Sounds of Crossing

Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño

Sounds of Crossing

Refiguring American Music

More about this series

Read Alex Chávez's Duke University Press blogpost, which features a playlist to accompany the book.
Book Pages: 440 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: December 2017

Author: Alex E. Chávez

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Music > Ethnomusicology

In Sounds of Crossing Alex E. Chávez explores the contemporary politics of Mexican migrant cultural expression manifest in the sounds and poetics of huapango arribeño, a musical genre originating from north-central Mexico. Following the resonance of huapango's improvisational performance within the lives of audiences, musicians, and himself—from New Year's festivities in the highlands of Guanajuato, Mexico, to backyard get-togethers along the back roads of central Texas—Chávez shows how Mexicans living on both sides of the border use expressive culture to construct meaningful communities amid the United States’ often vitriolic immigration politics. Through Chávez's writing, we gain an intimate look at the experience of migration and how huapango carries the voices of those in Mexico, those undertaking the dangerous trek across the border, and those living in the United States. Illuminating how huapango arribeño’s performance refigures the sociopolitical and economic terms of migration through aesthetic means, Chávez adds fresh and compelling insights into the ways transnational music-making is at the center of everyday Mexican migrant life.


"Chavez uses the songs of the borderlands to talk about immigration into the US and the culture that has sprung up around the border. He pulls in both history and current situations – and best of all, his own experiences as a Mexican academic and musician – to create a multidimensional, gorgeous book." — Alejandra Oliva, Remezcla

"Bold and engaging. . . . Teeming with moments of intimacy, and a genuine attention to humanity. . . . Courageous and timely. . . . Sounds of Crossing will be of interest not only to scholars across disciplines and musical genres, as it relates aurality and aesthetics to political and social life, but also to non-academic lovers of music. This is a book of humanity, and a book of stories." — Nandini Rupa Banerjee-Datta, Current Musicology

"Alex E. Chávez has made an important contribution in the fields of cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, folklore, history, and immigration studies with his work, Sounds of Crossing. . . . A must read for those interested in the lives, experiences, and music of undocumented people in the United States." — José R. López Morín, Anthropos

"This masterfully written ethnography uses the huapango arribeño as a productive analytical lens into transnational living. It makes a stimulating contribution to the growing literature on vernacular musical practices beyond the radar of transnational music industries." — Helena Simonett, Ethnomusicology Forum

"Few scholarly works have attempted to link the study of popular music and literary practices to the experience of international migration and fewer still have done so in as compelling a way as Chávez has done." — David Spener, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Sounds of Crossing succeeds in introducing Huapango Arribeno to the world, articulately weaving between the daunting cliffs of anthropological theory and the lush valleys of sung poetry and anecdote, carrying the mellifluous sounds of Espanol and a vihuela on its back, greeting across space and time, singing the songs of the unheard." — Renata Yazzie, Linguistic Anthropology

"The rigor and depth of both the ethnographic and musical work in this text, and the joining of the two, is a rare find in contemporary ethnography." — Kristina M. Jacobsen, Anthropological Quarterly

"Chávez provides a vivid, layered ethnographic model, pertinent to a wide range of scholarly inquiries and one that bridges vernacular conceptualizations of aurality and spatiality with sound studies literature." — Anthony W. Rasmussen, Sound Studies

"The scholarly significance of Sounds of Crossing is irrevocable. Chávez engages critically across histories and disciplines with also crafting an ethnographic narrative that is deeply meaningful and personal for many with similar or shared experiences." — Sophia M. Enriquez, Journal of the Society for American Music

"The author’s masterful oscillation between critiques of existing literature and his own ethnographic reflections makes for a wonderfully engaging and convincing book overall. . . . The depth of Chavez’s critical discussions is often remarkable." — Salvador Hernandez, Journal of Folklore Research

"I am almost left at a loss for words, except: wow. Alex E. Chávez's writing is vivid, rich, and sensuous, and the command of voicing as he switches between perspectives and crosses theoretical, ethnographical, and analytical divides is effortless and constantly clarifying. One hears the sound of a major ethnographic voice emerging here. Sounds of Crossing is one of the best musical ethnographies I've read in years, and it will surely rank with the very best books in its category of this or any generation." — Aaron A. Fox, author of Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture

"In this masterful ethnography, Alex E. Chávez focuses on huapango arribeño, its performance, its circulation, and its consumption, to explore the everyday politics of Mexican migrant life in the United States. Evoking the border crossing of décimas and zapateados huapangueros, Chávez's beautiful writing continuously challenges the boundaries between storytelling, theory, and real life to offer a dispassionate glimpse into the emotional paradoxes that inform the making of Mexican American spaces and subjectivities in twenty-first-century America." — Alejandro L. Madrid, author of Nor-tec Rifa! Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World


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Price: $30.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alex E. Chávez is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and produced the album Serrano de Corazón by Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction: American Border/Lands  1
1. Aurality and the Long American Century  34
2. Companions of the Calling  62
3. Verses and Flows at the Dawn of Neoliberal Mexico  130
4. Regional Sounds: Mexican Texas and the Semiotics of Citizenship  198
5. From Potosi to Tennessee: Clandestine Desires and the Poetic Border  232
6. Huapango sin Fronteras: Mapping What Matters and Other Paths  278
Conclusion: They Dreamed of Bridges  316
Epilogue: "Born in the U.S.A."  327
Appendix A: Musical Transcriptions  331
Appendix B: Improvised Saludados  349
Notes  361
References  387
Index  411
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Winner of the 2018 Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists Book Award

Co-Winner, 2018 Alan Merriam Prize, presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

Winner, 2018 Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Book Prize  

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