El Corrido Pensilvanio

Unknown, ca. 1923

What is a migrant worker? What were the impacts of the First World War on migrant workers in the United States?

What work did migrant workers from Mexico perform in Pennsylvania during and after World War I? Based on your reading of the song's lyrics, how were these workers treated?

How does the song portray work in the Texas cotton fields? Why did Texas farmers hire laborers from Mexico to work in the fields?

Would a migrant worker working on railroad construction in Pennsylvania have been likely to hold such opinions about labor in Texas?

Compare and contrast the song with "El Deportado." How do the songs reveal changing attitudes in the United States about migrant workers from Mexico?

"Corrido Pensilvanio" recorded by Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martinez on Corridos y Tragedías de la Frontera, © 1993. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


Spanish and English lyrics are available here.

Pedro Rocha & Lupe Martinez

The earliest recording of "El Corrido Pensilvanio," also known as "El Pensilvanio" and "La Pensilvania," is probably the one made in 1929 by Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martinez, but the song was likely written several years earlier. During the First World War, the governments of the United States and Mexico formalized a policy of "temporary admissions" in which US companies hired and transported Mexican laborers northward to address labor shortages. Many workers were brought to Pennsylvania. For example, between 1917 and 1919 workers were transported to work on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and in 1923 they were hired to work for the Bethlehem Steel Company. These experiences inspired the composition of "El Corrido Pensilvanio."

The song is not completely factually accurate. The lyrics imply that the migrant workers escaped the cotton fields of Texas, but historian Jaime Javier Rodriguez notes that most of the imported workers in Pennsylvania actually came from central Mexico. Rodriguez explains that this song takes liberties with facts in order to use "Mexican migration to Pennsylvania to critique Mexican American exploitation in Texas." He concludes that the song "thus emerges as a fascinating synthesis of two powerful Mexican American cultural memories" (p. 88).

Following the Mexican-American War and throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, white settlers drove away most of Texas's Mexican landowners and transformed many cattle ranches into cotton fields. The new, white owners of these fields employed mostly Mexican workers, who were often confronted with racism and violence. Leaving Texas for work opportunities in places such as Pennsylvania was an appealing prospect and promised adventure for many of these workers, yet leaving home was also sad and difficult. "El Corrido Pensilvanio" gives voice to these conflicting sentiments.