El corrido de César Chávez

Felipe Cantu, 1966

The melody for "El Corrido de César Chávez" was taken from an earlier corrido about the Mexican Revolution. What is the significance of using that melody? How does the message of the earlier song compare with Chávez's message?

What elements of the music made this an effective song for union activism?

Compare and contrast the song with other songs by El Teatro Campesino ("El Picket Sign").

"El corrido de César Chávez" recorded by Lalo Guerrero on El Chicano Inolvidable, © 2002. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

http://www.laits.utexas.edu/jaime/cwp2/
ccg/el_corrido_de_cesar_chavez.html

Luis Valdez, Agustin Lira, and Felipe Cantu created El Teatro Campesino (The Farmworker Theater) in 1965 to support the work of the United Farm Workers union. (For more on El Teatro Campesino, see "El Picket Sign.")

"El Corrido de César Chávez" was written by Felipe Cantu and first performed at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, the endpoint of a three-week march from Delano to protest unfair practices against farmworkers. As Luis León notes, "Ten thousand attended the [closing] ceremonies, which included two ecumenical services (one celebrated by a Catholic priest, the other by a Protestant minister). The theme of the march was Pilgrimage, Penance, and Revolution" (León, 145). It was entirely appropriate to have this kind of religious ceremony at an event involving the farmworkers, since their beloved leader was devout and determined to follow nonviolent principles.

United farm workers logo
United Farm Workers logo.

César Chávez (1927–93) was born in Yuma, Arizona, where his family owned a grocery store until it closed during the Depression, forcing the family to become migrant farmworkers. Chávez dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help his family work in the fields and soon became aware of the numerous injustices forced upon the farmworkers. He helped organize the farmworkers in protest, leading marches and calling for strikes and boycotts. Chávez also led hunger strikes as nonviolent means of helping the farmworkers secure labor rights, and is famous for popularizing the phrase "Si, se puede" (often translated as "yes, we can," but literally meaning, "yes, it is possible").

In 1965, Chávez and the United Farm Workers union, which he formed with Dolores Huerta (b. 1930), led a successful and far-reaching strike against California grape growers by calling for a national boycott. The strike led to improved compensation and contracts between the growers and workers.

Like many corridos, the melody of "El Corrido de César Chávez" is sung to a traditional tune. In the case of "El Corrido de César Chávez, that melody is from "Carabina 30-30," a song from the time of the Mexican Revolution. The original song extols the virtues of having .30-.30 rifle cartridges, which, the song professes, could be used to shed the most blood. The violence extolled in the original song was contrary to Chávez's pacifist views, yet the connection to its rebellious sentiments communicated the defiance and determination of Chávez and the UFW.

"El Corrido de César Chávez" was recorded by El Teatro Campesino on the album Viva La Causa: Songs and Sounds from the Delano Strike! It was distributed by the UFW, but is now out of print.