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Lydia Mendoza’s moving homelands

Moving Homelands de Lydia Mendoza

Abstract

In this article, I argue that folk singer Lydia Mendoza’s musical and lyrical imagination of the Mexican diaspora enables important avenues of working through the complications of belonging and nostalgia as communal processes. Leaning on the affective and kinesthetic valences of the word “moving,” I use “moving homelands” to name the sense through which this negotiation of belonging and nostalgia occurs. By conducting close readings of Mendoza’s songs “Dos palomas al volar” (1989b), “Luis Pulido” (1989c), and “Celosa” (1989a), recorded at the same live concert in Santa Barbara, I argue that her music makes belonging and nostalgia into material processes, rather than abstracted and mythical concepts. Moving homelands describes how Mendoza’s audience interacts with her music to sound out the difficulties of living in a world separated by borders, finding improvisatory and collaborative moments to create a sense of communal belonging.

Resumen

Arguyo en este artículo que la imaginación musical y lírica de la diáspora mexicana expresada por la cantante folclórica Lydia Mendoza posibilita vías importantes para considerar las complicaciones de pertenencia y nostalgia como procesos comunales. Partiendo de las valencias afectivas y quinestésicas de la palabra “moving”, que en inglés denota tanto emotividad como movimiento, utilizo “moving homelands” (patrias móviles) para nombrar el sentido por medio del cual ocurre dicha negociación de pertenencia y nostalgia. Luego de hacer lecturas minuciosas de las canciones de Mendoza “Dos palomas al volar” (1989b), “Luis Pulido” (1989c) y “Celosa” (1989a), grabadas durante el mismo concierto en vivo en Santa Barbara, planteo que su música convierte la pertenencia y la nostalgia en procesos materiales en lugar de conceptos abstractos y míticos. “Moving homelands” describe cómo el público de Mendoza interactúa con su música para exclamar las dificultades de vivir en un mundo separado por fronteras, encontrando así momentos improvisados y colaborativos para crear un sentido de pertenencia comunal.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    From a phone conversation on 17 November 2014. Except where specifically noted, all translations and transcriptions in this essay are my own.

  2. 2.

    Here, I am following a scholarly tradition named by Américo Paredes and continued in the work of many others, such as Mary Pat Brady, Héctor Calderón, José E. Limón, Marissa K. López, José David Saldívar, and many, many more.

  3. 3.

    The Lydia Mendoza YouTube clips I reference in this essay (except for the video of “Tango Negro”), along with several others from the concert, are audio recordings that I uploaded as a fan onto my personal YouTube account. The copyright owners, DLB Music, have consented to the videos on my account, http://www.youtube.com/user/franciscondine/videos.

  4. 4.

    Broyles-González gives a concise history of how this mistitling came to be: “The recordings … were made in concert during Lydia Mendoza’s last year as a performer. We recorded it in Santa Barbara, California, on April 27, 1986, the day she and I sat for the last installment of her life- telling. It was just a few days before her seventieth birthday and just a few weeks before a severe stroke ended her long performance career. … [The album] was issued by Mr. Salomé Gutiérrez of DLB Records of San Antonio, Texas, after Lydia Mendoza passed her copy of our recording on to him—during recovery after her stroke. (DLB has recorded Lydia Mendoza since 1966.) Since Mendoza’s copy of the recording was not marked, Mr. Gutiérrez issued it as En Vivo desde New York (Live from New York). In reality it was live from Santa Barbara” (2001, pp. 225–226).

  5. 5.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7-pZaa-2fI. All ellipses, when quoting Mendoza, are meant to indicate her verbal pauses unless otherwise noted.

  6. 6.

    I have taken liberties with the translation here and in subsequent quotations—to be precise would mean losing the rhythm and rhyme of the song.

  7. 7.

    See especially Kun (2005), Audiotopia, pp. 16–21 and pp. 29–47.

  8. 8.

    Comments on YouTube uploads of Broyles-González’s recording of Mendoza’s concert illuminate the shared community of feeling within her geographically diverse audience. For example, see comments on “Celosa,” which will be discussed later in the paper: http://youtu.be/9X-L39r1oTI.

  9. 9.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cFx3b3N3C4.

  10. 10.

    It is interesting to consider if perhaps the grito is part of that particular audience member’s repertoire—if it is something they did every time they heard the song (especially since the timing is quite perfect, it is not unreasonable to think that they were waiting for their moment). For the purpose of this paper and the narrowing of my argument, I refer to the grito in “Luis Pulido” as a shout, so as not to confound my discussion because of the long history of the grito in Mexican diasporic culture.

  11. 11.

    My deepest thanks go to my colleague Sarah Quesada for her guidance in translating these lines.

  12. 12.

    For two examples, see “El corrido de Gregorio Cortez,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVpuKZRIA0g, which is the basis of Américo Paredes’s With His Pistol in His Hand, and “Pedro y Pablo” by Los Tigres del Norte, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz2SemBStRo.

  13. 13.

    For Albert Murray, “the ‘break’ … is a disruption of the normal cadence of a piece of music. The ‘break’ is a device which is used quite often and always has to do with the framework in which improvisation takes place” (1998, p. 112).

  14. 14.

    http://youtu.be/9X-L39r1oTI.

  15. 15.

    Deb Vargas discusses Garza at length in Dissonant Divas (2012). Garza was born in the US, married a Mexican national and moved to Mexico, and her career truly took off once she settled in Mexico. “Celosa” was a huge hit for Garza, selling millions of copies. For a short, quite informative piece on Garza, see “The Return of Eva Garza,” by Hector Saldana: https://www.mysanantonio.com/entertainment/article/The-return-of-Eva-Garza-4290979.php.

  16. 16.

    Twelve-string guitars, like the one Mendoza always played, double each of the traditional guitar’s six strings for the sake of sonority.

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Acknowledgements

I’d like to gratefully acknowledge the University of Notre Dame’s Young Scholars Symposium, as well as the CUNY Colloquium for Latino Studies for their wonderful communality and the feedback they provided. In particular, I would like to thank Bill Orchard, Simón Ventura Trujillo, Sarah Quesada, José E. Limón, Jason Ruiz, Valerie Smith, Daphne A. Brooks, and Alexandra Vazquez, all of whom provided invaluable suggestions. Finally, thank you to my abuela, María Luisa Gómez.

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Correspondence to Francisco E. Robles.

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Robles, F.E. Lydia Mendoza’s moving homelands. Lat Stud 19, 164–185 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41276-021-00316-5

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Keywords

  • Folk Music
  • Migration
  • Nostalgia
  • Performance
  • Música folclórica
  • Migración
  • Nostalgia
  • Performance

Palabras clave

  • Música folclórica
  • Migración
  • Nostalgia
  • Performance