El Corrido: The Poetry of the People

What you will learn in this lesson

  • What is a corrido
  • How corridos came to be
  • A bit about the Mexican Revolution
  • How that deals with class
  • The evolution of the people's poetry

What you will need for this lesson

  • Pen and paper for notes
  • Headphones if you're in a public place (there's videos and music)
  • Your library card and a new tab (you'll be going into the library databases)
  • Curiosity

Review - How to find the argument, i.e. the theme.

Rhetorical Situation

Rhetorical situation means the circumstances that lead to a response. Every piece of art responds to something else. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

  • What is the writer’s purpose? Why would the writer write or create the piece. Who are they? You want to do a bit of research on the writer.
  • Why did he/she write this? What prompted them to create this piece. Was there an event or several events that lead up to it.
  • Who is the audience? What was the piece intended for? What are they speaking to?
  • What is the topic? This what the piece or art is about.
  • What is the context? The is background. What as going on at the time? Who were the player? This part will probably take some time and will also require research.
  • What's the strategy? How are they implementing their argument. Literary techniques such as metaphor or similes add to the argument or the theme of the piece.

Elements of Poetry

Since we're talking about poetry, let's review the elements of poetry. For more information on a specific element, click on it.

Let's take it back to the old school

To begin talking about corridos, in fact to even learn how to pronounce it, we need to go back to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). It's from this era comes what is known as corridos.

This is also the period that changes Mexican culture. Let's take a peek at what it was before.


Let's start where Texas history left off, after the state was annexed by the United States. What was left was a huge land mass going all the way from the present-day Canadian border to the Yucatan peninsula.

Map of Mexico after Texas annexation, 1845.

It wasn't long after the annexation that another war broke out in Mexico (in fact is was the next year). This time Mexico and the United States went to war. The result was the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the northern territories, i.e. present day Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Arizona, and others were sold.

But things didn't normalize in Mexico, at least not for a while. In simple terms here's what happen: war, leaders squandering the country's funds, more war, political strife, the attempt to create a Constitution, yet MORE war, the French trying to collect debts (Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla), and a tug of war with the Catholic church. All of this happened between Texas annexation and the Mexican Revolution. So between 1845 to 1910.

Meanwhile, issues of class and poverty continued and worsened during this time. Slow economic growth during this time ensured that the class and poverty lines continued. This laid the foundation for Mexican corridos, which becomes the bedrock of Mexican-American poetry.

Revolutionary Mexico

Porfirio Díaz

The Mexican Revolution is a huge part of not only Mexican history but Mexican-American history and Texas history. Let's talk about Porfiro Diaz. He was a general before the revolution and became a politician. He ran for president and lost to the incumbent. So he overthrew him and in 1876 became president.

He remained Mexico's president for 30 years by rigging elections and censoring the press among other things. However, to this day, depending on who is telling the story he was the best president or the worst president of the republic.

Regardless, he changed the country and the Mexican-American experience forever.

Library of Congress research

For more information about Mexico during Porfirio Diaz's rule, click on the Library of Congress's site below.

The Mexican Revolution

During this time the economy increased. However, the rural areas were poor with little upward mobility. They were also powerless, with the rich owning haciendas or plantations where the poor worked.

Diaz inprisioned a rival during a presidential election, the seeds of revolution were planted

The rival's name was Francisco I. Madero. Remember him because he'll come up again. He ended up escaping prison and running to San Antonio, Tx. Diaz's act rose anger in northern Mexico (i.e. right on the US/Mexican border)

The video below is a documentary on the Mexican Revolution, the ins and outs, the twists and turns. It is during this revolution that the corrido rose in prominence.

And corridos gain popularity.

The Battle of Celaya and the soundtrack to revolution

In the evening after the Battle of Celaya, some of the soldiers were singing. What was thought to be a song about a folk tale was really about an account about the battle from the day before telling of the battle between General Alvaro Obregon and Francisco "Pancho" Villa.

