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Borderlands Music, U.S. Politics, and Transnational Marketing

How politics, transnational marketing, and music are converging in the South Texas political rally known as the pachanga.

February 2006
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247 pages | 6 x 9 | 1 b&w photo |

A uniquely Tejano version of the old-fashioned political barbeque, the traditional South Texas pachanga allowed politicians to connect with voters in a relaxed setting where all could enjoy live music and abundant food and drink along with political speeches and dealmaking. Today's pachanga still combines politics, music, and votes—along with a powerful new element. Corporate sponsorships have transformed the pachanga into a major marketing event, replete with celebrity performers and product giveaways, which can be recorded and broadcast on TV or radio to vastly increase the reach of the political—and the commercial—messages.

This book explores the growing convergence of politics, transnational marketing, and borderlands music in the South Texas pachanga. Anthropologist Margaret Dorsey has observed some one hundred pachangas and interviewed promoters, politicians, artists, and local people. She investigates how candidates and corporations market their products to Hispanic consumers, as well as how the use of traditional music for marketing is altering traditional forms such as the corrido. Her multifaceted study also shows clearly that the lines of influence run both ways—while corporate culture is transforming the traditions of the border, Tejano voters/consumers only respond to marketing appeals (whether for politicians or products) that resonate with their values and the realities of their lives. Far from being an example of how transnational marketing homogenizes culture, the pachanga demonstrates that local cultures can exert an equally strong influence on multinational corporations.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Political Pachangas, Marketing, and Music
    • 1. A History and Style of Association: Music, Pachangas, and Politics in South Texas
    • 2. Marketing Pachangas: The Budgirls
    • 3. Budweiser's Hispanic Scholarship Fund Fiesta Extravaganza
    • 4. Out of a Social Gathering, Music: Galvanizing Persons into Politics
  • Part II. Democracy and the Borderlands: Two Versions
    • 5. Pachanga Moves: A Local Republican and a National Democratic Gathering
    • 6. Ace Hardware: National Corporate Marketers Learn How the Locals Do It
    • 7. A Private Event for a Public Servant: "Mr. Vega" Meets Modernity
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References

Margaret E. Dorsey is Visiting Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.


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A Tale of Two Democracies . . . and Their Shared Constitution

Tale #1

Scissors in hand, I was in my apartment gleaning the Corpus Christi Caller-Times for commentary on the 1998 political campaigns when a photograph made me pause. Rising out of a sea of sign-waving supporters, George W. Bush and Tejano music icon Emilio Navaira stood side by side with their hands clasped together high above their cowboy hats. The article explained that their visit to the hybrid restaurant Wok-a-Mole was part of Bush's gubernatorial campaign sweep through South Texas. "Emilio" played a special rewritten version of his hit song "Mano a Mano" (Hand-in-Hand). Bush ultimately captured over one-third of the Hispanic vote in the state, the majority of those voters crossing party affiliation to vote for a Republican candidate.

Given this community's traditional affiliation with the Democratic Party, I wondered why a Tejano music star would align himself with a Republican politician. What kind of marketing was this? What does this mingling of a highly polished and commercially successful musician and a Republican politician mean for Mexicano expressive culture and democratic politics? I began researching how and where political campaigns, marketers, musicians, and corporations come into contact. In this case, one point of connection between these actors was Philip Morris. At the time of the campaign, Bush's "top consultant" (Van Natta 2000), Karl Rove, was also a paid consultant to Philip Morris. Miller Beer is a subsidiary of Philip Morris, and a series of live-music events, part of Miller's "Livin' Grande" marketing campaign of 1996, had featured Bush's future supporter and then-Philip Morris performer, Navaira. These corporate, musical, and political affiliations suggested sites where transnational, national, and regional interests mingle for a particular purpose.

Tale #2

Tape recorder on the table, I sat in Mauro Reyna's law office in South Texas interviewing Reyna and his cousin, Cecilio Garza, about the 2000 district court race when a story made me pause. While in a Texas hospital having a baby, a woman sang the entire campaign song of Judge Edward Aparicío. Garza explained that his daughter had shared a room in a maternity ward in Galveston, Texas, with a woman in labor who said explained, "I have been singin' this song, and I just can't get it out of my mind." Six months prior to this event and three hundred miles south of Galveston, Aparicío's campaign had first aired "El Corrido del Juez" ("The Song of the Judge") on radio and television stations across South Texas's Hidalgo County. The song created a phenomenon across the county, particularly in poorer communities, where men, women, and children became animated about politics: children followed Aparicío singing the song, and adults warmly welcomed "el juez del corrido" (the judge of the song) into their homes. Aparicío ultimately captured approximately five thousand new voters, and in his victory, he symbolically defeated Hidalgo County's political machine. Given Garza's, Reyna's, Aparicío's, and others' stories about the power of this song to elicit participatory engagement in politics, I wondered what caused this special song to arise. What kind of marketing created this song and disseminated it so widely? What does this mixture of traditionally styled borderlands music and grass-roots politics mean for transnational marketers and democratic politics? I explore these questions, crucially allied to music's awesome capacity to produce democratic publics, in this text.

