many nephews and nieces in Mexico, the rock acts Nirvana, Ozzy
Osbourne, Pantera, Guns 'N' Roses, Bon Jovi, the Beatles, Led
Zeppelin, and Marilyn Manson are personal favorites. One might
be inclined to read such musical tastes as confirmation of the
reality of Anglo cultural imperialism. But at one point in Refried
Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture, in which
Eric Zolov traces the emergence of rock music in Mexico, Zolov
suggests that in our efforts to make sense of the place of Anglo
music in Mexican society and culture, "We must avoid falling
into the doctrinaire cultural-imperialist argument that presumes
a mass of passive consumers of foreign culture, absorbing the
aesthetic and ideological implications of a foreign rock 'invasion'"
(184). Zolov ends up demonstrating in his book that rock music
from the United States as well as England has been perceived
and used in multiple, critically-aware ways by the Mexican state
and Mexican youth. Although Zolov is predominantly interested
in reading the rise of rock music alongside and within the destabilization
of Mexican state authority and social organization, his discussion
ultimately invites consideration of how the Mexican state as
well as its citizens have been affected byand have respondedto
the transnationalization of culture. Therefore, anyone interested
in the "problems" or complications that the transnationalization
of culture poses for national identities and cultures, particularly
in Latin America, will also be interested in Refried Elvis.
establishes in the introduction, the problem of nurturing a
sense of imagined community has plagued Mexican leaders, especially
Mexican Revolution. The Revolution itself was not unified, and
when the bloodshed stopped in 1920, there was no coherent sense
of nationhood. For the sake of salving internal division, the
Mexican state immediately undertook the task of re-presenting
the competing interests of the revolution as part of a singular,
glorified struggle against the previous regime. As Zolov indicates,
"Victors and vanquished [namely Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata,
Pancho Villa, and Venustiano Carranza] thus shared the stage
as national heroes, their images and (perhaps less successfully)
memories sanitized and represented as official history: the
unified Revolution" (4). Even in the present day, Madero, Zapata,
Villa, and Carranza continue to stand as national heroes whose
names are invoked for the sake of grounding Mexican national
pride and unity.
- In Mexico
(as in other Latin American countries), there has been the additional
problem of national identity being haunted by perceived cultural
imperialism ever since Anglo capitalism began seeking out and
securing Latin American markets. With the transnationalization
of capital there has been an attendant transnationalization of
culture that has destabilized the boundaries of national identities.
At the center of Zolov's work is the struggle of the Mexican state
to maintain a coherent Mexican nationalism amidst the importation
of rock music. In his first chapter, "Rebeldismo in the Revolutionary
Family: Rock 'n' Roll's Early Impact on the Mexican State and
Family," Zolov indicates that rock music was eventually read as
a threat to Mexican national identity and social organization.
Initially, however, in the mid-1950s when English-language rock
was introduced into Mexico, it enjoyed unfettered popularity not
only because "it had an immediate appeal to a culture raised on
dance" (18), but also because "the representation of rock 'n'
roll successfully marketed around the globe was overwhelmingly
a white one, with its attendant associations of a modernizing
aesthetic" (18). Thus, the presence of rock music in Mexico was
at first welcomed by the state and its citizens because it represented
a way for the nation to join the First/White World. Zolov next
points out, though, that rock music in Mexico came to be associated
with "desmadre." He explains,
offensive, lower-class slang word, desmadre expresses
a notion of social chaos introduced by the literal "unmothering"
of a person or situation. This stands in antithesis to that
other Mexican phrase, buenas costumbres [good manners
or customs], which encapsulates all that is proper and correct
In challenging the social rules contained in buenas
costumbres, the irreverant, raucous spirit of the youth
culture threatened to undermine the very patriarchal values
of parental authority that permeated middle-class social values.
state also became worried because "The official heroes of the
Revolution had come to have less relevance for a new generation
of urban youth who discovered a closer connection with James
Dean and Elvis Presley than with Benito Juárez or Emiliano
Zapata" (40). Evidently, young rock fans interested in reckless
fun, gender-bending rock fashion, and "dropping out" of society
were slipping out of the grip of official Mexican nationalism,
and this carried with it the potential dissolution of the existing
social and cultural organization of the nation (that is, the
Nation as it was known).
