Defiant Mariachis

Defiant Mariachis: Mariachi Potosino Exhibits

Defiant Mariachis: Mariachi Potosino Exhibits: How Migrants Have Used Music to Defy Subjection by a Dominant Culture

As you walk into the “Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home” exhibit the first thing you are likely to lay eyes on is José Cruz Alba’s charro suit, complete with a holster, botas de charro, and a sombrero. The figure wearing Alba’s clothes is invisible against the suit, for it is the suit which holds meaning for those who lay eyes on it. In a subtle act of defiance, perhaps almost imperceptible, the charro suit gives space for a piece of Mexico to be accessible for migrants who left their home and cannot go back because of their immigration status. Alba’s Mariachi Potosino made this piece of Mexico mobile.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Original Charro suit belonging to José Cruz Alba posed in front of an image of Mariachi Potosino courtesy of Cristina A. Cabrera, featured at the Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Vestido de Charro, José Cruz Alba

José Cruz Alba was born in Ignacio Allende, Durango on October 7, 1918. He began his family in Mexico but decided to move them across the border after returning from Bracero work in Gary Indiana and the south of Chicago. The Alba family made a new home of what is now known as the community of Pilsen.

During his bracero contract, Alba performed as part of a band on nights and weekends when he wasn’t working at the steel mills. It is likely that other braceros around the area as well as in the southwest of the country also sought ways of producing a semblance of home during the time they spent separated from their families and communities.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Following his return to Chicago in 1958, José Cruz Alba, accompanied by his family, founded Mariachi Potosino–a band that would perform with the likes of Flor Silvestre and Javier Solis. They would also perform Las Mañanitas for Former Mayor Richard J. Daley and represented the Mexican community in President Nixon’s inaugural event in 1973.

Alba’s original charro suit as well as his Selmer trumpet and case are displayed in the exhibit at the Museum. All of this information and more can be found on the walls of the Sound of Home exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Bracero Program (1942-1964)

The Bracero Program was implemented in 1942 as a result of a labor shortage created by World War II. Although the focus of many tends to be the agricultural hub in the southwest region of the U.S., many braceros worked in the midwest region at steel factories, including Alba.

The program had a few essential bolts. For one, men were the exclusive target of recruiters, as they were assumed to feel a sense of responsibility to earn bread for their family. This is not to say that women were not deeply affected by the program and temporary loss (sometimes permanent) of their brothers, sons, fathers, and husbands. Many were forced to enter new enterprises–whether by selling bread, becoming seamstresses, and in some cases turning to sex work.

Additionally, in order for the program to be considered successful by the Mexican and United States government’ standards, braceros were expected to return to their homeland at the conclusion of their contract, which could last anywhere from several weeks to many months. The H-2A visa program is considered a modern rendition of the Bracero Program. Together these two pre-conditions would come to define the ideal contracted individual: a docile, obedient working arm.

Laborers with bracero contracts traveled to the U.S., worked for the duration of their contract, and then returned home as modernized citizens ready to transform the Mexican economy and bearing remittances. For the most part braceros followed this outline. However, many braceros defied the assumption that they’d return to live the rest of their lives in Mexico. Some stepped out on their contracts and sought work as undocumented laborers. Others returned to the U.S. with their family by their side, ready to start their lives in the land that provided work.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Mireya Loza’sDefiant Braceros fleshes out the concept of deviance among braceros, or migrant workers, through interviews, archived correspondence, and a little bit of history. The oral histories of ex-braceros who participated in the Bracero History Project reveal defiance through sexuality, political participation, and race which has been ignored by historical narratives about the Bracero Program in an effort to create a collective victimized identity with political power. Interviews collected as a part of this project can be found on the Bracero History Archive website.

Many braceros found ways to use the boxes they were forced into to create advantages for themselves. Others outwardly rejected racial and gender-based norms. A significant number, including Alba, defied the “temporary” tenant of the Bracero program which saw Mexicans as nothing more than laborers—not potentially permanent residents or members of U.S. communities.

Like deviant braceros interviewed for the Bracero History Project from the agricultural southwest, Alba—a defiant former bracero—found a way to work with, through, and against systems of dominant culture. Music was his power.

While walking along the exhibit honoring Jose Alba’s legacy, one cannot help but think que chingones, estos si que representan a México. Jose Alba’s directive at the head of Mariachi Potosino and his political pragmatism represent defiance of a dominant culture carried out with elegance and song. 

