Among Races, Nations, and Diasporas: Genealogies of “La bamba” in Mexico and the United States

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Studies in Latin American Popular Culture


This article examines how “La bamba” entered into the cultural politics of Mexican nationalism, the African diaspora, and Chicano nationalism. As one of Mexico’s most popular songs, “La bamba” provides a window into the multiple historically contingent ways in which scholars and cultural producers assign racial and geographic roots to music. Between 1930 and 1987, Mexican and US intellectuals and performers characterized it as indigenous, European, mestizo, black, African-descended, and Afro-Caribbean in their ethnographic accounts, musical compositions and performances, films, and dance. This article rethinks scholarly conceptions of Mexican identity that define the nation in relation to its indigenous and Spanish roots and that imply, if not declare, that blackness has disappeared from national culture. It contends that there was no coherent state-sponsored or popular project to construct, let alone erase, blackness from local, regional, and national cultures after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The song’s African-descended melodies, harmonies, and rhythms were sometimes emphasized and other times ignored while intellectuals and performers struggled to classify culturally mixed music. These ambiguities allowed “La bamba” to move seamlessly from Mexican nationalism to the cultural initiatives of the African diaspora and the Chicano Movement.



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