2, "Containing the Rock Gesture," Zolov describes the Mexican
state's attempt to neutralize the transgressive potential of
rock music. As the government sharply increased the tariff on
imported records in order to halt the flow of "dangerous" Anglo
rock into Mexico, record companies in Mexico, deciding to regulate
themselves in an effort to evade government intervention, began
contracting native bands to perform Spanish-language covers-"refritos"
(literally, "refried versions")-of English-language rock hits.
Zolov explains that "because of the close associations between
rock 'n'roll and rebeldismo, copying the original connoted a
level of authenticity that record producers were at this point
anxious to tone down. What was needed was a Spanish-language
equivalent that maintained the essential rhythm and structure
of the original (with perhaps some English thrown in) but that
provided greater control for producers who needed to deflect
assaults by conservatives" (66). Thus, in the 1960s, Anglo rock's
ethos of defiance was translated into "a discourse of nonthreatening
rebellion" (72) that "conveyed an image of familial harmony,
but always under the rubric of assent to parental guidance and
restrictions" (73). Zolov makes the valuable point that ultimately
even the relatively sanitized refritos enabled youth's
sense of its own liberation. The push for refritos served
to nurture a native rocanrol movement that still ended up signifying
"a disruption of social control for many adults" (85) via its
noise and attendant dancing and partying. As Zolov suggests,
"rocanrol may not have been subversive of buenas costumbres
on the face of it, but in its usage it became a wedge against
the dictates of parents and other voices of authority" (88).
3, "La Onda: Mexico's Counterculture and the Student Movement
of 1968," Zolov concentrates on correlating Mexican youth's
unrest, protest, and rebellion in the 1960s with the increased
popularity of rock music in English. He points out that 60s
English-language rock made its way back to Mexico City via bands
from the Northern provinces that had more contact with Anglo
rock and were now looking for record contracts in the capital.
He suggests that with greater access to rock songs in English,
youth could "project themselves onto a fantasy space of a universal
rock movement" and experience themselves more directly as part
of the "countercultural consciousness exploding around the world"
(98). In turn, Zolov says, Anglo rock can be seen as contributing
to the "countercultural orientation" of youth who were now more
willing to challenge social codes and official political power.
By 1967, this new counterculturality came to be called "La Onda,"
or "the wave," and it manifested itself most memorably in 1968
with university students protesting (and then being massacred)
at Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City.
in the course of his discussion of La Onda, Zolov points out
that in some ways rock's role in the countercultural sensibility
of Mexican youth in the 60s was somewhat limited. Clearly, rock
music became more widespread in Mexico at the same time that
Mexican youth's countercultural gestures became more pronounced
and radical. However, rock music was just one feature of students'
lives. As Zolov acknowledges, due to modern communications technology,
students in Mexico were aware of the unrest, movements, and
uprisings in other parts of the world, and this awareness has
to be factored into understandings of Mexican youth's own willingness
to rebel. Moreover, Zolov indicates that Mexican youth already
had powerful reasons for their own discontent due, among other
reasons, to a corrupt government and repressive police forces.
Although rock undoubtedly played a part in fostering rebelliousness-partly
through advertising it and partly by serving as a point of identification
for restless Mexican youthit alone did not usher in student
disobedience. By thus subordinating somewhat the role of rock
in Mexican youth's defiance and attending to a more comprehensive
matrix of factors and influences, Zolov actually makes more
visible Mexican agency in the negotiation of both rock and non-rock
transnational influences. The foregrounding of this agency is
perhaps the most exciting implication of Zolov's book. Zolov
demonstrates that Mexican youth were not simply sutured into
or carelessly embracing foreign trends, and he manages to show
how Mexican youth's contact with a transnational countercultural
consciousness produced not their abandonment of their "Mexicanness"
but, instead, their own re-imagination of their Mexican identity.
