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  • Mobile Hybridism:The Mexican American Generation and Mexican American Music in Los Angeles
  • Marc Simon Rodriguez (bio)
Anthony F. Macias . Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. xiv + 383 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. $89.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

On any given summer night in Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles, or New York, one does not have to go far to find the diverse rhythms of Latin music. It is in the air, emanating from homes, cars, clubs, and from informal groups of musicians on the streets. In the alleys of Humboldt Park in Chicago, for example, one hears salsa and meringue constantly, as Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans stage informal performances in the alleys and along Division Street, also known as Paseo Boriqua. People sing, drink, and dance in the alleys of New York, in the clubs of Miami, and on the ranchos of South Texas to the varied and diverse sounds of Latin music. This music is infectious and part of the fabric of barrio life in America's largest Latino cities like Los Angeles. Latin-influenced, Latin American, and Latino musicians and musical styles are also a part of mainstream forms of music from rock to jazz to classical music in the United States. The diasporas of Latin-American and Mexican ancestry people who, as Hispanics, represent the largest minority group in the United States have changed the way American music sounds. Mexican American artists have long created music in an intimate relationship with African American performers as they sought upward mobility and social acceptance, a fact demonstrated by Macias in this pathbreaking study of Los Angeles' Latino musicians and music scene.

Macias takes us back to the mid-twentieth century, both before and after World War II, to explore the micro-historical details of the Mexican American music scene in Los Angeles as a way of revealing what he terms a "multicultural urban civility" (p. 7). This fascinating and highly descriptive tour of the overlapping worlds of music learning, teaching, performance, and marketing in the Mexican American community of Los Angeles shows how connected the various genres of classical, big band, and jazz instruction were, despite [End Page 494] the professional choices made by particular artists who took their skills into a variety of public performance styles. The book begins with a discussion of the role music instruction played in many of the diverse schools serving Mexican Americans of greater Los Angeles. What comes into focus is an experience that was for many defined by diversity, interaction across racial and ethnic boundaries, and also one marked by the prominent role of classical music training and instruction in the schools and even within the ethnic communities. Although there were many Mexican Americans who attended minority-majority schools, the picture of life in Los Angeles is one of diversity and hybridism, with many Mexican Americans having daily contact with Anglos, African Americans, Jewish Americans, and other ethnics on a daily basis.

One important subject revealed here is the degree to which Mexican Americans appeared to desire integration and mobility. Because of the formal legal position of whiteness they shared with Anglo Americans, some Mexican Americans were able to enter musicians' unions and take advantage of lucrative performance opportunities. In line with the whiteness argument now commonplace, this tactical choice is revealed in the process by which Latino musicians themselves sought some distance from African Americans in order to benefit from membership in the white musicians' union that offered more employment opportunities than the segregated African American union. Macias, however, also shows how some African Americans also displayed racism toward Mexican Americans and, in a number of cases, limited the career opportunities of musicians. On the other hand, well-known African American performers such as Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, and others hired Mexican American musicians and assisted them in getting work with studios, in film, and in TV advertising. While it appears that Jewish record producers, label owners, and studio music directors sought to increase opportunities for African Americans, Mexican Americans had to press these racial liberals to move beyond a black...


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pp. 494-499
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