These vignettes foreground a central facet of contemporary life: symbols saturate our surroundings, and political organizers use them toward various ends. Writing that shifts from the description to the interpretation of symbolic manipulation has long been the lifeblood of anthropology; hence, the discipline's tools are well suited to provide a sophisticated illumination of our present condition. Music, politics, and personal relations, for example, remain very much a part of life, but the notions that students of society once held about politics, business, and culture as discrete entities no longer suffice. The intersections between these realms are increasingly seamless, and I present instances of this trend through explorations of one manifestation: the transformation of the political pachanga (a social gathering featuring music) into a spectacle for the purpose of selling a particular product.

For cultural studies, political science, communication studies, and anthropology, this research makes accessible a set of issues involving media, music, politics, and marketing. If, for example, your interest is in music and politics in East Los Angeles, or more generally in the future of politics in the United States, you can profitably read this book. Or, if your interest is in how society works, then this book offers crucial insight into the imbrication of personal relations with impersonal media.

As for cultural studies and ethnographic studies concerned with the flow of cosmopolitan forms of public culture, by looking at the production, reception, and movement of a text as parts of an interlinked process, the approach I use in this study addresses valid and important methodological questions: How can one study a film, a song, or a speech without limiting one's analysis to the text? How can one study the relationship between a text and its audience? More specifically, How can one grasp reception without disconnecting it from the production process? My method builds from recent studies of language use that showcase discourse as embedded in relations of power, as having a complex past and future. Speech situations are interpreted as "shadow conversations that surround the conversation at hand" (Irvine 1996: 152). In other words, I explore engagement with political campaigns and musical events as beginning before the cultural performance itself and extending after the performance ends, with these interactions overlapping. Consequently, I orient my research toward live events and ethnic marketing strategies as discursive processes, with chains of production surrounding and constituting campaigns.

The ethnographic approach applied here, which pays close attention to linguistic processes, brings to light important data otherwise missed in studies of the relationship between citizenship and consumerism. Only by examining a particular sociopolitical climate, political style, musical form, and the attitude of the text's author does it become clear how a song might be transformed into a marketing vehicle that galvanizes citizens into a political public—or why a song fails to do so. Moreover, without attending political and corporate pachangas and looking at the enchaining of identifications across them, it is difficult to explain why participants feel a sense of alienation at public political pachangas and intimacy at private corporate ones.

Lastly, only by directly observing what national and transnational corporate marketers study when they are taught about "Hispanic" markets—the ways they appeal to these prospective consumers—and the links between this data and local political players is it possible to understand how political networks influence marketing practices and why viewers encounter the messages they do when they watch television or listen to the radio. Those messages, visual and aural, anticipate markets and are crucially linked to nodes of association that arise long before the broadcast of a pachanga.

The opening two tales highlight the central theme of this book: the deployment of two different models of democracy—a glitzy, transnational form and a local grass-roots one—and the ways in which music constitutes the differences between these emergent forms of democracy. Throughout this text, I tack back and forth between the emergence of these two poles of democracy and explain their meaning and use in their ethnographic and linguistic contexts.

The data on which I base my analysis were gathered in the course of an ethnographic study conducted in several periods over four years, from 1998 to 2001. My main sources consist of transcriptions of tape-recorded performances, archival materials, first-hand interviews, and observations of approximately one hundred live events (as delineated in Table 1) attended during the year 2000 presidential political campaign.

Fieldwork in Hidalgo County

Between August 2000 and January 2001, I lived in Edinburg, Texas, while conducting fieldwork throughout Hidalgo County. The city of Edinburg lies near the geographic center of the county and is the seat of county government. Hidalgo County is itself located on the eastern portion of the Texas-Mexico border, approximately fifty miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The county is large, spanning sixty miles from south to north and fifty-five miles east to west. I conducted fieldwork at pachangas in cities, small towns, and in the countryside across Hidalgo County. This fieldwork, along with the challenges of obtaining invitations to those pachangas, consumed the majority of my research time. I observed that pachangas string everyday life and elections into a series of heightened moments that inspire bonding between politicians and business people in form (both use them to market) and function (to raise money and increase prestige).

As Table 1 indicates, during the year 2000 election cycle, I attended approximately one hundred pachangas ranging in size from 10 to 6,500 people and in production price from $500 to $150,000. "Pachanga" is a term whose meaning is polysemic and contested, and I base my usage of it in historical, linguistic, and ethnographic research. In its global usage, "pachanga" refers to a gathering of friends and family that incorporates music, food, and drink. More specific to Hidalgo County, I gathered data at sixty-six "political pachangas"—a term that, generally speaking, refers to events explicitly hosted for political candidates or those sponsored by the Democratic or Republican Parties. In Chapter 1, I further divide political pachangas into three distinct genres—the more traditional men-in-the-countryside gathering, the more prevalent mixed-gender small dance-hall event, and the newer, spectacle-style event. By tracing the evolution of the political pachanga and including dance-hall style and corporate pachangas within this category, I risk upsetting some of my more traditional-minded interlocutors in Hidalgo County, who favor limiting this label to the men-in-the-countryside form. Among other reasons, the frequent and continued use of the term to describe political dance-hall events persuaded me to call such permutations of it "pachangas." Despite this possible criticism and other limitations inherent to chronicling an element central to the articulation of local culture and social cohesion, I hope South Texans leave this text with the feeling that it presents a reasonable account of music, politics, markets, and pachangas.