understanding of Mexican youth's agency underpins Zolov's discussion
in chapters 4-6. For example, in chapter 4, "La Onda in the
Wake of Tlatelolco," Zolov indicates that in the late 60s, Mexican
"jipis," influenced by the influx of American hippies in search
of a "primitive" experience in Mexico, were actually reappropriating
Mexico's indigenous culture. He says, for instance:
naturalness of listening to rock music while in the Mazatec
Sierra tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms reflected the
fusion of modern and indigenous cultural experiences that
informed the hippie and jipiteca movements. It was discovering
the possibilities of such fusion that opened up new spaces
of meaning for a generation of Mexicans raised on a modernizing
ideology that separated the 'folkloric' from the 'cosmopolitan'
spheres of everyday life (139).
"Mexican youth thus discovered new ways of being Mexican, ways
that ran counter to the dominant ideology of state-sponsored
relates, American and Mexican hippies unsurprisingly became
the object of Mexican police crackdowns. However, Mexican youth
continued to reappropriate nationalist discourse and imagine
new possibilities for Mexican identity. In chapter 5, "La Onda
Chicana: The Reinvention of Mexico's Countercultural Community,"
and chapter 6, "The Avándaro Rock Festival," Zolov describes
La Onda Chicana (the new rock movement of the early 70s) as
distinguished by "a repudiation of sacrosanct nationalisms"
by youth in search of "new collective identities based on a
fusion of Mexican indigenous and mestizo culture with the rock
counterculture that emanated, above all, from the United States"
(176). Discussing the rock group La Revolución de Emiliano
Zapata, for instance, Zolov indicates that the "mixing [of]
images and references from foreign as well as national origins
. . . reflected a strategy aimed at forging an original fusion"
(180). Zolov therefore concludes, "In creating names and images
that specifically made reference to the Mexican experience,
[La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata and similar groups]
forged an essential psychic space for youth in which they could
reimagine themselves as social actors among the changing, newly
constituted reference points of national identity" (181).
his conclusion does Zolov touch on rock in the 80s and 90s.
He points out that in the 80s, Mexican bands went in different
directions under the influence of American punk and power rock.
Then he suggests that in the 90s, "Mexican rock has once again
become the vanguard of a new countercultural movement, one that
transcends class in its opposition to the ruling political party
and a mounting culture of repression" (258). Clearly, rock continues
to be performed and consumed in Mexico in different ways and
in different contexts that endow it with shifting significance.
Today, for example, my nephews and nieces still listen to Nirvana
and their ilk; Mexican magazines always feature articles on
Oasis, U2, and Beck; 50-year-old, suit-clad Enrique Guzmán
still enthusiastically sings Spanish-language covers of songs
originally performed by Little Richard and the Beatles; and
recently, modern-rocker Alejandra Guzmán, daughter of
Enrique, performed her own fusion of modern rock and Mexico's
indigenous cultural history by performing at a replica of a
Mayan village. In the many shifts that continue to take place
in the performance and consumption of rock music, we see the
ongoing renegotiation of the relationship between personal and
national identity, tradition, and circumstance through calculated
appropriations of foreign and native musical and ideological
vocabularies. Of course, the possibilities are endless, especially
now that many other influences have made their way into Mexico,
too. For example, the 16 January 2000 issue of the Mexican magazine
Eres recognizes rock, techno, heavy metal, dance pop,
as well as "El Nuevo Idioma Musical: La Ola Francesa" ("The
New Musical Language: The French Wave") as some of the significant
genres in the current Mexican musical scene. In an interview
in this issue of Eres, Jorge Soto of the Mexican group
Moenia explains that his musical generation is "like a generation
of pushes and innovations, styles that had not been experienced
in Mexico until the present day" (27). As these pushes and innovations
in music continue to unfold, we might follow Zolov's lead and
continue talking about the attendant pushes and innovations
in Mexican culture and identity.
University of California, Riverside