Rock and Roll Culture in Mexico

By tracing the history of rock and roll in Mexico and the rise of a native countercultural movement, this dissertation analyzes the complex interrelationship between the state, transnational culture industries, and popular cultureduring a period of rapid modernization and regime crisis. The dissertation argues that popular culture referents introduced by foreign capital eventually became “uncontainable” in the context of student revolt, thus culminating in a mass countercultural movement which directly challenged the state’s capacity to control the discourse of national identity.

When rock ‘n’ roll was introduced into Mexico in the late 1950s, it quickly came to epitomize “modern values” and, despite attacks from conservatives, a creolized version of this youth culture was eagerly grafted onto the modernizing aspirations of a rising middle class. The sudden rise of a massive, student-led protest movement against authoritarian rule in the nation’s capital during 1968, however, linked rock music with protest against the regime. Halted by a government massacre, in the movement’s wake a native countercultural movement–”La Onda”–emerged as a vehicle for resistance politics and an outlet for alternative articulations of self and national identity among youth.

The rise of a Mexican counterculture, however, was neither wholly spontaneous nor commercial-free: local and transnational business interests played a direct role in the production and marketing of a countercultural discourse and product. As part of a broader strategy to reassert hegemony, the new regime after 1971 directly restricted commercialization of the native rock movement, while using force to prevent live performances and discursively identifying rock with “cultural imperialism.” In the end, this strategy succeeded in blocking the full evolution of an exportable rock product, but rock music culture continued to be an active site for resistance politics.

This dissertation should have relevance to current debates on the history of post-Revolutionary Mexico, as well as to questions about the reproduction of hegemony in an era of transnational culture markets. Furthermore, in that the Mexican rock movement explicitly identified itself as “chicano,” the issues of transcultural identity politics raised in this thesis should have relevance to the field of Chicano studies.