Tanto Tiempo Disfrutamos…”

Revisiting the Gender and Sexual Politics of Chicana/O Youth Culture in East Los Angeles in the 1960S
  • Dionne Espinoza
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


In 1970, the bolero “Sabor a Mi,” as interpreted by El Chicano and sung by female vocalist Ersi Arvizu became, according to ethnomusicologist Steven Loza, “a Chicano anthem” that “to this day is still remembered as one of the most important musical legacies of its period in East Los Angeles.”1 Originally composed by the “last bohemian,” Alvaro Carrillo, one of the second generation of Mexican bolero writers in the late 1950s, “Sabor a Mi” (1967) and the bolero in general enjoyed great popularity among Mexicans on either side of the dividing line, especially during the heyday of the Trios, exemplified by the legendary Trio Los Panchos.2 In 1967, interpretations appearing by well-known Puerto Rican guitarist José Feliciano and even in English translation by the Hollywood star Doris Day indicated a high point in international popularity for the song. But rather than identify with these versions, the Chicana and Chicano youth of East Los Angeles specifically sought out Ersi Arvizu and El Chicano’s rendition, which had become a feature of the band’s live shows and was recorded on its second LP, Revolution (MCA, 1971). It has had such a lasting effect that John Ovalle, once owner of the Record Inn on Whittier Boulevard, reported years later that the store could not keep enough stock on hand to satisfy customer requests.3


Gender Relation Youth Culture Group Solidarity Sexual Politics Liner Note 
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  1. 1.
    Steven Loza, Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 103.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    According to Mexican cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis, despite its identification with the decadent celebration of prostitutes and dissolute life, the bolero enjoyed a mass audience that embraced it as the canción romantica of Mexico. See Carlos Monsiváis, “Bolero: A History,” in Mexican Postcards (New York: Verso, 1997), 178. Trio Los Panchos produced their own version of “Sabor a Mi” as a duet with Eydie Gormé in the early 1960s; it became an immediate hit among an older generation of Mexicans in the United States.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    While it is not the primary focus of my chapter, it is important to point out that El Chicano had not been the choice of the band members before the success of their hit, “Viva Tirado.” To put it succinctly, those seeking to co-opt a market labeled the group “El Chicano” in order to benefit from the popular cultural trend. The double bind of the so-called mass market as the terrain on which struggles take place in a capitalist society is that it is both the instrument of incorporation and a means of facilitating modes of resistance. What determines the relationship is the intervention of participants and cultural producers who, by virtue of their common engagement in the development of a group identity, appropriate the market to themselves. That is, they exercise, in Stuart Hall’s words, “[a] capacity to constitute classes and individuals as a popular force—that is the nature of political and cultural struggle: to make the divided classes and the separated peoples […] into a popular-democratic cultural force. See Stuart Hall, “Notes on ‘Deconstructing’ the Popular,” in Raphael Samuel, ed., People’s History and Socialist Theory (London, Boston, and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 239.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See the following for accounts that emphasize the interracial politics of Eastside sound: Matt Garcia, “‘Memories of El Monte’: Intercultural Dance Halls in Post-World War II Greater Los Angeles,” in Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard, eds., Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth Century America (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 157–172Google Scholar
  5. George Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances: Youth, Minorities, and the Rise of Rock and Roll,” in Lary May, ed., Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 267–284Google Scholar
  6. David Reyes and Tom Waldman, Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll from Southern California (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998); and Loza, Barrio Rhythm.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Graham Murdock and Robin McCron. “Consciousness of Class and Consciousness of Generation,” in Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, eds., Resistance Through Rituals (New York: Harper Collins Academic, 1991), 203.Google Scholar
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    Irene I. Blea, U.S. Chicanas and Latinas Within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women’s Conference (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997), 135.Google Scholar
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    Mario Barrera’s canonical Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979) charts the progressive urbanization of Chicanos as well as occupational shifts. The shift was striking for Chicanas from factory workers to clerical and sales beginning in the 1940s while Chicano men remained as craftsmen, laborers, and managers (137). Although Chicanas were employed in higher numbers in lower-end white-collar (or what some have called “pink collar”) positions, it must be remembered that their overall work-force rates were lower than those of Chicanos.Google Scholar
  11. 44.
    “Going into singing in Spanish was a way of stating who you were, okay? With Ersi coming out with this’ sabor a Mi,’ [it was] the first time a band that sang nothing but rock ‘n’roll or English songs came out with a Mexican song, because we weren’t doing the corridos, we weren’t doing the cumbias, we weren’t doing the boleros, why? Because we were afraid of being categorized as just a Mexican band. Instead of being categorized as these people who can do both, you know?”(Rosella Arvizu, personal interview). Barrera draws the link between urbanization and acculturation (137). While English appeared to be the dominant language among my interviewees and among members of this generation, primary competence in English did not indicate a lack of Spanish competence. Chicano Spanish, or Spanglish, which became popular and appropriate between and among youth of the late 1960s (and was often the language of oral history) was generally not an accepted language for social interaction with institutions or family elders. See Rosaura Sánchez, Chicano Discourse: Socio-historic Perspectives (Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publisher, 1983) for a typology of language variations and practices.Google Scholar
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© Alicia Gaspar de Alba 2003

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  • Dionne Espinoza

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