Sydney Hutchinson. From Quebradita to Duranguense: Dance in Mexican American Youth Culture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007. 240 pages. $24.95 softcover.
Sydney Hutchinson’s From Quebradita to Duranguense: Dance in Mexican American Youth Culture is a riveting and award-worthy study. This book is simply brilliant. Hutchinson takes on the quebradita/tecnobanda dance craze of the mid 1990s. This dance style was particularly popular among Latino youth in Los Angeles and Tucson and, by 2006, it evolved into pasito duranguense in Chicago. Hutchinson presents an insightful social and critical analysis of how mainstream American culture has repeatedly failed to incorporate these subaltern groups into its political, social, and economic apparatus.
The author discusses youth dance cultures and issues of class, race, and gender. She draws from dance theory, border studies, transnationalism, musicology, and ethnomusicology to bring us to a closer understanding of how dance, particularly those styles that generally appeal to youth (i.e., rap, reggaeton, quebradita, and pasito duranguense), can contribute to the creation of a more inclusive, egalitarian society. Hutchinson argues that, when taken seriously by policy makers and educators, understanding dance movements of this sort can lead to more effective implementation of laws and educational programs. Unfortunately, many individuals in charge at the state and federal levels fail to see the value in these cultural expressions. Instead of reaching those they attempt to target, they alienate the participants even further. Some of the interviews with her informants show that this feeling of alienation leads to an increase in dropout rates and a lack of interest in educational curriculums. After all, it is these same institutions that deny teenagers the physical and social space to create new cultural forms of expression and the opportunity to form their identities.
The concept of identity formation and resistance against discriminatory legislation is paramount to this study. That is to say, many of those who participate in quebradita/tecnobanda and pasito duranguense have taken a stand against anti-immigrant backlash—especially Proposition 197, that was proposed under California governor Pete Wilson, and other legislation that followed after the events of September 11, 2001. Having been ostracized and, to a certain extent, criminalized by the system, many have taken refuge within the expression of their own culture. They have rediscovered their Latino heritage and have drawn strength from it in order to battle social, political, and economic injustice. Music and dance have become symbols of resistance and affirmation. In the case of quebradita, the clothing styles and innovations in dance movements were derived from a culture that reminded its practitioners of rural origins in Mexico. Pasito duranguense, on the other hand, references not only the concept of lo ranchero but also the idea of what it means to be an immigrant in this country. Hutchinson provides numerous examples of how duranguense musicians adopt the trope of immigration to connect with their listeners and remind them of the great contributions Latinos have made, and continue to make, in this country.
Hutchinson’s book is well researched, well structured, and extremely insightful. Her knowledge of Mexican/Chicano(a) culture and language is superb. This being her first book, one can only imagine the great contributions this young scholar will make to the fields of folkloristics, performance studies, and many other fields that examine music and dance. Sydney Hutchinson’s book is one of those rare works that builds on the research of previous master scholars—Américo Paredes, José E. Limón, and others who have written on Mexican American musical traditions as potential symbols of protest—and then achieves its own germinal status. This work will undoubtedly be influential. Hutchintson’s book is simply that brilliant; a page turner that will have you listening to quebradita/tecnobanda and pasito duranguense tunes in no time at all. So put on your botas vaqueras, your fajo piteado, and sombrero achalinado and start reading From Quebradita to Duranguense—a fascinating look at one of the most original and politically charged dance movements to have come out of Latino youth culture in the last fifteen years.