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Melo-Carrillo 1

Cianci Melo-Carrillo

Ida Ldemel Tvedt

University Writing

Progression 3

This Land is Your Land

The original This Land Is Your Land was written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940s. The

song is semi-biographical, but it communicates the sentiments of an entire community: the

Okies. Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma but in 1935, the Dust Bowl forced him to take

to the road. His experiences on the road provide the background for what the narrator of This

Land Is Your Land observes: no trespassing signs, golden valleys, wheat fields, and dust

clouds rolling. Guthrie hitchhiked, rode freight trains, and walked all the way to California

(Mateus). Once he arrived, Guthries experience in California included intense scorn, hatred,

and even physical antagonism from resident Californians (Mateus). Guthrie was not alone in

feeling alienated by resident Californians: all migrant workers were derisively labeled as

Okies. In California, Guthrie was able to begin voicing the thoughts of his community. He

hosted a regular program on KFVD Radio alongside Lefty Lou where he was able to sing

about his experiences and those of his fellow Okies (Mateus).

In This Land Is Your Land, Guthrie recounts his experiences of traveling the United

States and of seeing the necessities of his people, Oklahoma migrant workers, ignored. The final

message of the song is this land was made for you and me. In Esta Tierra Es Tuya, Sones de

Mexico, a Chicago based traditional Mexican band, adapts Woody Guthries song to recount the
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experiences of their people: Mexican migrant laborers. Their last message is that this land is for

you and me.

Sones de Mexico changes the style and lyrics of This Land Is Your Land, arranging the

original into a norteo style with mostly Spanish lyrics. The lyrics are not direct translations.

This land was made for you and me becomes this land is for you and for me. The difference

between was made and is in the translation of the lyrics is not a style choice. The new

arrangement of the song is focused on the active opportunities that are available to immigrants,

not on the passively made geographical landscapes. Instead of including verses about golden

valleys, wheat fields, and dust clouds rolling, Sones de Mexico includes verses about the

travelers in search of an opportunity. Instead of historical details such as relief offices, Sones

de Mexico adds a verse about the travelers destiny: to own the land that they work. Even the

sections that are conserved in the translation have a different ring. The same no trespassing

sign that is referenced in Guthries version signifies something else to Mexican immigrants: no

trespassing signs are posted all along the recently built fence along the border between Mexico

and the United States. This new version of Woody Guthries song is solely based on immigrant

experiences. Sones de Mexico makes the purpose of their song clear in the introduction, where a

singer declares Esta Tierra Es Tuya the national anthem of the immigrants.

Sones de Mexico explicitly addresses their immigrant audience in the spoken-word

sections of the song: come on compadre!/Dont be down about being far away from you

land/right here, right here is your land. In addressing their audience like this, Sones de Mexico

highlights a key aspect of the immigrants experience: they are nostalgic for home and are stuck

in land that is foreign to them. The immigrants nostalgia extends to cultural traditions. That is

why this norteo adaptation was created: to reassure them that their cultural traditions followed
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them to this foreign land. But, the song also includes American cultural components. This Land

Is Your Land is an American folk song, and Sones de Mexico pays tribute to the original song

by including a verse of song in English.

With the mixing of American and Mexican cultural components, Sones de Mexico

reassures immigrants that this land, the United States, and its culture is theirs. Sones de

Mexico has taken an American folk song and appropriated it as the national anthem of the

immigrants. American culture can be shaped in their image, but is this image one that maintains

individual cultures, or merges them into one? Sones de Mexico have combined two cultures into

one adaptation. This adaption could either be evidence of cultural assimilation or cultural


Cultural assimilation is the overpowering of a weaker culture by a dominant culture. It

is seen in the language loss of immigrants native tongues. It seen in the loss of cultural variety.

Folk music collector Alan Lomax writes on the necessity for cultural education in order to

prevent the loss of cultures and the traditions that they contain in his essay Appeal for Cultural

Equity. According to Lomax, cultural assimilation threatens the cultural variety by leading to

the removal of a way of viewing, thinking, and feeling (Lomax 286).

Cultural assimilation could also be considered beneficial to the groups it affects. The

Melting Pot is a symbol of equal opportunity for the immigrant groups that enter the United

States. Richard Rodriguez, an American writer with Mexican ancestry, declares cultural

assimilation as the ultimate tool for freedom in the United States in his essay The Third Man.

