Voices in Education

“Los Músicos”: Mexican Corridos, the Aural Border, and the Evocative Musical Renderings of Transnational Youth
Latinx bilinguals and emergent bilinguals are among the most researched youth communities in the field of education. Ironically, however, we know very little about them due to myopic understandings of their skills, abilities, dispositions, interests, and everyday cultural practices (García & Kleifgen, 2018). Moreover, increasingly vile rhetoric about Latinx communities and harsh immigration policies and practices continue to exacerbate the socioeducational context for these youth, shaping how they are viewed both inside and outside of school.

My article in the Summer 2019 issue of the Harvard Educational Review invites readers into the aural border (Kun, 2000) of four bilingual transnational youth músicos (musicians) of Mexican descent at a time of amplified anti-migrant sentiment. The aural border is the soundscape where “disqualified knowledges” and “subjugated subjectivities” flourish among the fluidity of language, music, and sound that capture the histories of hostile clashes of dissonance, culture, and colonialism at the US-Mexico border (Kun, 2000, 2005). Over the course of thirty months, I attended to four youth musicians’ critical readings and regular school performances of corridos (border folk ballads), and its subgenre, narcocorridos (ballads that detail elements of transnational drug trafficking) as mediums through which they exerted resistant subjectivities.

I build on the long tradition of researchers that situate youth popular culture as an important site for youth resistance, ingenuity, expression making, and literacy learning. Rather than framing youths’ engagement with narcocorridos as an “illicit” activity, my research demonstrates how four bilingual youth engage with and decode this genre critically, aesthetically, and intellectually. According to los músicos, both corridos and narcocorridos can be channels through which complex moral lessons about global capitalism and power are contemplated, learned, and shared.

While each músico had a unique family history of migration and immigration, all four were transnationals, who, “through a mix of necessity and choice, embark[ed] on a mobile international lifestyle to take advantage of economic, social, educational, and other opportunities across two or more nations” (Skerrett, 2015). As youths’ transnational social worlds become increasingly recognized as commonplace, educational research is in dire need of more nuanced understandings of the transnational literate lives of bilinguals and how they skillfully communicate and translanguage across modalities.

Los músicos’ compelling school-based practices with corridos call educators and researchers to not only reframe them as astute musicians, poets, and intellectuals with urgent messages to share, but to also critically tune our ears and orient our eyes to their resistance practices within their aural border, especially in enduring climates of xenophobia.

García, O., & Kleifgen, J. (2018). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English learners (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Kun, J. (2000). The aural border. Theatre Journal, 52(1), 1–21.

Kun, J. (2005). Listening to the line: Notes on music, globalization, and the US-Mexico border. Iberoamericana, 17, 143–152.

Skerrett, A. (2015). Teaching transnational youth: Literacy and education in a changing world. New York: Teachers College Press.

About the Author: Cati V. de los Ríos is an assistant professor in the School of Education at University of California, Davis. Her research works to make visible 1) the multimodal language and literacy resources that Latinx bilingual youth have available to them for learning and meaning making, particularly through Mexican regional music; and 2) the rigorous reading and writing activities within secondary ethnic studies classrooms, academic courses that are swiftly expanding throughout the Southwest.