It was probably this one.

Corrdios, according to Jose Eduardo Limon, author of Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems : History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry, are "narrated account of a specific powerful incident". Limon recounts the story of when corridos were heard after the battle.

Limon writes that the corrdio is "a master precursor poem for at least two generations of male Mexican ­descent poets in the United States." In other words, this is the origin story of Mexican-American poetry in the United States.

Characteristics of the Corrido

  • It tells a story, therefore it's a narrative. It's usually an epic story. Something important happened.
  • Put it's a poem.
  • And it's lyrics set to music.
  • It has a rhythm and a pattern
  • Because it's a narrative, it also has characters. There are heros (the underdogs) and villains (the authority)

Let's get even more technical

In Limon's research, he gets more specific with the characteristics of corridos including rhyme schemes and rhythm

  • "the corrido is strophic, with four or six lines in each verse, and has different types of rhyme.
  • The corrido becomes a kind of local news service.
  • In musical terms ... the corrido is "overflowing," lyrical, and of wider melodic range, though it retains the metric and rhythmic characteristics of its Spanish (ballad) ancestor
  • The corrido is a narrative usually in the first or third person, with the troubadour acting as the (hypothetical) witness of the event described
  • Corridos tend to have eight, but may have up to twenty syllables per line. (This is particularly the case with historical corridos from the state of Guerrero.)
  • The quatrains are structured in an abcb rhyme scheme with no fixed number of stanzas for any given song or performance.
  • The opening stanza usually sets the scene, time, and central issue of the narrated events and may, on occasion, carry a request from singer to audience for permission to begin the song.
  • Often the closing stanza offers an overall comment on the narrated events and may also announce that the ballad has ended and express a farewell from the singer to the audience (9-10).

Discussion Post: Context and Corridos

Click on the link below from the Library of Congress and read about corridos.

Now that you have read and watched about this time period, go to d2L and discuss the following:

Why do you think the pre-revolution and Mexican Revolution became the fuel for the corrido? What about this time period contributed to the creation and growth of this kind of poetry?

Your responses should be at least 8 complete sentences long. You should also respond to two other fellow classmates. Those responses should be at least five complete sentences. Basic sentences like, I like corridos, will not be counted as a sentence.

Corridos in Texas

El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez

Among the most well known corridos is one about an event that happened in Texas in 1901, leading up to the Mexican Revolution.

Horses were involved in the making of this corrido

The story, according to sources, was about a misunderstanding. It left two sheriffs dead and eventually ended up with the incaration of Gregorio Cortez of Karnes County.

Click below to read the Texas State Historical Association's entry about this.

But as history would have it, it may not have been exactly what happened.

The plot thickens.

Discussion: The Legend of Gregorio Cortez

Read p. 62-65 in "Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems : History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry" (watch the video below to see how to get to the ebook).

Go to D2L and discuss the similarities and differences between the Texas State Historical Association account, the one in the ebook by Limon, and the poem of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez (also found in the ebook on p. 64). Explain why there are so many differences? How does the poem add to the legend?

Your responses should be at least 8 complete sentences long. You should also respond to two other fellow classmates. Those responses should be at least five complete sentences. Basic sentences like, I like corridos, will not be counted as a sentence.

So what did the Corrido of Gregorio Cortez sound like? Click the video below.

Breaking down the poetry

So how does el Corrido de Gregorio Cortez break down as a poem? Well, it adheres pretty strictly to the characteristics of the form as listed above. It also sets up the hero vs villain theme. It is a poem of resistance, which is also a common theme to future Mexican American poetry and writing.

And so you have a tragic hero in this poem. He has hubris, meaning he has a "disrespect" for the order of things. In this poem, Gregorio is resisting. (Remember that Mexican-American Literature is the literature of resistance.)