In Table 1, I use the term, "corporate pachanga" to refer to events that, instead of being hosted by political parties or for political candidates, are hosted by national and transnational businesses—such as Budweiser, Univision and Broadway/Ace Hardware—to raise money and increase brand recognition. "Family pachangas" refers to events hosted by families, usually in the countryside. They are not explicitly for a political candidate, but in their function of bringing family together to celebrate and remember their specific Mexicano heritage are political. "Other gatherings" refers to a range of events, from music festivals and stops on political bus tours to meetings at the Hidalgo County Democratic and Republican party headquarters. These events were held in parks in downtown McAllen, in rural dance halls, and at ranches in the countryside, and they often started and ended with food and music. In this discussion, I focus on political and corporate pachangas, and I show how they function as channels that tie and create "publics" and "markets" as interconnected arenas.

Pachangas themselves are vital intersections of the local and the global. In my fieldwork, I not only observed South Texans rearticulating the meaning and use of this event form, but I also had access to the agents who manufacture and coordinate global campaigns and imagery. In this way, my research stands out from other scholarly accounts of globalization, which emphasize local people absorbing global formats (see, for instance, Wilk 1995: 110). In conducting this study, I was fortunate to meet with agents at the historical moment when they themselves were figuring out new "ethnic" and "target" marketing strategies involving pachangas.

Little has been written on the political pachanga in South Texas, and this perhaps is the case because many consultants consider it a taboo topic for commentary. At least in my fieldwork, moments when people spoke spontaneously about the pachanga were rare, and often consultants happy to talk at length in an informed manner about many elements of South Texas culture became cautious at the mention of the pachanga in the context of politics. They would quickly scan the room to see if anyone could hear our conversation, and then became hesitant and often silent. Others would discuss the topic, but only under conditions of anonymity, and some went so far as to request that I not tape-record or take written notes of our conversation. Many consultants hesitate to speak about political pachangas—especially the politics of organizing them and what occurs at them—for two reasons: they perceive the topic as physically dangerous to discuss, most likely because of Hidalgo County's tradition of mixing physical force with politics, and they consider pachangas to be aligned with buying and selling votes and attendant illegal practices considered corrupting acts.

The consultants I talked with were primarily Mexicano and ranged in age from 21 to 80. They worked for state and county governments, at national and multinational corporations, as journalists, for the Democratic National Committee, at advertising agencies, for local political candidates, and as concerned citizens. The men and women I met with—whether at pachangas, in their homes, or in their offices—in response to hearing my project described as a study of the relationship between music, politics, and marketing, often smiled warmly and responded that I was in the correct place to study the meeting of the three.

Basic Characteristics of Hidalgo County

Predominately Mexicano, with more than eighty percent of its population speaking Spanish (U.S. Bureau of the Census DP-2 1990), Hidalgo County is a particularly captivating place to study the channels that link music and politics. Approximately thirty-eight percent of Hidalgo County's population lives below the national poverty level (U.S. Department of Commerce 2001: 25). For many South Texans, a candidate's willingness to walk from door to door visiting residents ("block walking") in Hidalgo County's numerous isolated and poor communities makes a significant statement about his or her politics. Block walking shows that the candidate recognizes poor people—as voters, citizens, and people—and is not afraid to mingle with them in their community, or "in their own backyard," as some consultants put it. Hidalgo County "has the most colonias and largest number of colonia residents in Texas" (Texas Secretary of State 2002), and these largely rural, unincorporated settlements are potentially fruitful sites for political marketers to target. Politicians and marketers interviewed for this study often spoke of their target demographic as homeowners, and the majority of colonia residents are homeowners and eligible U.S. voters. Nonetheless, approximately eighty percent of colonia residents over the age of eighteen have not completed high school.

Things heard—songs—and visual spectacle—colors and images seen—are key ingredients within marketing in Hidalgo County in part because of low literacy and formal education levels. Such basic characteristics—a high level of comfort with Spanish and less comfort with reading—influence the ways in which political candidates and marketers appeal to this population. The result is a style of politics unique to the inhabitants of this region.

The una palanca (one lever) or "straight ticket" strategy, for instance, is a political option that was heavily pushed by Hidalgo County's Democratic Party in 2000. Pulling a single lever to vote a straight party ticket is an option for Texas's voters. Turning this lever automatically casts the entire ballot for every Democrat or every Republican on the ticket. The una palanca strategy deters voters from crossing over and voting for any candidates from another party, a failure of party discipline that was an embarrassment for Democratic Party organizers in George W. Bush's successful 1998 gubernatorial race. In part as a response to Bush's success in attracting Democratic voters to the Republican ticket, in the 2000 election the Democratic Party of Hidalgo County frequently asked citizens to vote simply una palanca. They spread this message in speeches and on bumper stickers that read "UNA PALANCA" in red letters along with a red sketch of the lever.

