Uncategorized, arts and entertainment, food

Detroit’s Mexicantown – A Century of Latin Culture

At the dawn of the last century, Detroit began to experience a prolific boom in industry. Working-class people from across the country and beyond were drawn to the opportunity for stable, well-paying jobs on the assembly lines at the Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler facilities. Throughout the fifties, however, the auto industry began to leave Detroit – plants shut down and many workers were forced out of their jobs. Urban decay began to take ahold of the city, leaving abandoned facilities and vandalized monuments in its wake. As the city shifted into decline, small communities of immigrants which had settled there throughout the 1900s began to take over the now diminished neighborhoods throughout Detroit. One such district is the vibrant Latin-American neighborhood Mexicantown.

One of the many amazing portraits which can be seen throughout Detroit’s Mexicantown.

First known as “La Bagley”, Mexicantown began to emerge as an enclave for Latinos in the early 1920s. After a period of civil unrest and socioeconomic chaos brought forth by the Revolution of 1910, Mexicans felt compelled to escape the lingering turmoil in their home country. Detroit, with its well-paying assembly-line jobs for people with only a basic skillset, seemed like a promising alternative to the disorder in Mexico. Additionally, by immigrating as far north as Michigan, Mexicans avoided the overt and often violent discrimination of the American Southwest. With the establishment of an effective and US-connected railroad system, Mexicans began to use trains to flock to El Norte (the North).

A railroad station located in Queretaro, a city in the heart of Mexico.

In Detroit, they joined the swath of Polish, Italian, Jewish, German, and Arab immigrants who all gathered there for the same reason – the promise of stable, well-paying jobs in Detroit’s expansive industrial landscape. In the new world, these immigrants faced the challenges of an extremely different climate, a new language, and an overall faster pace of life. At first, not speaking English was a great equalizer among the diverse community which had come to settle in Detroit. This changed gradually as the young children of these immigrants began attending school and assimilating into their new culture. Some changes took longer, though, and the demand for bits of their home culture remained. A commercial district began to form around the growing needs of the Latin-American community and soon, La Bagley emerged.

By the early 1930s, a few Mexican restaurants had opened on Bagley Street in the neighborhood known as Corktown, just to the west of downtown Detroit. Throughout the decade, Mexican businesses began to emerge throughout the western neighborhoods of the city so that by the mid-1930s there were around 35 Mexican owned businesses on Bagley Street and Michigan Avenue. By the 1940s, tortilla factories, such as La Michoacana and La Jalisciense (still in operation to this day), opened in Detroit. Today, Mexicantown is home to over 1000 Latino-owned businesses.

La Jalisciense tortilla factory was one of the first in Detroit and is still in operation to this day.

The Honeybee Market was one of the first Mexican-owned grocery stores in Detroit and helped provide the Latin community with ingredients for traditional foods.

Though the first few decades of Mexicantown were a prosperous time for Detroit’s Latin community, all this began to change in the latter part of the century. In the 1960s, plans to develop a new interstate eventually led to the bisecting of the Mexican district. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to accommodate the path of I-75 and many Mexican locals sold their businesses and properties to the Michigan Department of Transportation in the ensuing construction. More ruin was to come in the 1970s when General Motors closed three of their major auto plants in southwest Detroit, substantially reducing the amount of well-paying blue-collar jobs. Though these events took their toll on many of the immigrant communities, Mexicantown and many others continued to survive throughout the Motor City.

In the years since the economic and social turmoil of the 70s and 80s, the once small Mexicantown is now one of the most thriving communities in all of Detroit. A sprawling oasis of Latin culture, the neighborhood is home to hundreds of Mexican-owned shops, bakeries, taquerias, and grocery stores – each with their own vibrantly-colored architecture and hand painted signs reminiscent of town squares throughout Mexico. Despite the toxic political climate for Latinos in the US, this neck of Detroit spells a renewed faith in cultural acceptance and a reinvigoration of the once prolific American dream for immigrants. There is hope in the story of Mexicantown and communities like it for a more prosperous, progressive future.

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arts and entertainment, politics

A Brief History of Mexican Rock

Avandaro Onderos

A group of Onderos relaxing at the Avandaro Music Festival, 1971

In September of 1971 300,000 people culminated in a small town in southern Mexico in anticipation of what would come to be known as Mexican Woodstock or Festival de Rock y Ruedas Avandaro. What had started off as a one-day motorcycle show with a 2 band set list, eventually spiraled into a 2 day, 18 act concert with motorcycles left by the wayside. This festival was unlike anything the citizens of Mexico had seen before and ultimately changed the musical landscape across the country.

Towards the end of the 60s, Mexico faced political and civil unrest. The turbulence culminated in the Massacre of Tlaltelolco in 1968 and the Corpus Christi Massacre in 1971, where the government brutally killed over 400 civilian protesters and wounded over 1,300 others. In the wake of these events, a new movement was created called La Onda Chicano.

Massacre of Tlatelolco

Police brutality as witnessed at the height of the Massacre of Tlatelolco, 1968

corpus christi massacre

Protesters at the rally in Corpus Christi moments before government-sponsored “halcones” made the scene erupt into chaos, 1971

La Onda was a “multidisciplinary artistic movement created in Mexico by artists and intellectuals as part of the worldwide waves of the counterculture of the 1960s and the avant-garde.” The goal of this movement was to address social issues at the time, given the tight ruling and oppression from the current administration – the PRI party.