Rodriguez states that culture restricts an individuals freedom of choice (Rodriguez 131). Only

cultural assimilation allows for full American white freedomfreedom to choose your actions

regardless of race or culture (Rodriguez 142).

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Sones de Mexicos Esta Tierra Es Tuya contains lyrics in both Spanish and English,

although the English portion of the song is isolated to the last verse of the song. The inclusion of

an English verse shows part of the process in language assimilation among immigrants. Rubn

Rumbaut, Cuban-American professor of sociology, describes the process of immigrant language

assimilation in his essay The Americans: Latin American and Caribbean Peoples in the United

States. According to Rumbaut, the loss of language has generational breaks (Rumbaut 300). The

first generation of immigrants learns survival English but speak[s] their mother tongue to their

children at home (Rumbaut 300). The second generation still learns their parents mother

tongue, but in a motley manner. They learn Spanglish, an amalgamation of Spanish and

English (Rumbaut 300). Esta Tierra Es Tuya falls into the category of Spanglish. The included

English is not survival English, but instead shows an active assimilation of Spanish into

English. By the third generation, the assimilation is complete and children only learn English

(Rumbaut 300). This is the last step in the extinction of languages. It is motivated by the

presence of a dominant culture, and the benefits that arise from participation in that culture

(Rumbaut 302). According to Rumbaut these are the benefits: English proficiency has always

been a key to immigrants socioeconomic mobility and full participation in their adoptive

society (Rumbaut 302). The adoptive society shapes the immigrants into its image, which the

immigrants have no control over (Rumbaut 303).

However, Sones de Mexico sees other benefits in including English lyrics into their song

other than for socioeconomic mobility and full participation in their society. They already see

themselves as participating in society. In an interview on NPR with Renee Montagne, Juan Dies,

Sones de Mexicos group leader, states that [Sones de Mexico is not] trying to pretend that we

live in a small village in Mexico. We live in Chicago and interact with the world around us.
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Sones de Mexicos intention in participating in society through songs such as Esta Tierra Es

Tuya to take control of their society. Their intention to take ownership of society is proclaimed

in saying this land is for you and me. While American society has adopted Mexican

immigrants, it is Son de Mexicos intention to shape their society in their image unlike what

Rumbaut says the trend is with immigrant groups. This image includes the livelihood of Spanish.

Esta Tierra Es Tuya is mostly in Spanish, speaking to its audience in Spanish, only including

English as a reminder that they have control of that language as well.

Even if Sones de Mexico is asserting control over their society, they are still combining

two separate cultures in Esta Tierra Es Tuya. Now there is one Mexican-American culture as

opposed to separate cultures. This culture has as a component the dominant American culture,

which already threatens to eradicate cultural variety in a globalized world. American culture

could still overpower the diversity of Mexican-American culture.

According to Alan Lomax, in his essay Appeal for Cultural Equity, cultural variety is

quickly dying due to an unrestrained mercantilism (Lomax 287). Mercantilism dismisses weak

and unfit cultures as a necessary cost; mercantilism make it seem inevitable that stronger, more

fit cultures will pervade (Lomax 286). This is the positive argument for the spread of Western

culture. However, this culture is affected by the negative aspects of mercantilism: everything is

manufactured. Lomax argues that instead of a better culture, a dominant standardized, mass-

produced and cheapened culture is being spread (Lomax 285). This culture is synonymous with

popular culture. However, Sones de Mexicos arrangement of This Land Is Your Land is not

for commercial purposes, although they target a popular audience. They are not seeking to profit

on their targeted bilingual audience. Sones de Mexico makes their purpose clear in the spoken-

word sections of their song: this is national anthem of the immigrants. By having intentions of
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helping their immigrant community, Son de Mexico has avoided being overwhelmed by

mercantilist American culture.

A national anthem is used to unite a nation through common song. It is a form of

educationwhich Lomax states is the only way that cultural variety can survive (Lomax 288).

According to Lomax, a faulty educational system, such as the one currently present in the United

States, can lead to brainwashing in which we teach children that no other cultural system has

value (Lomax 288). He gives as an example that the only type of music taught in schools is

Western classical music; this inhibits children from finding a way of viewing, thinking, and

feeling (Lomax 288,286). A healthy education, however, guarantees cultural independence and

also permits unforced acceptance of external influence (Lomax 287).

