Mexican American Mojo

Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935–1968

Mexican American Mojo

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 42 illustrations, 2 maps Published: November 2008

Author: Anthony Macías

American Studies, Music > Popular Music

Stretching from the years during the Second World War when young couples jitterbugged across the dance floor at the Zenda Ballroom, through the early 1950s when honking tenor saxophones could be heard at the Angelus Hall, to the Spanish-language cosmopolitanism of the late 1950s and 1960s, Mexican American Mojo is a lively account of Mexican American urban culture in wartime and postwar Los Angeles as seen through the evolution of dance styles, nightlife, and, above all, popular music. Revealing the links between a vibrant Chicano music culture and postwar social and geographic mobility, Anthony Macías shows how by participating in jazz, the zoot suit phenomenon, car culture, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and Latin music, Mexican Americans not only rejected second-class citizenship and demeaning stereotypes, but also transformed Los Angeles.

Macías conducted numerous interviews for Mexican American Mojo, and the voices of little-known artists and fans fill its pages. In addition, more famous musicians such as Ritchie Valens and Lalo Guerrero are considered anew in relation to their contemporaries and the city. Macías examines language, fashion, and subcultures to trace the history of hip and cool in Los Angeles as well as the Chicano influence on urban culture. He argues that a grass-roots “multicultural urban civility” that challenged the attempted containment of Mexican Americans and African Americans emerged in the neighborhoods, schools, nightclubs, dance halls, and auditoriums of mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles. So take a little trip with Macías, via streetcar or freeway, to a time when Los Angeles had advanced public high school music programs, segregated musicians’ union locals, a highbrow municipal Bureau of Music, independent R & B labels, and robust rock and roll and Latin music scenes.


“”The book offers a valuable contribution to, and advancement of, the historical study of the relationship between popular culture and ethno-racial formation. It is also a valuable contribution to scholarly debates about the significance of popular cultural expression and its relation to formal political struggles for equality. . . . Mexican American Mojo, through Macías’ extensive use of oral history sources, uncovers a great deal of Mexican American musical history. Through his adroit synthesis of numerous histories, Macías chronicles Los Angeles’ multiracial musical history in encyclopedic detail. In all, Macías places Mexican American popular music cultural expression on equal footing as a structured cultural corollary to a history of political struggle.” — Michael Nevin Willard, Southern California Quarterly

Mexican American Mojo is a useful contribution to the social history of Latino music in general and Mexican American music in particular. . . . Macías shows that pre– and post–World War II Mexican American musicians musicians and audiences have enthusiastically engaged with Latino music styles usually associated with Caribbean-origin East Coast–based musicians. His discussion of the development of the international-genred West Coast Latin music scene provides a new vantage point
from which to examine the explosion of ‘Latin music’ in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.” — Ruth Glasser, Journal of American History

Mexican American Mojo is ambitious, seeking to detail the transformation of Los Angeles and its waves of Mexican Americans through the prism of music, culture and the interaction of L.A.'s segregated classes. Macías crams his book with riches of information—dates, names, long-gone establishments like Venice's Aragon Ballroom and the Trianon. . . . [T]he most-known version of 'La Bamba': Pacoima native Ritchie Valens' sizzling rock 'n' roll take ... supports Macias's thesis that Mexican Americans in Los Angeles, despite the assertion of so many Know Nothings, can and do easily transition through the metropolis to create, enjoy and reinvent their two cultures into something new.” — Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times

“[A] fascinating account of Mexican American urban culture—in particular popular music, dance styles and night life—in Los Angeles during the second world war and the postwar era. It is also a valuable contribution to efforts to explore Chicano history alongside that of African Americans, and in this respect its timing is auspicious.” — Gavin O’Toole, Latin American Review of Books

“[A] rich and ambitious history of Mexican American music in Los Angeles from the Great Depression through the 1960s. . . . [A]n intriguing analysis that opens new doors for scholars engaged in studying Mexican American music, interethnic relations, and midtwentieth-century Los Angeles cultural history.” — Kenneth H. Marcus, American Historical Review

“Anthony F. Macias provides us with a unique and innovative study in Mexican American Mojo. . . . From rich interviews, Macias extracts socially insightful perspectives from musicians and the public spectators who came to hear them and dance to their music. . . . As a scholar and musician who has spent a major part of my life studying and living the expressive culture examined by Macias, I can say that his book has impressed me and inspired me. He has applied his first-rate research to produce an eloquent and honest text. Mexican American Mojo is a milestone. Thanks for the mojo, Anthony!” — Steven Loza, New Mexico Historical Review

“By challenging some assumptions of the roles played by Mexican Americans in cultural maintenance, this case study builds not only on popular culture scholarship, but helps put civil rights struggles in proper interracial context. In scope and significance, this work is a model for a community’s popular culture history.” — Darius V. Echeverría, Southwest Journal of Cultures

“Macías delivers an amazingly intricate analysis of the shifting contours of Mexican American music at the same time that he explores relational and transnational approaches to Chicana/o history and ethnic studies more generally. . . . Just as Mexican Americans had their ‘mojo’ working, so too does Macías, whose book is a welcome addition to the history of Los Angeles, as well as to Chicana/o, African American, ethnic, American, and cultural studies.” — Luis Alvarez, Pacific Historical Review

“Macías is . . . an engaging writer who spikes his prose with a distinctive lilt evocative of the very L.A. cool he seeks to document.” — Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., American Quarterly

“The most important part of the book . . . is Macías’ frank discussion of black and Latino relations in LA that adds to a much needed dialogue between scholars of Latino and African American studies and history. . . . Macías provides a complex history of when African American and Mexican Americans came together and drew apart.” — Frederick Douglass Opie, Journal of Social History

Mexican American Mojo is a timely and engaging work that thoroughly demonstrates the development of popular Mexican American culture in mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles. Anthony Macías has written an illuminating and remarkable study that belongs in the library of anyone interested in Mexican American culture.” — Raul A. Fernandez, author of From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz

“I am especially excited by the interviews Anthony Macías conducted, which make central perspectives long missing from scholarship on jazz, swing, and R & B. Macías’s method of looking at Los Angeles’s social geography of race and ethnicity ‘through a prism of popular music’ will be of great interest to those interested in the histories of popular music, Mexican America, and Los Angeles.” — Sherrie Tucker, author of Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anthony Macías is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction. The Mexican American Generation, Music, and Los Angeles 1

1. Mojo in Motion: The Swing Era 12

2. The Drape Shape: Intercultural Style Politics 62

3. Boogie Woogie Breakthrough: The Rhythm and Blues Era 118

4. Come On, Let's Go: The Rock and Roll Era 173

5. Con Sabor Latino: Latin Jazz, the Mambo, and Latin Holidays 229

Conclusion. Alternate Takes and Political Generations 281

Notes 291

Bibliography 347

Index 369
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2009 Award for Best Research in Recorded Folk, Ethnic, or World Music (ARSC)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4322-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4339-4
Publicity material