What is Hidalgo County's political campaign style? Its style is distinct from that found in other parts of South Texas. Political aspirants raise and spend large sums of money to win countywide offices. Based on firsthand observation and interviews with local political specialists, I estimate that some local judicial campaigns spend close to one million dollars in their countywide elections. Many of these funds go into producing a brand image for a candidate and getting that brand name, and often its attendant colors, into circulation.

Another distinguishing element of Hidalgo County's political style is the intensity and creativity employed in circulating colorful visual political material. During campaign season, the region blooms with bright red campaign ephemera. Shiny bumper stickers, clusters of yard signs, and highway billboards mark the county's landscape.

Marketers and citizens of Hidalgo County take this packaging one step further. They create a logo for the candidate and put it, too, into circulation. Supporters stick large magnets printed with a candidate's logo on the side of their cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs (sport-utility vehicles). To facilitate spotting a candidate's logo from a distance, others nail campaign signs together in pyramid-like structures placed in the beds of their pick-up trucks. Supporters wear designer baseball caps and T-shirts embossed with a candidate's logo. A candidate, along with his or her closest supporters, often wears collared, oxford-cloth shirts with the candidate's colorful logo embroidered on the upper-left hand side. At restaurants and parties, a candidate circulates "push cards," typically three-by-five-inch cards printed in the candidate's bright colors, with a picture of the candidate (often with his or her immediate family), the candidate's logo, a list of credentials, and a list of reasons to vote for him or her. The push cards, bumper stickers, yard signs, shirts, billboards, and car magnets in circulation make the county's landscape flush with color readily observable to residents and visitors alike.

Less available to an outsider's gaze is the pachanga, a point of meeting and exclamation for these manifold color carriers. In 2000, the frequency and timing of Hidalgo County's pachangas shifted in response to early voting, a recently introduced element into Texas's political landscape. Early voting refers to an extended period of time before Election Day itself, during which the polls are open to all registered voters to vote. In 2000, it lasted for almost two weeks, from Saturday, October 21, through Friday, November 3. Hidalgo County opened early voting "substations" in twelve spots. Early voting is a way in which Democrats attempt to make voting in Hidalgo County more accessible.

In speeches and conversation, Democrats commonly express a perspective on voting that equates higher voter turnout in "minority" communities with the success of Democratic candidates. They also understand that minority citizens tend to vote at much lower rates than do majority citizens. With this in mind, Democratic officeholders pushed legislation intended to make voter registration (e.g., the "motor-voter" law) and voting itself more accessible.

In Democrat-run Hidalgo County, election officials followed through on this premise as much as possible. They increased access to the polls by increasing the amount of time citizens had to vote from one to fourteen days and by expanding the number of voting locations. Organized by county election officials, mobile voting vans roamed throughout the county, going wherever citizens requested them (personal communication with an Elections Department official, November 2000). The Democrats' push to open the polls to citizens worked to their advantage in Hidalgo County: more people voted and more voted Democratic in the 2000 election than in previous elections.

Such efforts to increase voter participation seem to have worked. Between 1992 and 2000, voting in presidential elections in Hidalgo County increased by approximately ten percent. In the 2000 general election, Hidalgo County residents cast more than 100,000 total votes, a twelve-to-fourteen percent increase over previous presidential election years (see Table 2). Over 100,000 total votes is an astonishing number; it a particularly high number as a percentage of population. As Table 3 indicates, approximately sixty-six percent of the total votes cast were for Democratic candidates. Almost half of those votes were cast during early voting. The early voter turnout for the 2000 general election was 42,032 (Hidalgo County Elections Department 2000). This number is half the total voters counted during the two previous presidential elections of 88,000 in 1992 and 86,000 in 1996. Similar to events across the United States on Election Day 2000, voters in Hidalgo County inundated the polls. Citizens waited over two hours at some sites, and the polls stayed open after hours, not closing until late in the evening. Given this level of interest in the election, it would not have been possible for 102,039 votes to be cast in Hidalgo County without early voting mechanisms in place.

Because early voting is new to the Texas scene, its relationship to political events and the generation of political engagement is not yet well established. Nevertheless, even as voting access appears to be the Democrat's cause célèbre, both Democratic and Republican party activists wanted to attract early voters to their tickets, and so, to this end, both Democratic and Republican candidates hosted live-music events. In 2000, law firms, families, candidates, and political parties hosted many pachangas in anticipation of early voting. At the same time, political campaigns increased their activities; radio and television ads and signs became increasingly abundant around the time of early voting.

As I formulated the plan for this research, I assumed that political activity would reach a feverish pitch the closer we came to Election Day on November 7. In other words, I assumed that from late October to Election Day, political organizers and patrons would host many events, with the vast majority of them the weekend before Tuesday, November 7. Instead, from mid-September through Sunday, October 29, the county was a frenzy of pachanga activity, but in the ten days between October 29 and November 7, campaign activity virtually ceased. It was as if the county stopped to take a collective sigh. In contrast, at the height of the political campaign season, the moment of crescendo for both the United States presidential and local elections, public political pachangas—their production, commentary on them, and attendance at them—were in decline. Glamorous private pachangas filled this lacuna. Just when I expected campaigning to reach its height, wealthy South Texans were attending fundraisers for far-off political campaigns and for corporate charities. All drew upon music to relate signs to discourse across specific media contexts in South Texas.

