Straddling the Crystal Frontier: Reworkings of the U.S.-Mexican Border in the Lyrics of Calexico

Julia Engelschalt (Bielefeld University)

Abstract

The U.S.-Mexican border has been a contested space throughout the political and cultural history of the American South-West. Traditionally negotiated in regional genres such as the Western, which embraces a distinctly Anglo-American perspective, the borderlands have come to be increasingly recognized by cultural theorists as a space of cultural hybridity. The region’s creative potential is deeply rooted in the conflictive history and present-day state of border politics. This article focuses on the Tucson-based band Calexico in order to demonstrate how borderlands politics influence musicians in the region. Since their early days, the band’s song lyrics have had a politically conscious and highly critical perspective on various issues related to the border. Three of Calexico’s songs, released between 2001 and 2006, serve as a “road map” for this article, leading from the violent border towns in northern Mexico across the border towards the south of the United States. As my analysis shows, the lyrics of Calexico cannot be fully appreciated without a thorough understanding of how deeply their work is intertwined with the various socio-political, environmental and cultural issues surrounding the U.S.-Mexican borderlands.

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