Listening to Rosita: The Business of Tejana Music and Culture, 1930-1955 by Mary Ann Villarreal (review)
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Listening to Rosita: The Business of Tejana Music and Culture, 1930-1955. By Mary Ann Villarreal. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. 216 pages. Hardcover, $29.95.

In Listening to Rosita, Mary Ann Villarreal examines how Texas Mexicans navigated cultural and gender landscapes from the 1930s to the 1950s and the strategies they employed in various business sectors. While the book's namesake, Rosita Fernández, was a prominent singer, Listening to Rosita looks beyond the music industry to discuss a wide range of women-run and family enterprises. Villarreal focuses her study on the Texas Triangle region, an area including San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi, and the small towns and rural regions between; she uses the term Texas Mexican to signify people with a cultural connection to Mexico but geographic and citizenship connections to Texas. For Villarreal, her book has personal roots: her grandmother ran the Pecan Lounge in Tivoli, Texas, with the jukebox serving as a prominent fixture in the bar, and the records found there prompted the series of questions that led to the writing this work.

Rosita Fernández was born in Monterey, Mexico, in 1918 and moved to Texas as a child, eventually settling in San Antonio, the city with which she [End Page 414] would become closely associated. In her youth, she toured with her uncles, playing music, and in her teens she began singing on a San Antonio radio station. Over the next decades, she became a very popular singer among Texas Mexicans and Anglo Texans alike; she acted and was featured in advertisements. She also became closely associated with the San Antonio tourism industry's "Old Mexico" marketing strategy. In the first chapter of her book, Villarreal examines, in depth, how Fernández crafted her "Rosita" persona, and how she successfully took control of marketing an image within the period's expectations of gender and cultural norms. In particular, Villarreal looks at the ways in which Fernández worked to promote an image of a wholesome family woman and the ways in which she and her store-manager husband negotiated gender relations around the notion of the "breadwinner."

Oral history interviews are significant sources for the book and are most heavily utilized in the second chapter, "Gendering the Space of Business." In this chapter Villarreal builds upon the analysis of gender roles in the business that she started with Fernández exploring the lives of other women who worked in bars and the entertainment industry. To do so, Villarreal uses seven interviews that either she or sociologist Deborah Vargas conducted. Two of these interviews were with Fernández other narrators include Carmen Marroquin, Ventura Alonzo, and the author's grandmother, Mary F. Villarreal. Through their stories, the book gives a vivid snapshot of the ways in which societal expectations impacted the economic lives of the women and the role that their businesses played in their communities.

Villarreal then shifts her focus to consider family businesses beyond the bar and entertainment industries, looking in particular at Texas Mexican ventures in Corpus Christi. Though much of the third chapter centers on Rodolfo and Dora Mirabal's newspaper El Progreso, Villarreal does discuss other businesses as well, such as the newspaper The Sentinel and Alejandro Cortina Chapa's La Malinche Tortilla Factory. In the following two chapters she moves on to analyze the experiences of Texas Mexicans through the lenses of space (a conceptual environment in which people live or socialize) and place (the physical environment where people live or socialize). Also touched upon in these chapters are the impacts of immigration policy, agricultural workers, the activities of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), travel between communities in the Texas Triangle, and venues that no longer exist. Additionally, Villarreal spends time reintroducing some of the businesspeople discussed in earlier chapters. Through these different lenses, Villarreal shows how Texas Mexicans undertook business in an environment of discrimination and how economic activities played into bigger questions about the Texas Mexicans' identity and status in American society.

Readers' affinity for the book may well hinge on what they think of the "kaleidoscope" metaphor, an approach that Villarreal establishes at the beginning...


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