Also inn this poem, Gregorio faces a punishment that is unavoidable. Things are gonna happen and there's no stopping it. Even as he is compared to stars and leaps over things as he is describe as almost super human, he is going to be punished, which gives the audience catharsis. We feel sorry for him and so the audience is attached by emotion. (Remember pathos?)

Because Gregorio is a tragic hero, he's got a tragic flaw. His tragic flaw is that, well, he's just a man.

I explain more in the video below

One of the Spanish versions of the poem/song is annotated in the link below. Because this a verbal tale, passed down from person to person, there are several different versions. Here's yet another. (Note: annotations are in English).

Corridos as class poetry

Corridos are poetry of the people. Think of it as the late 1800s/early 1900s version of superheroes.

Heros wanted: Corridos tell of ordinary people in extraordinary times or events.

In the time of great economic and social strife, the poetry, which was super accessable through music, created heroes. These were heroes who were average everyday people (at one time), who did extraordinary things or bucked the system or agents of the system, seen as the reason for their troubles.

The characters in the corridos didn't wear capes but were immortalized in song and verse.

With the Mexican Revolution and what lead up to the revolution as background, those on both sides of the border found commonality in the corridos. The common themes of the haves vs the have nots, the powerful vs the powerless, hero vs villains, good vs evil run through these poems, increasing their accessibility to the everyday person.

Corridos Today

Corridos are still created and performed today. They sound just a bit different, however.

Below is part one of three from the Vice documentary on Narco-corridos. See if you can identify similar themes and characteristics to the corridos of 1900.

Corridos are still about heroes but the heroes have changed.

  • They have come up. They were once poor but now they are rich. Getting rich is winning.
  • More money, more problems -- Because they have ascended they have haters (the villains) who want to take them down
  • The villains are still authority figures
  • Corrido heroes are something people aspire to be, i.e. the poor aspire to not be poor. The life they want vs the ones they have.
  • The how (drug trafficking) is a moot point. That's just a means to an end.
  • While the original corridos had a sense of violence (hello, there was a war going on) the new ones are also violent. A different war, sorta speak.
  • Big difference: Social Media. Original songs from the 1900s were word of mouth so lyrics varied depending on person and location. This time there's Youtube and Facebook. Song are shared with a click. There is little change to lyrics. It's as the singer and/or writer intended.
  • But one thing still is the same. It's still narrative poetry.

What did you learn

  • How history impacted and created the people's poetry
  • The Mexican Revolution popularized corridos
  • Despite being annexed by the U.S., Texas, especially the border area, was very much impacted by what happened in Mexico.
  • Texas' more legendary corrido
  • How corridos are poetry and the characteristics of this poetry
  • Themes of corridos
  • What became of the form from the 1900s.

What's next?

  • Read, Where Were You When You First Heard of Air Conditioning by Gary Soto, on p. 199 in your textbook. Discuss in a one page response how the poem is similar to El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez. How does it address class? How does it establish the theme? This you your first response paper.
  • Return to the module on d2L and work on your Corrido Response assignment.
  • Review your checklist for anymore assignments this week.

And, if you need a cool movie to see, check out the corrido turned movie -- The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. Enjoy!

Lesson researched and created by Icess Fernandez, assistant professor of English, Lone Star College - Kingwood


Created with images by Juanedc - "Mariachis" • Kaufdex - "mexico flag international" • Friends of San Jacinto - "Mexican Volley" • VisitElPaso - "#ThrowbackThursday: Pancho Villa watched the Mexican Revolution from the Camino Real Hotel roof top in @DWNTWNElPaso" • ABQ MUSEUM PHOTOARCHIVES - "Soldiers of Fortune, PA1977.65.61" • RichardBowen - "Guitar" • coopmunster - "wooden texas state" • markusspiske - "horse ride reiter" • gagnonm1993 - "glasses reading book" • NeuPaddy - "superhero shirt tearing" • Lunchbox LP - "Gerardo Ortiz en Acceso Total" • kevin dooley - "Mariachi!"

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