When I drive around Florida, like most people, I listen to music. Either CD’s or the radio. On the radio there is American music and Latin American music. On my CD’s I have classical and operatic music. I do not like American music. Of the Latin American music, the music that I listen to most is the Mexican Ranchera.
There is a very good reason for this penchant.
Before I went to medical school, I had to get a pre-medical degree, called in the U.S., a Bachelor’s Degree. I started my Bachelor’s degree at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
After a year, I found that I could not continue full time on my stipendium from the U.S. Government for having served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Of course, I had many friends and each night we would discuss philosophy and drink beer. When you drink beer, drive an old car and eat, money goes fast.
I had no new clothes. I continued to wear parts of my Marine Corps uniform. My car was dying. It was coughing and letting out gasps of blue smoke.
I told my friends: “I’ve had it! I cannot continue here. No cash for beer. No clothes. And my car hates me.”
I was talking to my friends in the Student Union and there other students around us. Suddenly a pretty young lady who did not look American smiled at me and said:
“Can I offer you some advice?”
I wanted to say: “You can offer me anything.” But, I answered: “Of course.”
“Why don’t you go to Mexico?”
I was flabbergasted. She could have said: “Why don’t you go to the Moon?”
I knew there was a country called Mexico on the planet and that it was close to the U.S. But I also knew the Mexicans spoke Spanish had a currency called the Peso and ate beans. In addition, I wanted to continue my studies.
“Why should I go to Mexico?” I asked.
Her answer was quick and to the point: “Because it is very cheap.”
The entire scenario flashed across my mind. Mexico is cheap. All I have to do is learn a new language, get used to eating beans and I would be able to feed my car again.
“Now, that is a very interesting point,” I responded. “How cheap?” I asked.
She knew how much I was spending at Clark.
“With what you are spending here, you can live like a king in Mexico.“
That did it. I bowed deeply and thanked her in Italian, “Moltissimo grazie! Sono fortunato per conocervi.”
She smiled again as I bowed.
I needed the approval of the U.S. Veteran’s Administration. I had picked the University of the Americas, which at the time was located in the Capital of Mexico, “El Distrito Federal.” (DE EFE I would call it later.)
“Why are you going?” a government beaurocrat asked me.
“To study Spanish,” I answered.
The beaurocrat who would give me permission, winked and nodded his head. “Go,” he said. “You deserve it for doing three years in the Corps.”
I nodded agreement. (But, actually, I had liked my three years in the Corps.)
TRAVELLING FROM CLEVELAND TO D.F.
I worked three months in a car body factory, in the punch press department, to make the money to fix the car, pay for the trip and have a few dollars to live on until the “government aid package” arrived.
The work was hard and noisy. Twelve hour days, six days a week, half an hour for lunch and no breaks. The company: General Motors.
My ears were constantly ringing, and after supper I fell into bed and a deep sleep. I got up and it was still dark. But after three months, it was over. I filled my car with gas, said goodbye to my mother and father and sister and hit the road.
After six days of driving, the last three through the mountains and villages of Mexico, I pulled into El Distrito Federal.
(In one of the villages, all of the people were no taller than five feet. Yet they were carrying immense loads on their backs or their heads. They were Indians of some, unknown to me, tribe.)
After arriving in Mexico City I spent one month in the “American Section.” This was “Little U.S.A.” I became part of the American Expanded Family.
I remember going into a store, when I needed soap, and asking for “Sopa.” The store owner laughed. He had heard it before. “Sopa” is soup,” he said. “You mean Jabon.”
When this happened, I asked myself: “What the hell are you doing here? You can’t learn Spanish living with Gringos.“
I left and found a Mexican Pension, filled with Mexican University students. I spent over two years in that Pension and I discovered a new and beautiful culture.
Mexicans are markedly different from other Latin Americans.
Before the Spaniards arrived in the early part of the Fifteenth Century, the Indians of Mexico had developed a unique civilization, with its own culture, science, religion and cuisine.
There were many different Indian tribes in pre-historical Mexico. It is known that humans had inhabited the area forty thousand years ago. In the last two thousand years they had built an amazingly complex society.
There are enormous pyramids throughout the area. How the people of Meso-America managed to build these giant pyramids, carrying twenty ton stones to the top of the pyramids is still unknown.
What is even stranger, is the fact that the same sort of pyramids were built in Egypt during approximately the same period of time???
One thing is certain, when the Spaniards arrived in the early Sixteenth Century, led by the famous Hernando Cortes, the Aztec Indians of central Mexico had an established advanced civilization.
They were a very intelligent group of people.
They had studied astronomy, geometry and mathematics. They had excellent architects who designed cities, pyramids and temples. Their religion was complex and comprehensive. The Aztecs had a developed economy with centralized taxation and the coining of gold. Their agriculture was developed and provided hundreds of thousands with corn, squash and beans. Their cuisine was perfumed with rose water and imbued with the taste of chocolate.
The Mexicans of today are descendents of Indian tribes that were hard working and culturally complex. As a consequence, their music is markedly different from the music of other Latin American countries.
THE MUSIC OF MEXICO
When I arrived in Mexico, the only music I knew was modern American popular music and the classical music of Europe. Since the Mexicans love to dance, and I love to dance, I was immediately exposed to the music of Mexico. The one area of Mexican music that is undeniably Mexican are the musician groups called the MARIACHIS.
These musicians have adapted many of the instruments of Europe such as the violin, the trumpet, the guitar, which they expanded into a bass guitar and a high pitched guitar, and occasionally, they use saxophones and accordions.
What fascinated me, was the fact that not only did they use European instruments, they used common European musical modalities such as the Polka, the Waltz and the Paso Doble which is popular in Spain.
This complicated musical structure is not found anywhere else in the music of Latin America!
The rest of Latin America has a penchant for African derived music, using drums of various types, and stereotypical lyrics, almost always concerned with romance and nothing else.
The lyrics in Mexican music are concerned with the problems of romance, but, history, war, social problems and even the philosophy of life and death are very frequent.
In terms of dancing, the bolero, the mambo, the waltz, the polka, the paso doble, swing and, of course, the folk dancing, especially of Vera Cruz and Jalisco are all there.
The music of Mexico is internationally acclaimed.
One can hear “LA BAMBA” anywhere on earth. And the ballad, “GRANADA” written by Augustin Lara, a composer from Vera Cruz, is on the repertoire of every famous classical tenor in the world.
After living in Mexico for three years, I became a life long aficionado of Mexican music.
When I ride in my car I skim over the music which the Florida radio stations play so determinedly, music from Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, and I eventually find a Mexican station, where La Ranchera music is constantly played.
I turn the volume up and my memories return to those days in D. F.
Below you can find a link on YouTube to Pedro Infante singing “Me canse de rogarle”. This is Mexican Ranchera music. Pedro Infante was the best.