Chicano Studies 472 | Spotlight

Chicano history chronicled through the evolution of Mexica music

CSULA duo engages local high school students in music history lesson for class project

“Let us never forget that we are deeply rooted to this continent, beginning with The Olmeca, on to the Maya, the Tarahumura, and all the way to the Mexica. At one time, if you can imagine, we were united not only by land, language, and culture, but by music as well.”

Pictured: (l-r) David Cid and Alonzo Beas.
Pictured: (l-r) David Cid and Alonzo Beas.

This historical reminder was recently delivered by CSULA graduate student David Cid, along will fellow classmate Alonzo Beas, during a presentation, entitled “Musica de la Gente: Chicana/o Rhythms from Tenochtitlán to Aztlán,” to local high school students at the Weingart East L.A. YMCA, as part of their Chicano Studies (CHS) 472 community engagement project.

The CHS 472 upper division course, taught by CSULA’s Associate Professor Valerie Talavera-Bustillos, focused on the examination of Chicana/Latino Educational Theory and Research. Supported by the University’s Office for Community Engagement, CSULA students enrolled in the class prepared and conducted workshops to educate the local community as a way to bridge theory to practice.

The “Musica de la Gente” presentation chronicled key events in Chicano history and related them to the music of that era, with explanation of how the community experiences are expressed through song and music.

“Our goal is to understand that the music our people created during Mexica times, and continue to create today, has been to break down borders between us,” said Beas. “We are one people. Borders can be physical and/or mental. The main point, however, is that borders divide our people. Through this presentation, we hope to break down those borders.”

Mexica refers to an indigenous group of people from the Valley of Mexico (what is now Mexico City), whose origins date back to the Aztec empire.

Image of Musica de la Gente opening slide.
Image of Musica de la Gente flyer.

Talavera-Bustillos, an expert in sociology of education, race and culture, and Chicano history and resistance, explained, “Both of the students—who coordinated the presentation with Omar Torres, the YMCA youth program director—illustrated how historical memory and the social context of resistance, culture, syncretism and continual struggle for equality are inherent in many aspects of Chicano life.”

“The presentation was created,” said Cid, “to engage Chicana and Chicano youth from the community of Boyle Heights to better understand the historical and cultural significance of Chicana and Chicano music as part of the overall legacy of resistance against the dilution of Chicana and Chicano culture.”

Beas—who is also a member of Aztlán Underground—concluded the presentation with a mini-jam session accompanied by band member Jose Galarza. The performance featured an improvisational piece highlighting Aztec, Native American as well as modern American musical influences.

Working in conjunction with various local agencies, other students in CHS 472 created presentations that focused on health and community medicine, becoming a parent advocate, healthy food, and college and life pathways.

According to Talavera-Bustillos, “Each of the topics emerged out of the students’ analysis of how to address community needs by providing them with information. Students learn the importance of working with local community organizations to find solutions to community issues through research, knowledge and information.”

CSULA’s Office for Community Engagement aims to link academic teaching, learning and community service by engaging students, faculty, and community partners in collaborative relationships that embrace diversity and social justice.

Huehuetl: “In Mexica times, one of the most important instruments is the huehuetl. The huehuetl is a percussion instrument from Mexico, used by the Aztecs and other cultures. Other instruments, like the teponaztli, the tetzilacatl, and the tlapitzalli, were created to bring harmony to the people. Today, the instruments are used by some Chicano music groups to add an Indigenous musical touch.”

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