Poetics and Politics in South Texas

This study differs in scope and approach from earlier work on poetics and politics in South Texas (Limón 1989, 1994; Paredes 1993 [1978], 1994 [1958]; Peña 1985, 1999) in several important ways. Earlier scholars focused on the role of verbal and musical artistry in forming a vehicle for expressing resistance to Anglo domination. In those works, scholars highlighted the integral nature of music to Mexicano social life and music's role in the animation of ripostes to a repressive system.

Music continues to play an integral role in the formation of a Mexicano political subjectivity and an objectifiable Mexicano identity, but the system of domination—now or in the past—cut crisply along ethnic lines. Economic interests and forces must be more closely considered. This said, some important elements have changed from the period of that earlier research. When those scholars first conducted their fieldwork in the region, Anglos still held most of the dominant political positions. In Hidalgo County today, however, Mexicanos hold almost all of the public political posts. Moreover, the county no longer operates through a rural economy. Rather, it is the region with the third-fastest growth in the country (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000), infused with a cosmopolitan sensibility and booming with new construction. The output of border factories (maquilas) and implementation of global agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) significantly have affected the local economy, poetics, and politics.

Nonetheless, these large-scale factors alone do not explain the contemporary meaning and use of the pachanga—once central to local politics, the constitution of political publics, and the maintenance of political authority. South Texans have rearticulated the political pachanga's meaning and use from a private, exclusively male event in the country to a public, mixed-gender music spectacle held in a dance hall and more recently into a glamorous, ready-to-broadcast piece of marketing ephemera.

The contemporary aesthetics of political practice and their relation to a significant restructuring of the economy are not merely passive reflections of the external forces of globalization. Today's pachangas are shaped by a cross-fertilization of ideas. The focus of this study is on the innovative ways in which South Texans' attitudes toward these performances have adapted to new forms of global public culture, and on the ways transnational marketers' attitudes toward forms of social gathering native to South Texas have shifted in relation to their own versions of a global public sphere. I suggest that the pachanga is shaped by a dialectic between local poetics and politics on the one hand and global economic restructuring on the other.

Spectacle, Channeling, Metaculture, and Publics

A pachanga, whether experienced live or on television, is not only a musical performance but also a visual spectacle. The trope of spectacle points to a chain of associations crucial to the magnification of this form of social gathering from an intimate event in the country, where actors forged coalitions to overturn the Anglo power structure, into one element in a sophisticated, mass-mediated marketing campaign. Emerging out of a visual orientation toward communication, use of the term "spectacle" suggests indexicality and iconicity (Gal and Irvine 1995; Irvine 1989) in a text's ability to capture a range of associations in a condensed form, and by means of degrees of textual authority and objectivity (see Bauman and Briggs 1990; Silverstein and Urban 1996). Increasingly, the term "spectacle" describes the material phenomena viewed by residents of the Texas-Mexico border area.

In South Texas, where oral expressive forms have long been crucial to the articulation of politicized Mexicano identities, an emphasis on the intentional transformation of a fundamentally aural form into a primarily visual spectacle can offer useful tools toward understanding the meaning of these changes for social and political life. Because the shift observed is toward spectacle, this study highlights the role of pachangas in visual channeling, but sound is also a significant element in ethnic marketing in South Texas and, therefore, the concepts I employ (for example, channeling and intertextuality) help us to account for the meanings and practices of marketing through both aural and visual media.

My approach to the process of producing new publics borrows from Greg Urban's (2001) work interpreting culture as transmission and Tia DeNora's (2000) recognition of music's special capacity to foster in people the creation of affective bonds with cultural artifacts. Urban's theory understands that a single text, a song for example, can cross social boundaries, such as those between generations. In addition, in Urban's view, texts circulate: they move from node A (such as a social gathering) to node B and node C. The movement of the text may be enhanced or impeded by other mechanisms, including other texts (such as a story about a woman in labor singing a campaign song). This circulation of texts can itself create publics. More specifically, I view this constitution of publics as a "metacultural" process: the movement carves out particular publics conditioned by the form, context, and rhetoric of the text.

There is, however, more to consider than cultural circulation in understanding the production of publics, and in this study I take into account the relationship of texts to persons—mentally and physically—in that production process. Such sharing of substance is a form of identification. In her ethnography of music use in British and U.S. daily life, DeNora observes that individuals "latch" onto music, often without being aware of it. DeNora's concept of latching provides a palpable metaphor for more established interpretations of "identification" (Burke [1962]: 21). In DeNora's formulation, music is a text that people relate to easily, one that circulates in creating new publics.

Linked to this opportunity to produce new publics is the risk that transnational marketers will co-opt music's special capacity to produce new publics, using it toward their own ends, e.g., to sell Budweiser (see Chapters 2, 3, and 5). At the same time, in the chapters that follow, I explicitly address the ways in which both marketers and South Texas residents use culture to mitigate the risk of slippage in the context of marketing by animating spectators and participants. Marketers achieve this end through a strategic and heightened employment of female sexuality, and marketers and residents both do so by increasing the velocity of objects in motion.

