Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010



A form of oral journalism, a corrido is a narrative in song that usually commences with a prologue, tells the central story, and concludes with a moral. The popular ballads of northern Mexico broadcast the outrage of working-class Mexicans at their abasement and exploitation by foreigners. Corridos included crime alerts, propaganda, and border PROTESTS from the 1820s onward. Sensational, earthy, passionate, and violent, the usually anonymous folk form suited a simple tune that troubadours strummed on a guitar or played on the accordion to a polka beat. Octosyllabic lines rhyming abcb and stories of men of action saluted their defiance of polite society, clergy, and officials. Such songs as of “El corrido de Kiansis” (“The Ballad of Kansas,” ca. 1860) placed duehos vaqueros (Tex-Mex cowboys), Southwest American rough riders, and herders alongside popular heroes, freedom fighters, womanizers, and Robin Hoods, protagonists of broadsides and Spanish-language theater productions in Mexico, Texas, and California.

Whether humorous, satiric, or blood-curdling, corridos dramatized conflict and VIOLENCE. During the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21) singers provided news of Apache and Yaqui raids, banditry and bank holdups, rustlers, lynch mobs, railroad camps, and rabble rousing for national independence. Amid the protagonists of corrido verse, the noble victim stood at the center of sagas of daring and treachery. The stanzas of “Corrido de los oprimidos” (“Ballad of the Oppressed,” 1821), reflect the perspective of Mexican Indians on racial prejudice. In “El corrido de Gregorio Cortez” (“The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,” ca. 1890), a rebel “con su pistola en la mano” (with a pistol in his hand) resists Anglo-American incursions and racism (Sundquist 2006, 55). In a concluding boast, the man-on-the-run smirks at his notoriety among so large a posse: “Ah, so many mounted Rangers / Just to take one Mexican!” (quoted in Paredes 1958, 3). The 10-line “El corrido de los Franceses” (The Ballad of the French, ca. 1860s) and “El corrido de Ignacio Zaragoza” (The Ballad of Ignacio Zaragoza, 1867) reprise the events of May 5, 1862, when Mexico defeated a French invasion at Puebla and chose Cinco de Mayo as a day of celebration. The 19th-century guitarist Onofre Cardenas popularized “A Zaragoza” (To Zaragoza, 1867), a heroic song commemorating a native son of the border. In this same period, folk ballads about Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, fomenter of the First Cortina War in Brownsville, Texas, in 1859, remembers the gunfight between Marshal Robert Shears and Cortina, the leader of a band of irregulars. The defeat and execution of Emperor Maximilian I in 1867 resulted in the Los Franceses cycle, a loose repertory of gibes at the Austrian-born ruler, such as “Corrido del tiro de gracia” (“Ballad of the Coup de Grace,” 1867), which pictures Maximilian as he crumbles before a firing squad.

The corrido survived into the 20th century in hybrid verses dealing with urban crime against the people and touting effective means of subverting anglocentrism. Similar sloganeering honored Che Guevara for resisting the dictator Fulgencio Batista's dominion in Cuba and Cesar Chavez for fighting for the economic rights of Chicano laborers in California. In 1958, the musicologist and folklorist Americo Paredes of Brownsville, Texas, introduced Chicano folklore scholarship in With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero, a survey of the colonial romance and songs of machismo. The evolution of the corrido as a countercultural protest song includes “Los deportados” (The deported), “La discriminacion,” “Los enganchados” (Press gangs), and narcocorridos, drug ballads glorifying narcotraficantes (drug dealers).


Frazer, Chris. Bandit Nation: A History of Outlaws and Cultural Struggle in Mexico, 1810-1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Paredes, Americo. With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958.

Sundquist, Eric J. Empire and Slavery in American Literature, 1820-1865. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006.