Story Four: Oaxacan Pride in a New Land

Our last squeezebox story is from California’s Central Valley, a vast agricultural region where many Mexicans immigrate to find work in the fields. The most recent wave of Mexican immigrants to California are mostly indigenous people from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca–many of whom don’t even speak Spanish as their first language, and who are often discriminated against within mainstream Mexican culture for their indigenous heritage.

Although the accordion didn’t used to be a popular instrument in their home state, some Oaxacan immigrants in the Central Valley are now starting to embrace the accordion, playing their traditional Chilena music in their new home as a way of expressing their regional pride. What’s happening is a new, emergent accordion music made possible precisely because of immigration. We meet Carlos Mendoza, a retired field worker and musician; Los Yukinos, a Oaxacan band whose members work in the fields by day and perform at local clubs at night, and Filemón Lopez, a Oaxacan cultural advocate and host of La Hora Mixteca, a radio show on Radio Bilingüe that broadcasts music and information in Spanish and native Oaxacan languages all over the U.S. and even back to Mexico. Through their stories, we unravel how the accordion came to hold an important place in their musical lives.

This story will give us a sense of the diversity within Mexican migrant worker communities, who at times are portrayed to be monolithic by the U.S. media. By listening to the Oaxacan musicians’ creative endeavors in California, we can learn about the complex dynamics and history among different groups of people in Mexico, and how the accordion can provide a new creative facet for Oaxacan workers to negotiate their sense of self within the Mexican community, within California, and within the United States.

If you’re interested in reading more about the background and Mexican immigration history, you can find information on the background page.

Special additional thanks to Professor Josh Kun, Professor Alejandro Madrid, Professor Devra Weber, Ramona Landeros, Pat Talamantez, Eclipse Norteño, Grant Fuller, Carlos Mesa, Gabriel Aguilar, and Radio Bilingüe for their help with this story.