Sixth Fandango Fronterizo Tijuana-San Diego, 2013

Sixth Fandango Fronterizo Tijuana-San Diego, 2013 [1]

by Veronica S. Pacheco

"Entre Tijuana y San Diego
en donde el muro se ufana,
el trueno de la jarana
es un canto sin sosiego.
Fuerza, conjuro andariego
de conciencia y compromiso,
es un emigrante, hechizo
convertido en vendaval
que cruza por el ritual
del Fandango Fronterizo.

Entre la arena
y la blanca espuma,
pasa cantando
la nueva luna.

El verso siendo emigrante
cruzó el tiempo y la frontera,
con Jarana, huapanguera
o con vihuela vivibrante.
El verso es una constante,
Una razón, un aviso
que anuncia su compromiso
de sembrar el corazón
en la sexta rebelión
del Fandango Fronterizo.

Entre la arena
y la blanca espuma
pasa cantando
la nueva luna."

- Patricio Hidalgo, Fandango Fronterizo, 2013 [2]

On May 25th 2013, many people gathered together at the Tijuana-San Diego border to play and dance son jarocho, celebrating the Sixth Annual Fandango Fronterizo. The meeting point converged on two locations: the Friendship Park on the U.S. side and the Faro in Playas de Tijuana on the Mexican side. For three hours the jaraneros gathered to sing poetry, dance on the tarima, play jaranas, guitarras de son, leaonas, violins, donkey jaws, and other percussive instruments.[3] The sound of the Fandango Fronterizo crossed the border unifying people from Mexico, United States, and other locations.

Living in San Diego, I arrived with the jaraneros from the U.S. side. At Border Field State Park with no access to cars, we started our peregrination towards the sea, following the dirt road in search of the meeting point. Soon the road was marked by the images of those walking with jaranas in their backs, carrying tarimas, food, and water. In company of friends and family, the 45-minute route that crossed along the seashore reached the border, where we could already hear the sounds of the music. While some arrived and crossed the gate—which the patrol agreed to open so people could reach the fence that marks the border—others welcomed old and new friends with smiles and hugs. Many gazed, searching for known faces on the Mexican side, saying hello and trying to touch each other through the thick fence, although only fingers made it through.

Photo No. 1. General view of the Fandango Fronterizo at the U.S. side of the border

Following the stanza of Carlos Aldolfo Rosario Gutiérrez and as the tradition mandates, the fandango started with the son named Siquisiri. Soon the rhythm of the music incorporated everybody, and the participants were attentive, listing the verses to prompt the answer across. In turn, women got up on the tarima to dance facing others across the border while the rhythmic sound strongly stated that the fandango had started. After some time of singing verses and playing melodies accompanied by the jaranas and the percussive instruments, the son ended. After that, the fandango took its course with the sones Pajaro Cu, Bamba, Agualulco, Guacamaya and Balajú. The participants made a circle surrounding the tarimas—placed facing each other on both sides—while we attempted to hear other players, following the norms of the fandango for when to sing verses or take a turn in the tarima for the dancing. 

Photo No. 2. Jaraneros playing and dancing at the border’s fence.

The organizing committee comprised members of the jaranero communities from both border cities. The organizers were Rafael Arnosa, Jorge Castillo, Oracio Garbarena, and Gabriel Romero Anzueta from Tijuana; and Adrian Florido and Francisco Meyer Ochoa from San Diego. For three months the committee managed the logistics and outreach with the invaluable collaboration of many others. The original idea for the Fandango Fronterizo was to bring together the jaranero communities at the border from San Diego and Tijuana, yet numerous jaraneros from different cities arrived.