Joel Kuipers's (1998) sociolinguistic analysis focuses on aural forms of communication and suggests that long-term shifts in political communication have moved in his research sites toward the constriction of channels for democratic participation. The term "spectatorship" as I use it here refers to this same process, but because the metaphor of the spectacle implies a strong visual component, I draw from Kuipers's work as well and use the term to refer to both the visual and aural channeling of social gatherings. Organized by local politicians and marketers, channeling plays on and with the senses by attaching messages to the sensation of relaxation, convivial talk, dancing, regional foods, sexual allure, and the like, and in this attachment produces a shared sense of identification among people. Things seen and heard link and create publics and markets. In my interpretation, channel manipulation has become central to marketing social gatherings. I further suggest that channels (or instrumentalities) can be significant elements in accelerating the motion of culture and the production of publics.

I perceive the process of producing publics takes the form of what might be called a "cultural snowball effect": the more culture is bundled together, the more talk is produced about that culture, and the more culture it attracts, the faster it moves along. A second and related point addresses the inverse of this scenario: s cial gatherings also run the risk of decreasing the velocity of objects in motion or of stopping their movement altogether. Perhaps one of the more obvious ways in which they do so is by not linking with other channels, sizes, scales, and cultural forms.

In my arrangement of pachanga descriptions, for instance, I emphasize a shift from direct (Chapter 1) to indirect or mediated (Chapter 2) and from live (Chapter 3) to recorded (Chapter 4) channels. I highlight this issue because these shifts affect the speed and movement of discourse by creating more zones for reflexivity (overlap) to come into action: by using discourse that calls attention to itself, for instance by invoking and looking back at itself, actors create more opportunities for discourse to circulate. Channels are an integral, yet neglected, element to be considered in this process. In other words, the more types of channel a campaign has operating, the more opportunities these channels create for hooking into and reproducing discourse in motion, thereby increasing the possibility of accelerating the velocity of objects in motion.

In Chapter 5, for instance, I describe a mass-spectacle, transnational-like event hosted by a Republican district court candidate, Ernest Aliseda. Appointed by Governor Bush to fill a newly created seat until general elections could be held, Aliseda aspired to make history by becoming the first Republican to win a countywide race since Reconstruction (post 1860s). The candidate was bilingual, handsome, youthful-looking, amiable, and well-liked by the lawyers, judges, and staff who frequented the courthouse. Aliseda's event was live and direct (i.e., not mediated by television). He did not integrate it with other elements of his campaign. Taken altogether, his campaign lacked intertextuality; the elements did not "speak" to each other (from the genre of music used and the story it told in relation to his campaign, to the integration of this music throughout the elements of the campaign—the campaign slogan, push cards, hats, shirts). He did not transmit a tightly integrated message across radio and television, nor did his staff canvass the event with push cards, buttons, T-shirts, hats, or bumper stickers. Aliseda lost the election (see Table 3).

As the Aliseda case indicates, rather than exploring spectacles narrowly as hollow conduits, this study considers channels as constituent parts in linking and producing markets by creating circles of exclusion and inclusion. This channeling perspective concentrates attention on actual structures and processes related to media and globalization (Kuipers 1998; Z. Bauman 1998), by viewing democracy as a form of identification, emergent in performance that is channeled through media in global contexts.

Democracy, Politics, and Performance in Hidalgo County

The case of music's mediation of two styles of democracy provides an extraordinary cultural lens with which to examine more general problems concerning the relationship between poetics and democracy. As transnational trade agreements and rapid growth change the social, political, and economic landscape of Hidalgo County, they also deeply affect the ways in which politicians and marketers deploy democracy. If I had limited my attention in this analysis to a study of "the public sphere"—on the level of a publicly accessible deliberative model of democracy—it might have been possible to conclude that relatively little change is occurring. Yet by turning the focus of the study to performative elements that residents of South Texas have long considered integral to their expressive culture–-music and pachangas–-it becomes clear that something novel is underway. On the other hand, if I had limited the focus of this study to the cultural elements of this dialectic, to the emergence of a new style of live-music event marketing, I would be at a loss to explain why, in this apparently standard ethnographic tale of studying "up" the workings of multinational corporate marketers, specific styles of democracy—and the music that constitutes them—have flourished when other styles have not.

As the tale of Ed Aparicío's song suggests, an important element in the efflorescence of a grass-roots style of democracy are local beliefs and attitudes about the form and use of live music, and how these play a role in the rearticulation of expressive, political material. My interlocutors in South Texas expressed a deep sense of connection to political candidates, elected officials, and the cultural ephemera (e.g., songs and pachangas) used to bring them into contact. They were not passive bystanders to the changes occurring. They actively comment on local, regional, national, and transnational marketers' use of their culture in ways that provide insight into why some adaptations work and others do not (see Chapter 5). Called forth by locally significant poetic registers such as the color red, the sound of a polka, and talk of farm work, and in their repetition, a form of "verbal magic . . . believed to produce the reality stated" (Malinowski 1965: 238), South Texans' performance of politics animates democracy in a manner that highlights the central role communicating culture plays in the constitution of at least two different forms of democracy.

