In March, American theaters will see the release of Diego Luna's film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero. One piece of history associated with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) involves Luis Valdez.
Valdez, who was part of that civil rights movement, founded El Teatro Campesino in 1965. The Chicano based-company would perform productions that dealt with issues that affected Mexican-American farm-workers.
In 1976, the troupe released ¡Huelga En General! Songs of the United Farm Workers by El Teatro Campesino on vinyl.
This album ended up in my hands thanks to a friend, after she discovered that some of her family members performed with El Teatro Campesino.
On the back cover, there is an endorsement by Chavez that reads: "These songs express the hopes, the strength and determination of farm workers who labor each day in the fields to feed the people of this country."
The music here represents a variety of styles — marchas, corridos, and rancheras to name a few. While the forms are different, the content is all about promoting the union.
The title track opens with a simple, somewhat repetitive accordion run, that quickly emerges into a passionate battle cry. The song recounts the famous Delano Grape Strike, crediting Filipino-American farm-workers for starting the strike on September 8, 1965. When Mexican-American farm-workers finally joined in, the joint boycott led to the formation of the UFW. This is one of the strongest pieces in the album, and while brief, it reminds us about the important role that Filipino-American's played in the movement.
Another song that stood out was "Solidaridad Para Siempre". The song is a bilingual, Mexican-American take on Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever". The melody remains as catchy, although the style is updated to fit the time when this was recorded.
"No No Gallo" is one of the more famous songs on here. It's a great, charming tune about refusing crooked deals and sticking with Chavez. After listening to it once, the lyrics are hard to forget.
Guadalupe Serna's "El Corrido del Cortito" was the song that interested me the most. It's a ballad that narrates the struggles of the farm-worker who spends much of his day bent over, which issues him a lifetime of back pain. That's just a simplification of what is a really great song. This is the only track on here that seems to be drawn from Texas-style music, with its bombastic accordion runs and corrido structure.
Those are just the highlights of the thirteen tracks featured on this album. Some of the aesthetics may be a bit dated, but this covers a significant, sometimes overlooked part of Mexican-American and Filipino-American history. This music was spawned out of a group of people who struggled to make a positive change in our world. Like Rumel Fuentes' Corridos of the Chicano Movement CD, there is some great historical value here.
The vinyl record and CD are difficult to find, but a rare copy of this album is currently on sale at eBay. Another used copy is also on sale right now at Amazon.