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Land Loss in Trying Times

Under the treaty that ended the Mexican War, most of the Mexicans who lived in the new United States territories became U.S. citizens. The treaty also guaranteed their safety and property rights, "as if the [property] belonged to citizens of the U.S. according to the principles of the Constitution." In practice, however, the new territories were far from the centers of U.S. government, and these guarantees were not reliably enforced. By the end of the 19th century, many Mexican Americans had been deprived of their land, and found themselves living unprotected in an often hostile region.

At the turn of the 20th century, the borderlands between Mexico and the U.S. were torn by political and social instability. As more immigrants crossed the border, some were preyed upon by bandits and rustlers. Once in the U.S., they had to face harsh weather, an uncertain economy, and the possibility of attacks by both longtime citizens and Native American raiders. Law enforcement was scarce, and justice was often rough and quickly executed. To make things worse, some lawmen were said to be as much of a threat to Mexican Americans as the criminals they were sent to arrest. The Texas Rangers came in for especially fierce criticism. In the " Corrido de los rangers," a singer describes a gunfight between city officials and Texas Rangers in the streets of Brownsville, Texas.

The Mexican Americans overcame their situation in part through a new type of popular music--the corrido, or border ballad. Shaped by hard times and long distances, these storytelling songs were much like musical newspapers and carried news of current events and popular legends around the border region. Passed from one singer to another, many of these songs survive to the present day. "Corrido villista de la toma de Matamoros" tells of the rebel leader Pancho Villa's troubles in the town of Matamoros, while "Versos del mojado" describes the troubles faced by a new immigrant in Texas.

We can learn much about the lives and cultural values of a people through their music. What types of music today tell stories about difficult times and colorful characters, like the corridos did? Why does music make such a wonderful vehicle for telling the stories of a people?

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