To understand the relationship between politics and performance, I find it useful to adopt an understanding of democracy starting from locally emergent events, rather than beginning with established models and rigid regulations. This study starts from a shared premise in a growing body of literature on democracy and ethnography (e.g., Apter 1999; Coronil 1997; Greenhouse and Greenwood 1998; Paley 2001a) that seeks to understand what "democracy" means as produced in specific economic, social, and cultural contexts. Similar to Paley (2001a: 117; 2001b: 144) in her recent study, I am interested in the "marketing of democracy" based in "a logic of gauging, targeting, and creating desire among voters similar to that which commercial marketing directs toward consumers" (in Paley 2001a, quoting O'Shaughnessy 1990: 4).

But where I differ from Paley's work is that I am less concerned with marketing "the idea of democracy" (117) and how actors "define democracy" (2001a: 3) and more concerned with the production and effervescence of democracy, that is, the successes and failures of democracies as they emerge. This point of convergence is where my study is not merely applying a discourse-centered ethnographic approach to the meaning and use of democracy but a performance-centered one (Bauman 1993: 3; Gilroy 1993: 200). In the case of Hidalgo County, for example, organizers' crafting of democracy often begins with how kinship and memory work: pachangas work in the political context by playing on remembered connections to the early days of political mobilization. High among these are the heady times of John F. Kennedy's and Lyndon Johnson's national election in 1960. Such ethnographically emergent issues are allied to which styles of democracy survive and thrive, which ones are rearticulated, commented upon, channeled and elided. All of these are mediated by music, and as such music has a centripetal relation to understanding why certain forms of democracy persist and others do not.

As Paul Gilroy (1993: 79, 102) explains in his performance approach to democracy, music and rituals "enshrine" democratic moments that work through practical activity—language, gesture, desires–-that cannot be reduced to a "fixed essence" nor "reinvented by the will and whim of aesthetes, symbolists and language gamers." This statement of Gilroy's feasibly could be directed toward other scholarly responses to the effects of the mass media and mass-mediated forms of communication on democracy. Such calls propose institutionalizing a concept of the political public sphere (e.g., Habermas 1991: 448), relying upon a codified model of democracy. In such approaches, if they are mentioned at all, performance, antiphony, and improvisation are seen as actions to be controlled and subject to legally binding rules, especially those forms outside of rational debate (449).

In that proposition, scholars assume, for instance, that interlocutors will follow a rule of impartiality: questions transcend one's own short-term personal preferences and interests (i.e., actors transcend economic interests in favor of the political). This insistence on regulating, as Chantal Mouffe (1999) explains, falters not only along the central practical considerations Gilroy highlights but also along theoretical ones. Habermas's model is inconsistent in that it ignores the central role of identification (that reaching consensus also relies on the substance of obligation based in shared understanding) in any production of democratic discourse. In fact, taking up Habermas's model can be seen to do more to exclude communication and its role in constituting democracy, instead being used as a tool to divide and exclude interlocutors (see Young 1996).

A Tale of Two Democracies . . . and Their Shared Musical Constitution

Mediation, Risk, and New Publics

By understanding democracy as locally performed and emergent, organized by local, regional, and national actors in South Texas, I begin to explain why an active grass-roots style and a more passive transnational style of democracy will either whither or flourish; and I might add, part of the pleasure of reading this political ethnography is observing the surprising ways in which these models unfold and interact. The text changes intentionally—moments when you want more description, feel jarred, left-out, and occasionally satiated—because that is just how I experienced those events—brilliant, beautiful, amazing, and disappointing.

To preview what is to come and as a heuristic through which to calibrate the emergence of these two models of democracy, I provide a basic lexicon for what I observed in Hidalgo County. Broadly speaking, the locally based active form works through: intimacy (e.g., block walking), political memory and actual familial associations (e.g., the need for a known name to be displayed on a car magnet), empowerment in resistant democratic terms, the choice of personal associations (e.g., gifting) over positional identities, speaking a local democratic idiom, and grass-roots democracy through music. The more transnationally based, passive form works through consumerism, target marketing, empowerment in consumerist terms, transnational marketing tools that use "ethnic" marketing, and commercialism backed by the national political parties.

A general conclusion that I draw from this research is that political attitudes can be explained with reference to marketing practice as mutually channeled through music. These practices seem to unfold according to at least five cultural processes.