This politically deviant Mariachi is apparent in a photograph on a wall labeled “Social Justice and Politics” portraying the band in a protest against the gentrifying project embodied in the construction of UIC campus that would displace entire Italian, Greek, and Mexican communities. As a symbol representing Mexicans and Mexican culture, the band secured the community’s presence and asserted the positioning of many–including those who might be affected by the project, but did not have the right to vote given their immigration status.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

The weight of the role the band played in the Mexican community’s political pull and presencing is immeasurable. And although political deviance tends to be the most salient, rejection of assimilationist culture that tries to strip immigrants of ties to their homelands and traditions is vital in giving the community opinion and power.

Much attention has been directed to the band’s relationship with former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, but not enough has been granted to a photo of the band performing with the illustrious Flor Silvestre–an icon of Mexican music and culture. An enlarged photo of the joint performance is featured on the walls of the exhibit, alongside a photo of the band performing with Javier Solis.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Photo by Rogelio “Sordo” Obregón featuring Flor Silvestre performing with Mariachi Potosino, featured at the Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

Silvestre’s son, Pepe Aguilar, continues a tradition of Jaripeo Sin Fronteras in which he brings the jaripeo celebration to fans in the United States in the form of a yearly tour alongside his daughter, Angela Aguilar, and son, Leonardo Aguilar. 

Musical Migrant Deviancy

Moving to the United States is a demanding process involving transformation of traditions, communities, and self. Migrants are able to resist demands for assimilation of language and culture through the production, consumption, and circulation of music. Heavyweight artists such as Vicente Fernandez, the Aguilar Dynasty, Pedro Infante, and others utilized the charro suit for its direct ties to Mexican identity. 

Hugo S. is not the biggest fan of Mariachi music. Instead, he prefers to listen to cumbias on the stereos he has installed into his cars since immigrating to the United States as a young man from Mexico.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
A van with speakers installed belonging to Hugo S. in Monte Escobedo, Zacatecas, Mexico. Image taken by Lisandro and Dario Escobedo.

 

 

A decal installed by Hugo S. to personalize his vehicle with his nickname “Golden Boy.” Image taken by Lisandro and Dario Escobedo.

 

 

“That’s what they do in Mexico,” he explains as he scrolls through his facebook for a video he posted showcasing his proud installation. His favorites include music under the tamborazo, romanticas, and cumbia genres–those that were popular when he was younger and still living in Mexico.

The practice of adding stereo systems to cars used on a regular basis is a common one where Hugo is from. He brought the practice with him to the United States.

Through the amplification of the music that reminds him of home, Hugo participates in the same consumption and circulation of music as Alba’s Mariachi Potosino. The addition of speakers to further increase sound production allows many migrants to say “presente!” despite a reality in which many are forced to live in the shadows.

A few years ago, Hugo was able to regularize his status and traveled to his home town with his van marked with his nickname “golden boy.” It has been a full circle moment for him to be able to step out of the shadows and make noise without fear.

For many migrants, the ultimate act of defiance to an unwelcoming culture is living and celebrating with their culture. A “deviant” Mariachi Potosino has lent itself to fulfill this role in the Chicago community by lending visibility through sound.

This exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art is aptly named “Sound of Home” in recognition of everything mariachis, the charro suit, and music represents for those living away from home. A clockwise run around the room ends the exhibit with a flier that advertises the band’s availability “for all occasions.” It is a deceptively simple and common marketing tactic, but one thing is for sure: no one can accuse Mariachi Potosino of false advertisement.

 

 

Defiant Mariachis
Advertisement for Mariachi Potosino “Mariachi Potosino: Clasico de los Mariachis de Chicago,” featured at the Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home Exhibit hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. Image taken by Marboreth Cataño/Latina Republic.

 

 

“Mariachi Potosino: Sound of Home” featured at National Museum of Mexican Art at 1852 W. 19th St. in Pilsen, Chicago through Nov. 10, 2024. Admission is free. See official website for exhibits and hours.

 


Marboreth Cataño | Immigration Correspondent

Marboreth Cataño is a senior at the University of Chicago pursuing a degree in Public Policy with a specialization in International Development with minors in Anthropology and Spanish. She has lived in the Chicago suburbs her entire life and is deeply passionate about shedding light on the powerful and emotional stories of the vast immigrant population in the Chicagoland area. She believes visibility is the key to enacting change that reflects the needs of everyone—not just those with the loudest voices. The child of two proud Mexican immigrants, Marboreth has always had a special interest in how migrant communities find ways to create a home away from home to navigate the harsh realities of U.S. immigration policies, especially since these regulations often result in the separation of families and lives spent in “golden cages.” In her position with the Latina Republic, Marboreth hopes to give a voice to Latin American immigrants who contribute to the culture, diversity, and prosperity of Chicago.