During outreach for the event the organizers considered bringing larger jaranero communities and others who do not necessarily partake in the jaranero movement but rather have a relationship to the border. However, while dealing with the two jurisdictions that control that area—the State that controls the Friendship Park and the Federal Government that regulates the gate at the border—the organizers were required to keep the number of participants under forty. Thus, organizers feared that on the day of the fandango the number of participants would grow beyond their expectations, resulting in restricted access to the park and further access to the gate to reach the fence for the fandango. This created a conflict that influenced many decisions, among them outreach for the event, which was limited almost exclusively to Facebook communication on the U.S. side. The Mexican side, however, was much more open, and organizers from both cities took part in spreading the word about the event through radio and television stations from Tijuana. Thanks to all who collaborated in the organization of the fandango, around 120 people were present on the U.S. side with no access restriction to the park or fence.

The jaranero communities arrived at the border from Tijuana, Mexicali, Veracruz, Zacatecas, Seattle, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Diego, and Texas, to name a few of the places. Well-established musicians of son jarocho and other genres from southern California also joined the fandango. Among them were Martha Gonzalez and Quetzal Flores of the group Quetzal, and Cesar Castro, Xochitl Flores, and Jesus Sandoval of the group Cambalache. Andres Flores, invited by the jaraneros from San Diego, also joined the fandango. In the crowd was Taluna—an Italian folk music band that gave an interesting sound to the fandango as one of the musicians followed the sones improvising on the violin, while another played virtuosic rhythmic patterns on a tambourine. Moreover, this year’s Fandango Fronterizo enjoyed the visit of three musicians from the Tuxtlas, Southern Veracruz. From the renowned Baxin family in the son jarocho tradition, Arcadio (jarana) and Felix (guitarra de son), together with Carolina Cruz Castellanos (zapateado) came specifically to participate in the Fandango Fronterizo and give workshops. As a folk tradition, son jarocho has been mostly transmitted orally. In the tradition, the Baxin family belongs to the long-standing bearers of son jarocho, going back many generations in their family. Together, all were engaged with the music while some children, although not participating in the fandango, played around.

Photo No. 3. Felix Baxin playing guitarra de son. View through the fence.

This music, as Arcadio Baxin commented in an interview, is music for the fandango, which is the traditional context for the performance. An important aspect of the participation in a fandango mainly depends on the ability to play together. Each fandango has a feeling, and according to Arcadio Baxin, it all depends on how the musicians "carry" the fandango; like a motor, those who carry the fandango also shape it. If the musicians are not careful about this, he mentioned, the fandango tends to disperse. When inquiring about the number of sones Arcadio is acquainted with, he explained that one musician can hardly know all the sones, since there are far too many and each has numerous verses and musical figures (for the guitarra de son). Instead, he mentioned, the five members of his family music group together know the repertoire. “It is not music that you can know alone, you have to know it together.”

The idea of knowing the repertoire as an organic process that is shaped together between a group of musicians may not be a characteristic particular to son jarocho alone but rather to most folk music genres. However, the inclusive experience of this musical tradition, in particular of the fandango, is perhaps an important characteristic in shaping a community. In a fandango, the main context of son jarocho, participation happens in spite of different musicianship levels or styles. Together with the improvisatory aspect of the genre, it allows for easy participation. These characteristics make son jarocho one of the best examples of community-based musical traditions.

Considering the participatory characteristics of son jarocho in the fandango, Adrian Florido, one of the Fandango Fronterizo’s organizers and an active member of the San Diego jaranero community, had an interesting take on it. For Florido, the characteristics of the performance of son jarocho such as call-and-response singing create social interaction. “You cannot have successful son jarocho, or successful fandango if you are not carrying it with someone else; so it has to be shared.” Sharing while performing music, Florido argues, is the most effective manner of bringing people together for a positive cause. Thus, despite the political connotation of the border, for Florido, the Fandango Fronterizo became an event about the music for the jaranero communities. “The border is there, no matter what,” Florido replied. However, the beauty of the music have moved people to get involved and interact in the fandango across the border. One of the most striking experiences in the Fandango Fronterizo, in fact, was to witness how so many people were moved by the beauty of the music to the point that even the patrol eventually pulled their phones up and took video while smiling. “The music by its very nature engenders community, it requires people to come together and it leads people to want to come together”, Florido replied. Engaged with son jarocho to reinforce his roots while searching closeness to Mexico, for Adrian Florido son jarocho represents the music that, while still identified with Veracruz at the time when he was exposed to the genre, has become the music of the second generation of Mexican emigrants in the U.S. For Florido, that was one of the decisive aspects that made it easy for him to identify with this musical practice.

