Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

For Los Angeles, a 'multiplicity of corridos'

Art by Gajin Fujita, courtesy of LACMA

I didn't have a chance to make it to a performance Saturday afternoon by Ozomatli at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the band performed the top entries in a contest seeking the "The Corrido of L.A." But the lyrics to several of the corrido entries are posted on LACMA's website (under "submissions"), and they're worth perusing.

The contest, a joint project between LACMA and the University of Southern California, was held in honor of the centennial of the Mexican revolution. Students in grades 7 to 12 from throughout the city were asked to submit songs written in the traditional Mexican narrative ballad style, in any language, that best captured the essence of Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, many of the corridos submitted dealt with immigration, itself a central theme of Los Angeles. One 11th-grader from Boyle Heights' Roosevelt High School wrote a song about last summer's tragic massacre of Central and South American migrants in the northern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. Several others wrote about the experience of undocumented immigrants. More than one entry among the top ten dealt with "el sueño Americano," the American dream.

Many entries, though not all, were in Spanish. Another Roosevelt student, Veronica Zelaya, submitted a song simply titled "Yo soy un ilegal," with lyrics that begin:

Yo soy un ilegal (I am an illegal)/que ha venido a luchar (who has come here to struggle)/para a mis padres ayudar (to help my parents)/y no se como empezar (and I don't know how to begin).

The narrator risks drowning in the "Río Bravo" (how the Rio Grande is referred to in Mexico), "Pero ni modo que hacer (but oh well, what else to do)/por un sueño americano (for an American dream).

Other entries dealt with similarly heavy topics, but not all. Saul Sandoval, a San Pedro High School student, submitted the "Corrido de Los Lakers:"

La noche 17 de Junio del año 2010 siempre voy a recordar (the night of June 17 of the year 2010 I will always remember)/los Lakers vencieron a los Celtics 83-79 (the Lakers beat the Celtics 83-79).

As the rules went, whatever best captures the essence of L.A.

There were roughly a hundred corridos submitted, said Ilona Katzew, curator and co-head of the Latin American art department for LACMA. In the end the contest resulted not in a single corrido theme song for the city, but "a wonderful multiplicity of corridos," Katzew said today.

"It gave students a forum to express their opinions and views about their city and their own personal relationship to it," she wrote in an e-mail. "What made the event so poignant is that all these voices were brought together for others to hear."

Previous posts have featured video of some of the entries.