de Pennsilvania is the original predecessor, performed by the Trovadores Mexicanos and recorded the tweleth of May 1929 in San Antonio by the Okeh record label. Clearly, the corrido was a hit and other recording companies wanted a stake in its success. Only seven days later Corrido Pensilvanio, performed by Lupe and Pedro Martínez, was recorded in Chicago by the Vocalion record company. One would then have to presume that the corrido became increasingly popular and profitable further attracting other competing record labels. In order to guarantee an equally successful hit, El Corrido de Texas was created as an imitation that was essentially the same corrido but deviated just enough to be called by another name. In November of that same year, Columbia record label recorded El Corrido de Texas performed by Ramos y Silvano in Chicago with Victor recording company on its heels, releasing the same corrido within days (11/18/29), also, in Chicago but performed by Angel y Salóme Soto. Between these two recordings of El Corrido de Texas, Okeh suddenly released Corrido Pensilvanio again in New York, obviously trying to beat the other companies to other profitable music-sales cities. It even seems that the Gennett record label company joined in the race targetting the Midwest region and released Corrido de Pensilvanio in Richmond, Indiana two days after Victor's release of El Corrido de Texas in Chicago. This rapid procession of recordings and the resulting imitation corrido illustrate how the commercialization process subverts the corrido and obscures the validity of corrido textual analysis, making it even more difficult to trace its evolution.

The differences between the two are petty and make it hard to determine which lines are actual verbal formulas and which are lines that were just borrowed by El Corrido de Texas. In accordance to McDowell, a number of formulas interact with the speech events to express the theme of people in transit. Although not a manañita they do have the "tender farewells" or "sad supplications" motif. For example, in stanzas six and seven of Pensilvanio the protagonist says "adiós" to Texas and its fields, which is remimniscent of a heroic farewell except that it is not given are by a dying man, as is traditional, but rather spoken by a departing man. This farewell is common among travel corridos and can imply either a smug tone because they are glad to get away from the fields or tinged with sadness as they say farewell to loved ones.

Since El Corrido de Texas is an imitation of Pensilvanio, they have a similar storyline, but there are significant differences within Pensilvanio. Both begin with a loved one expressing desire to accompany the central character in order to take care of them but the contractor refuses because he claims the wives will hinder them. In response, the protagonist requests a picture as a rememberance and asks her to write. Then the migrant worker says his farewell to Texas explicitly stating that his reason for leaving is to avoid picking cotton, and makes reference to his workgang, the train, and its course of travel to his destination which promises him a better means to provide for himself and his loved ones. In Corrido de Texas he is travelling through Los Angeles until Chicago and Indiana where as in Pensilvanio the central character is travelling through West Virginia and Milwaukee to go to Pennsylvania. Other noteworthy differences, is that Pensilvanio has a more detailled ending that includes the theme of arrival, it has more direct speech events, and adheres more to the general formulaic corrido structure by including a narrative framework with a llamada inicial (opening announcement of event and date), despedida, and reflexivity.

The formulaic pattern of the speech events versus the narrative detail, also, demonstrates McDowell's theory of corrido discourse. Particularly in Pensilvanio, it seems that the narrative and one speech event is used to set the dramatic situation, the farewell/departure, and then begins a series of speech events, "plunges into a series" as McDowell describes (p217), interrupted by narrative detail in the eighth stanza to set the stage for the second dramatic scene, the arrival, after which is the formulaic alternation between direct speech and narrative, only without the usual dyads.

While the narration follows a formulaic pattern the actual speech events themselves do not. McDowell in his article claims, "The verbal exchange rarely takes place in the form of a coherent conversation...." (p219). Corrido speech events are usually verbal epigrams not dialogue as seen in Pensilvanio, but this type of speech event is neither unique nor an exception to corrido discourse as it can be found in Benjamín Argumedo and Valentín de la Sierra.

These early travel corridos, which Corrido Pensylvanio and Corrido de Texas represent, reflect the attitude of a relatively young immigrant community still clutching their dreams of a future freed from penniless hardship. In general, the peoples' hopeful aspirations have not yet been corroded by the acids of societal prejudices and social injustice as is later seen, mainly after World War II, in more cynical corridos of disillusionment. The migrant workers in the 1930's still resent the "rinches" and "desganchistas" for their mistreatment but they also still have hope sustained through a faith in the American system of opportunity. The powerful motif of the train reappears in these travel corridos to symbolize this faith. Departures, travel, and arrivals are the events of these corridos, but all make reference to the train as the emblem of their hope, representing the future it will transport them to. "To them the train symbolized hope and opportunity, the hope of escape from the poverty, the prejudice, and the backbreaking fieldwork which was his life in Texas." (p.53 Corridos y Tragedias de la Frontera) The hope as implied in Corrido Pensilvanio and Corrido de Texas places this sub-genre at the inchoate phase of the corrido's evolutionary continuum from optimism to cynicism, the "heroic" to the "victim" corrido.

Alison Roberts
UT Government student

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