La Onda Student Rally

A rally of student protesters leading a campaign against the government during La Onda, 1968

One of the strong oppositional tools La Onda used was music. With the insurgence of British and American influences, the rock scene slowly began to emerge in pockets throughout Mexico. Bands such as El Ritual, Los Dug Dugs, and El Tri helped spread the messages of La Onda into the minds of the dissatisfied youth, thereby spreading the countercultural movement.

El Ritual

The band El Ritual was one of the prominent voices of La Onda movement

This social revolt reached a crescendo at the event which formally came to be known as Avandaro – a two day long rock festival held in southern Mexico. While many dispute the actual number, organizers and social investigators alike claim that over 300,000 people were in attendance. In this way, the festival escaped its original purpose as a way for local motorcyclists to show off their bikes, and became a full-fledged Mexican Woodstock.

Filled with open drug use, nudity, arts, and the distribution of radical new social ideology, the oppressive government feared for their control over Mexican society and after the first few hours of the festival, ordered for the termination of any live feeds of the concert. Moreover, the government banned concerts, radio broadcasts and recording of rock music, and went so far as to order the media to disparage the culture surrounding rock and roll as “incorrect, grotesque, and immoral”.

Avandaro Music Festival

Two youths joyfully share a smoke at the Avandaro Festival, 1971

This tactic of suppression was met with much success, as the sounds of rock music quickly faded under the much less inflammatory tones of rancheras, polka, and other traditional Mexican music. Nonetheless, rock continued on, albeit underground in locations dubbed “hoyos funky” or Funky Holes.

Abandoned factories, farmlands, and even some homes were used to subvert the governments censorship and host rock concerts. These shows featured prominent acts from the time including Toncho Pilatos, La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata, and Javier Batiz and could host up to 20,000 people. Like Avandaro, these venues typically served alcoholic beverages, were open to drug use and informally charged entry.

Hoyo Funky Performer

A performer engages the crowd during a show at an Hoyo Funky, c. 1971-72

Hoyo Funky

Gathering of Onderos at an Hoyo Funky show, c. 1971-72

While some bands continued to play their sound in these Hoyos Funky, the damage had been dealt and many acts at the time moved on to play more commercial and less repressed music or quit outright. The few surviving rock recordings of the counterculture movement in Mexico have gone on to critical acclaim, with many of these records being sought after by collectors.

It is certain that the governments oppression at this pivotal time in Mexican history lead to many other social injustices down the road, but thankfully, variation in Mexican music has been making a recovery and is in full bloom today.

Thank you for reading.

A compilation of some of the artists mentioned in this article can be found here:
https://open.spotify.com/user/silvaros29/playlist/2cE2aZEBMF0PMouxy3LXks?si=ZvTOxj33T6qB7D6rs9yzOw

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/silvaros29/playlist/2cE2aZEBMF0PMouxy3LXks

For more information about Avandaro, La Onda Chicano, and other historical Mexican events, visit these resources:
https://issuu.com/odeenrocha/docs/la-contracultura-en-mexico
http://www.maph49.galeon.com/avandaro/ritual.html
https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoyo_fonky
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_Rock_y_Ruedas_de_Avándaro
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_Christi_massacre
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tlatelolco_massacre
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Onda
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DVR66NZBHk

Credit for the photos used here-in:
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CHJIZqoUkAAZ4Mv.jpg
https://distintaslatitudes.net/los-hoyos-funkies-en-la-ciudad-de-mexico
https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/tlatelolco-massacre-remembered-today/
https://notevenpast.org/plaza-sacrifices-gender-power-and-terror-1968-mexico-2005/

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arts and entertainment

What is Chicano Beat?

Yo soy Joaquín,
Perdido en un mundo de confusión.
I am Joaquín,
Lost in a world of confusion.

In his poem, “I am Joaquín”, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez expressed the disillusionment of many Latin Americans at the time. In the face of social and economic injustices, Hispanic Americans united to combat the prejudice they were facing. They began to challenge their assimilation into the white-dominated society and in the process reclaimed a derogatory term for their people – Chicano – as a symbol of pride. Though the social climate of America is improving, Chicanos still face much of the intolerance and xenophobia their ancestors tried to leave behind.

A revitalized interest in partitioning the US from Mexico, the separation of children from their illegally immigrating parents, an unshakable association with the drug war for the whole of Hispanic people – these issues are real and constant. Many of the Latinos I know seem to meet these issues with indifference. Whether that’s due to fatigue (these issues are long standing, with no ready compromise in sight) or general disinterest, I feel more than ever that it has to stop. We need to become interested in these issues, in our culture and its preservation.

This blog will be dedicated to propagating and preserving Hispanic News, History, and Culture from a Chicano point of view. Yes we have to assimilate, but we must also learn how to keep ourselves intact.

Sources:
Image of Farm Workers of America Rally:
http://www.takepart.com/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/96357684.jpg
“I am Joaquín” by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales excerpt:
http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/latinos/joaquin.htm
Sources for text:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicano_Movement
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/21/chicano_n_1990226.html
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