Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Most Hispanic communities in the Great Plains maintain Mexican and Mexican American musical and cultural traditions, including musical repertoires, tastes, and practices. The maintenance and persistence of musical traditions and preferences depends in large part on the date of arrival in the area. More recently arrived Mexican immigrants bring musical styles from their home regions: mariachi music from the state of Jalisco, harp music from the state of Michoacán, and border music (música norteña, featuring the accordion) from the northern state of Nuevo León, for example. Mexican Americans born in the Great Plains perform, listen, and dance to mainstream North American popular music (rock, rap, pop, blues) and jazz, Tex-Mex musical styles, especially the accordion-led conjunto ensemble, and current Latin American and Mexican popular and folk music genres: Colombian cumbia, Caribbean salsa, Mexican lyric canciones románticas (love songs), and corridos (contemporary narrative ballads, often with a strong social or political orientation).

Mexican, Chicano, and Latino popular musicians whose work is well known and appreciated in the Great Plains include a wide range of artists active in a variety of musical styles: the Latin rock group Santana (led by Mexicanborn guitarist Carlos Santana); Los Tigres del Norte, the música norteña band from the state of Sinaloa noted for the performance of songs with strong social commentary; Panamanian salsa musician Ruben Blades; Selena Quintanilla, the much-lamented tejana singer; tejano conjunto accordionist Flaco Jiménez; and tejana singer Lydia Mendoza, among others.

Hispanic Catholic and Protestant sacred musical styles in the Great Plains have also been influenced by developments in Mexico and the Hispanic Southwest. In Spanish-speaking congregations, Catholic and Protestant sacred musical performance styles and repertoires are related to secular styles, though with a religious context and message. The influence of mainstream North American popular secular music styles can certainly be heard in Hispanic congregations in Great Plains states as elsewhere in the country.

Most of these musical styles and traditions remain generally invisible to the mainstream majority European American population in the Great Plains region. Just as earlier Czech and Swedish musical traditions were often mysterious to outsiders during the peak years of central European and Scandinavian immigration to the Great Plains (though everyone knew, and knows, the polka), so too are many Hispanic musical traditions generally unfamiliar to non-Spanish speakers today. Some possible exceptions include Mexican mariachi music and Tex-Mex conjunto music, with its polka roots.

In addition to the Hispanic community's acceptance and use of a heterogeneous mix of Mexican, Mexican American, North American, and Latin American popular and folk music styles, the generally well developed public school music education establishment in the region embraces and involves students of all races and ethnicities, including those with Spanish surnames. As the number of Hispanic students in schools in Nebraska, Kansas, and other Great Plains states grows, so too will their representation in marching bands, wind ensembles, orchestras, jazz bands, and choruses in elementary and secondary schools in the region. Much of the repertoire, with its emphasis on European and European American art and popular music traditions and jazz, performed by these musical ensembles is situated at a distance from the popular and folk music repertoires and styles common in Spanish-speaking communities. However, musical groups featuring Mexican and Latino repertoire (especially mariachi music) have been established in some public schools in the region (in Fort Worth, for example) in order to foster positive self-identification among Hispanic students. Nevertheless, one should not assume that Hispanic musical life and involvement in the Great Plains is limited to only one tradition or style. Rather, it should be considered as a mosaic made up of many constituent and finely nuanced parts.

John Koegel California State University, Fullerton

Burr, Ramiro. The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music. New York: Billboard Books, 1999.

Garcia, Juan R. Mexicans in the Midwest, 1900–1932. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996.

Peña, Manuel. Musica Tejana: The Cultural Economy of Artistic Transformation. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999.

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