Sones de Mexico combats brainwashing by helping to educate communities about

Mexican folk traditions through their songs and educational programs. Sones de Mexico is

nonprofit organization committed to quality education programs for children and adults of all

ages (Sones). They hold weekly music classes in the Chicago area. Juan Dies, the bandleader, is

also folklorist that engages in educational programs across the country. In an interview with Taki

Telonidis on NPR, he describes a program that he held in Oregon in which he taught students the

importance of the corridoa type of Mexico folk songfor describing their lives. Juan Dies has

seen immigration as a common theme in contemporary Mexican folk songs. Esta Tierra Es

Tuya involves the same immigration theme; it is also an educational, popular folk song.

Esta Tierra Es Tuya has popular appeal, but it is still a folk song. Ethnomusicologist

Bruno Nettl defines the folk music in in his book Folk and Traditional Music of the Western

Continents as music that all of the people in a culture could understand and in which many

could participate (Nettl 2). The spoken-word portions of Esta Tierra Es Tuya always includes
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a call for participants. But this is also an aspect of popular music; it appeals to the large masses

and is easily understandable. Nettl creates one final condition for folk music that ensures Son de

Mexicos place in it: songs must be passed on through oral tradition and must fit the needs of its

audience (Nettl 3). The final portion of that condition is specifically employed by Sones de

Mexico. Esta Tierra Es Tuya only resembles This Land Is Your Land. The lyrics and the

style has been intentionally changed to suits the needs of Sones de Mexicos immigrant

audience. Even though Sones de Mexico has changed an American folk song into a song that

address a different audience with different needs, they still maintain the folk tradition.

John Abrams, member of the folk group the Abrams Brothers defines folk music as

authentic music that is deeply ingrained our history, in an interview with journalist Stephanie

Ledgin. By continuing to maintain folk traditions, Sones de Mexico is also maintaining the ties

between its audience and their history. This prevents complete assimilation of Mexican culture

into American culture. Using shared cultural experiences and history, Sones de Mexico reasserts

cultural boundaries. Maintaining their culture is part of the freedom that Es Tierra Es Tuya

expresses in saying come on compadre!/Dont be down about being far away from you

land/right here, right here is your land. Immigrants are not far away from their land is they carry

the memory of their past land into the shaping of their new land.

Ricard Rodriguez sees these cultural boundaries as antagonistic to freedom. Fated

Hispanic culture, which Rodriguez had not choice in choosing, prevented him from choosing his

own actions because he was tied to his past (Rodriguez 129). Rodriguez does not argue for

forgetting history, he argues for releasing the holds that history has on individuals. White

freedom involves speaking freely about history, and stopping the holds that it has an individual,

so that they can freely act (Rodriguez 131). In this sense, white freedom is a freedom related to
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the present. How can people achieve the freedom of their actions in this moment? Ultimately, the

affected groups still lose part of their sense of history in exchange for freedom.
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Works Cited
Dies, Juan. Esta Tierra Es Tuya (This Land Is Your Land). Sones De Mexico Ensemble Chicago.
2007. Youtube. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
"Education." Sones De Mexico. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
"Immigrant Songs Offer New Twist on Old Sounds." Interview by Taki Telonidis. Weekend
Edition Sunday. National Public Radio, 19 Sept. 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Lasch, Christopher. "The Awareness Movement and the Social Invasion of the Self."
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New
York: Norton, 1978. 3-30. Print.

Ledgin, Stephanie P. "Bridging Folk: Tom Paxton to the Abrams Brothers." Discovering Folk
Music. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010. 105-10. Print.

Lomax, Alan. "Appeal for Cultural Equity." Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, 1934-1997. Ed.
Ronald D. Cohen. New York: Routledge, 2003. 285-99. Print.

Mateus, Jorge Arevalo. "Woody Guthrie's Biography." WOODY GUTHRIE PUBLICATIONS,

INC. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Mexican Folk in the Heart of Chicago." Interview by Renee Montagne. Morning Edition.
National Public Radio, 08 Nov. 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Nettl, Bruno. "Folk and Traditional Music in Cultural Setting." Folk and Traditional Music of the
Western Continents. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965. 1-14. Print
Rumbaut, Rubn. "The Americans: Latin American and Caribbean Peoples in the United States."
Americas: New Interpretive Essays. Ed. Alfred C. Stepan. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.
300-03. Print.