This inclusive aspect of son jarocho and the fandango has motivated many to get involved. María Perez from Zacatecas, currently living in the San Fernando Valley, has been playing son jarocho for two years. For her to participate and play this music brings her closer to what she refers to as "mi gente" (my people). In the Fandango Fronterizo, she commented, “I feel the affection, we all look like a family.” Xochitl Flores from Los Angeles commented that, “the Fandango Fronterizo is a powerful movement that unifies people, especially in these times where high rates of deportation are occurring and families are torn apart.” Quetzal Flores from Los Angeles mentioned that the fandango at the border carries a special weight since “so many dreams begin and end at this border and so much pain is associated with this border.” For him, the Fandango Fronterizo relieves some of this pain and heals it. That is what motivated him to participate in the fandango. Elizabeth Le Guin commented that the Fandango Fronterizo “is a symbol of unity, in spite of everything, in spite of the fear that let to the construction of the fence.”

Francisco Meyer Ochoa, one of the organizers, mentioned that one of the interesting aspects of this year’s fandango was the possibility to bring musicians such as Los Baxin and Carolina Cruz Castellanos. These artists contribute greatly to the fandango and at the same time it was an opportunity for them to engage with the jaranero communities in Tijuana and San Diego. During outreach, Meyer Ochoa mentioned, they were able to network with other communities at UCSD, Centro Cultural de la Raza and San Diego State University through Prof. Alberto Ochoa. While these communities are not necessarily jaraneros, still they participated. Meyer Ochoa mentioned that the border “is part of everybody’s life in San Diego and Tijuana.”

Many were involved in the successful realization of this event among organizers, collaborators and those who arrived to the border for the fandango. Many others through the web made their contribution in solidarity to the Fandango Fronterizo, even some fandangos took place in other locations. Among many, Patricio Hidalgo wrote stanzas for each side of the border and sent them via email to the organizers. From the Mexican side, one of the participants gave life to Hidalgo’s poetry, while all of us carefully followed the declamation. In the Fandango Fronterizo the communities met at the border and gave shape to the fandango, happily singing and dancing in front of the fence that represents many things. For one day, the Fandango Fronterizo challenged the concept of the border, creating a liminal space to share music while shaping and reinforcing music-based communities across borders.


[1] The sixth Fandango Fronterizo happened between Mexico and the U.S. However, this account mainly refers to the U.S. part of the fandango, which reflects my location while participating. 

[2] Patricio Hidalgo wrote these stanzas for the Fandango Fronterizo, which were recited during the fandango by one of the participants from the Mexican side of the border. Patricio has kindly agreed to allow me to include these stanzas in this note.

[3] Son jarocho is a folk musical genre from Southern Veracruz, Mexico that originated out of the fusion of indigenous, Spanish and African musical traditions. Commonly the instrumentation consists of different instruments resembling baroque guitars, among which are jaranas of different sizes, mosquito, guitarra de son or requinto, and leona. Each piece of music, known as son, comprises melodies sung in verses, different figures and tangueos of the requinto (small counter melody units), which are accompanied rhythmically by the jaranas, wherein the leona follows with base lines. Another central percussive instrument of the genre is the tarima, a wooden box for feet-stomping dance known as zapateado and in fact, the fandango - the main context for the performance of this genre - gathers around the tarima. The verses are sung interchangeably, sometimes as call-and-response, and solo at other times. As a folk tradition, son jarocho comprises a large repertoire of sones with vast numbers of verses and figures. In spite of different local styles, the genre allows the participants to join the performance with a known verse or melodic lines, and it is also open to improvisation within the musical aesthetics of the genre. 



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