Ask a Mexican

Where can I learn more about ranchera music?

Dear Mexican: I have always liked ranchera music. As of late, I have wanted to get deeper into it as far as the history, the culture and especially the songs and lyrics go. The older I get, the more rancheras seem like poetry to me...sounds cursi, I know. I was wondering if you can suggest a good book or two or website that I can read or check out. I went to my local library, but they didn't have a very good selection. And Borders or Barnes and Noble? Forget, por favor, and gracias.

Houston Honey

Dear Wabette: Of course Borders doesn't stock any books on ranchera: Borders doesn't exist anymore (and borders don't exist, period, but that's neither aquí nor allà). Most research on Mexican music concentrates on corridos, our ballad form that celebrates bad men, events and horses, but actual scholarly treatises on ranchera? Few and far between, alas — and non-existent in English. Your best bet is Jose Alfredo Jiménez: Cancionero Completo, a songbook that contains all the compositions of the ranchera titan, whose hit parade makes the collected works of Gershwin, Porter, Leiber-Stoller, the Brill Building and Woody Guthrie seem as voluminous as the output of Paper Lace. The libro also contains a great introductory essay by Mexican intellectual Carlos Monsivais that puts Jiménez in his proper context. As great as Cancionero Completo is, however, don't bother buying it: a used copy is currently priced at $54 on, and while the book showcases the Robert Burns-esque bravado and orgullo that was the Jiménez style, it ain't worth that price in this day and age, when you can just gather all the lyrics online. Then again, if you're willing to buy the book, I'm more than happy to sell my copy to you: I do need to finish off the down payment on my burro...

Dear Mexican: Upon first seeing me as a two-week old baby, my Aunt Estrella screamed, "¡Ay, que gringo!" But, if you gotta call me a gabacho, so be it. I do have Mexican family (through marriage), and my brother (white like me) is currently down in Mexico City courting a beautiful Mexi nugget he met while attending college in Malaga, Spain. I get along well with many Mexicans, legal and illegal, but I hate that they aren't paying The Man like I have to. Sure, I'm a little jealous, but I'd be all for Mexicans being awarded citizenship simply for walking over the long as they paid their dues. I pay taxes that fund shit like keeping white trash from getting jobs, jobs they could get if I wasn't already paying for them to survive on junk food and some undocumented border-jumping beaner wasn't there working for cheaper (and not helping me pay the dumb taxes to keep the trailer trash alive). I say assimilate, document, pay taxes and welcome. I'm writing an essay on wetbacks (fuck PC terms) and their effect on our country for better AND worse. I've never heard of you until I read about thirty of your e-mails and responses on the net today. I'd like to know your opinion on the crossing over and its effect economically rather than socially.

White Sox Winner!

Dear Gabacho: The only opinion I have is on your language. "Beaner"? "Border-jumping"? "Wetback?" All these insults are SO 1950s. Don't you know the current verboten insult toward Mexicans is "illegal" or "illegal immigrant"? And as for your concern about the undocumented paying their way, don'tcha worry about that: The recent proposed amnesty bill crafted by a bunch of political pendejos is more punitive than habanero salsa marching through your alimentary canal toward your culo.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano