Southern Borderlands: Music, Migrant Life, and Scenes of a “Mexican South”

Mid-summer dancehall topada in central Texas, 2014. Photo by Alex E. Chávez.

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Southern Borderlands: Music, Migrant Life, and Scenes of a “Mexican South”

by Alex E. Chávez
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 3: Music

"The strumming of stringed instruments booms out through the PA, elaborate fiddle melodies erupt, followed by the soaring voice of the poet-practitioner, embracing those present, scanning the scene before him . . . drifting, shaping, moving verses that elicit a chorus of gritos."

It’s a typical sweltering July evening in central Texas, close to ten o’clock. The incandescent buzz of city lights in the distance washes over the night sky, an amber glow that crowns the ballroom outside of town where an anxious gathering of Mexican migrants saunters along concrete bleachers; some lean out across the flanking metal railing and peer toward the crowd of several hundred below. The buzz of laughter and conversation nervously crescendos every now and then in anticipation of the musical performance everyone is awaiting. These soon-to-be dancers are nestled between two tablados (raised benches) positioned at opposite ends of the dance floor.

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