  • Latching is a changing relationship between an object and a person (whether or not they recognize this happening) that recognizes music's special capacity, through rhythmic activity, to elicit bonding to cultural artifacts (DeNora 2000). By writing a "catchy" melody for "Campaign Music for Judge Aparicio," Garza enabled latching to the song and political campaign. In singing the song, the relationship between men, women, and children of Hidalgo County and the candidate shifted from one of distance to a close, personal, and embodied one.
  • Metaculture is a process that assumes that culture circulates and in its movement it constitutes publics (Urban 2001). More specifically, the circulation cultivates particular publics conditioned by the text. Among South Texans, for instance, two forms of metaculture—video (at Univision/Budweiser's Pachanga Deportiva) and invitation (at Budweiser's Hispanic Scholarship Fund Fíesta Extravaganza)—cultivated a specific "grass-roots" public.
  • Entextualization refers to the process whereby actors work to make a text a piece of shareable, transmittable culture often through taking the text from one context and placing it into another. In Hidalgo County, the "Budgirls" wearing the Budweiser logo and appearing at the Rivas home and on television can be seen as entextualizing. On a larger scale, I suggest that the pachanga form is entextualized, subject to recontextualization and decontextualization across time and space with its attendant shifts in meaning. Thus as corporate players recontextualize and more tightly entextualize the pachanga, so, too, is its meaning and capacity to be transmitted.
  • Generic intertextuality concerns a performance event invoking speech acts that connect with and recall another genre and hence connect the present performance with past events and even imagine future events. My analysis incorporates this notion on two levels and through two mediums, that of music and pachangas. For example, the structure of Aparicio's campaign song invoked the corrido song form. The sequentiality of Budweiser's Hispanic Scholarship Fund Fíesta (Chapter 3) invoked the entextualized (dance hall) form of political gathering, creating a range of connections. An effect of this moment of generic intertextuality is to lend authority to the event, more specifically through borrowing a traditionalized discourse with a well-established form of act sequences. Another effect of corporate pachangas borrowing generic features—particularly highly entextualized ones—from political pachangas, is that it imbues one with the sense of the other; political events begin to feel similar to corporate events and vice versa.
  • Spectatorship "is the process in which the relation between performer and audience has come to be projected on to other communicative relations in society, such as that between state and citizen" (Kuipers 1998: 152). I include the visual and aural channeling of social gatherings. Clearly the move from live and direct to filmed and indirect events is a step toward increased distance between participant and performance. In the transition from more localized public forms to sexier broadcasts of the events, participants and politicians are not engaged in a series of unmediated, live conversations; contact is limited to a mediated transaction. At unmediated private events, however, I observed numerous moments in which a great deal of personal contact occurred, but sponsors had selected the attendees and carefully crafted invitations to appeal to these publics.

New forms of spectatorship also raise issues concerning segmentation of publics. Marketers increasingly focus on what types of audiences they anticipate, and in the case of South Texas, this segmentation can fall not just along "ethnic" but also linguistic and class lines. The increasing division and distance created between participants and performers raises significant issues concerning the prospects for and feasibility of deliberative democracy as a political model.

These general concepts and their attendant meanings come to life in the more experience-centered ethnography ahead, but these labels—for the mechanisms through which a locally based active and more transnationally based passive forms of democracy emerge—correspond, in turn, to the ways in which music mediates their differences.

Music connects people at varying levels of intensity. On the one hand, a truck can drive down the street blaring Norteño music, and it mediates that scape without necessarily doing anything political: a group of people merely share a sound. On the other hand, music does something political to its listeners. It cues them to an attitude of resistance; it reminds them of their power to be political; it induces latching and draws new voters (new publics) into the political process.

Each of the chapters that follow contrasts local democracy with transnational marketing, contextualized within a specific political tradition. In Hidalgo County, political pachangas work in the political context by playing on remembered connections to the early days of political mobilization (e.g., the Kennedy-Johnson election), as well as by borrowing from the forms of a transnational public culture. My eyewitness descriptions deal with the ways transnational marketing has seized on a kind of "reverse" channel, borrowing the notion of a community of identity for the purposes of selling products to an "ethnic market." Reverse marketing works fairly well for beer marketers in some contexts, but it does not work so well for politics—at least not for a politics based on anything other than consumption. Thus, the contrast between the pachanga, as historically developed in Hidalgo County (traced in Chapter 1), and Budweiser's transnational marketing at a pachanga deportiva (presented in Chapter 2), is crucial to the framework of democracy. This contrast highlights the difference between the emergence of a grass-roots style of democratic politics enacted through music, and a transnational marketing tool that uses ethnic markers. This polarity continues in Chapter 4, where I contrast the songs of two local judicial candidates, Ed Aparicío and Ernest Aliseda, which clearly show the difference between a local democratic idiom and commercialism. The contrast between the very unsuccessful Democratic National Committee's live-music event (Chapter 5), and the very successful Ace Hardware live event (Chapter 6) provides a canvas on which I show how these different models work (or don't work for the Democratic National Committee). In Chapter 7, this story comes full circle back to the pull of kinship and local ties in this new transnational context.

My analytic strategy in contrasting two different models of democracy and the way music constitutes the differences between them is based in my firm belief in politics as a phenomenon springing from the events of everyday life—parties, songs, sayings, jingles, icons, advertisements, bumpers stickers, and invitation—that work to activate citizens as voters and subjugate them as consumers. As the opening vignettes underscore, any of these performative elements can be used as entry points into understanding democracy, but their interrelationship, the places where they come together and disperse, work and do not work, is crucial to such an understanding. Different chapters highlight music in different ways, but none of the chapters ignores the key role of music. It is a powerful medium of solidarity, and it seeps into much of our environment, including the political. Music is a socially powerful agent affecting us also as citizens.


“This book would be a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in the dynamics of the Texas-Mexico borderlands, in the relations between individuals and corporations, or in the functionings of democracy at the grassroots level.”
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