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5. Communicating the Collective Imagination The Sociospatial World of the Mexican Sonidero in Puebla, New York, and New Jersey The innovative and unique forms of performative expression fashioned by diasporic communities have come to be recognized as some of the most notable features of globalization. Research of scholars in the arts and social sciences has revealed that the transnational movement of peoples, ideas, technologies, ideologies, and capital has inspired many marginal communities, especially immigrant subcultures, to express their sense of community in distinctively innovative and radical ways. Animated by a seemingly shared sense of displacement and, often, by a blurring of real and imagined representations of home and history, diasporic groups have availed themselves of new technologies , ideas, and experiences to create not only hybrid musical styles but also distinctively new performance formats, circuits, and distribution practices. While scholars (e.g., Garcia Canclini 1995: 231–32; Rouse 1991: 20–23) have pointed out the dynamism of “border zones” as crucibles for new expressive art forms, it is increasingly apparent that such zones need not be actual geographical boundaries but can also include the experiential borders created and invoked by diasporic groups, wherever they may be, through structured performances and sociomusical events. It is these kinds of localized events that support the notion that migratory movements result in the most extensive and lasting new social linkages, forcing us to rethink our understanding of the relationship between geographic space, social space, and performance space. Some of the most inventive contemporary performance idioms, such as technobrega in Brazil and Colombian picó (see Pacini Hernandez 1993), center around deejays who manipulate technology as a means to present various forms and combinations of recorded and original music, sounds, and speech.1 Cathy Ragland 120 Cathy Ragland In this chapter I discuss a unique form of social dance event that has been popular among the Mexican migrant and immigrant communities in New York City and nearby northern New Jersey for nearly two decades. It has an even longer history in Mexico City barrios and in the towns and villages of Puebla, from where the majority of these immigrants hail. In these weekend dances, the deejay, or sonidero, as he is known, together with those in attendance , create a powerful transnational musical and social experience. By manipulating music and simultaneously reconfiguring time and place, they turn feelings of displacement and marginalization into a collective sense of identity and connectedness, generating what Arjun Appadurai (1996) has called a “diasporic public sphere.” In the process they dramatize and mediate their own experiences of a modern life that oscillates between and encompasses both Mexico and the United States. They effectively portray and create a modernity animated by both “real” and “imagined” interpretations of history, culture, and shared experiences of travel, dislocation, and a reinvention of their lives as both Mexicans and Americans. In many such communities , the deejay has emerged as a seemingly subversive and powerful force in facilitating the participation of individuals in the production, presentation, promotion, and marketing of artists and recordings utilized in the sonidero baile context. The sonidero tradition in Mexico City, Puebla, New York, and New Jersey is representative of a powerful transnational musical and social phenomenon that perpetuates individual agency within new social spaces and blurred geographical boundaries. While there are similar circuits for sonidero music between other U.S. cities and specific regions in Mexico, the research that directed the writing of this chapter was conducted in New York (in particular, Queens and Brooklyn), Paterson, New Jersey, Santa Isabel de Cholula, Puebla, and, more recently, Mexico City. The Mexican population in the New York–New Jersey area has grown exponentially in the past two decades. Although traditionally outnumbered by Caribbean Latin Americans, New York City’s Mexicans, both documented and undocumented, now number between 275,000 and 300,000, constituting the region’s fastest-­ growing immigrant group (Smith 2005: 19–20). However, due to the large number of undocumented Mexicans, estimated at 75 percent, some unofficial estimates are in the range of half a million. In New York and New Jersey, the presence of Mexican workers in area restaurants , delis, bars, hotels, factories, and construction sites and as day laborers on the streets is visible on a daily basis. It is in these service industry jobs that the majority remain undocumented and, as a result, are often made to work Communicating the Collective Imagination 121 long hours every week (Smith 1996: 74–75). Recently the Pew Hispanic Center reported that 95 percent of...


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