Research combined by Marley D., Bailey H., Brandon L., Moriah D., Olivia C., & Zackarea A.
Omaha’s Mexican-American community dates back more than a century. Initially fairly small in number, in recent decades, Latinos have been one of the fastest growing segments of the city’s population. Like other groups, as Mexican-Americans settled in Omaha, they brought with them a variety of traditional cultural practices, including their music. As their numbers in Omaha grew they experienced the struggles of immigrant life, cultural identity and community engagement. As younger generations have integrated into the broader American society, Mexicans have successfully preserved their cultural traditions, sometimes in a new way or a meshing of two cultures, through family and community networks.
By studying the history of Mexico, the students gained a broader understanding on the origin of this style of music in Omaha. Pushed by military, political and economic factors in their country, many Mexicans relocated to the United States, specifically to Omaha which had available jobs in the railroad, agricultural and stockyard industries. These immigrants not only brought their families, but also their culture. One way they preserved and continue to showcase their culture is through their music, which is often influenced by their families and surroundings. Although years ago, this music was unknown to Omaha’s non-Latino community, now this style of music is often promulgated at cultural events and public venues. Over generations Mexican American music has adapted to new styles and brought communities together with this common passion, giving insight into many cultures around the world.
Published during the Summer of 2018
Six Omaha Public Schools students explore Omaha’s rich Mexican-American music history and its impact on the South Omaha community and the larger Omaha community. Interview subjects include Marcos Mora, Johnny Ray Gomez, DeAna Lara-Perea, and Alejandra Mayorga Padilla: all prominent Omaha Mexican-American musicians. The students' documentaries can also be watched on YouTube.
The presence of Mexican immigrants is not new for Nebraska, Mexicans, in small numbers, have been present in the state since the 1910s when they arrived to work in agriculture, initially in the beet fields, as well as the railroad and stockyard industries. Most of these initial Mexican immigrants came to Omaha from central Mexico, likely after feeling the economic effects of the Porfiriato and the Mexican Revolution and encouraged by the promise of work and higher incomes made by American recruiting agents. As the meatpacking industry grew in Nebraska in the 1920s so did the Mexican population, however, due to the repatriation policies during the Great Depression of the 1930s their population dwindled as Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were forcibly relocated to Mexico and those that remained returned to working in the sugar beet industry of Nebraska. Over the 1950s and 1960s the Mexican population in Omaha increased slowly and began entering skilled and professional employment. The population would remain low in comparison to other American cities until the 1990s when Mexicans once again began to arrive in Omaha in larger numbers primarily to work in the meatpacking industry.
Over the decades, as their numbers in Omaha grew, Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans carved out a space for their families within the South Omaha community where they build homes, churches and businesses that allowed them further visibility. Preserving their culture was very important to this group, as was family and community, the safeguarding of family unity symbolized a longer conservation of their Mexican culture. One way in which this community sought to preserve their culture and history was through music, which was based on the musical influences of their Mexican state of origin and was carried to Nebraska by the early immigrants to the state. Initially Mexican music was played in homes, private venues and churches, these spaces allowed Mexican immigrants to enjoy their music, provide entertainment for their community and created an atmosphere where they could spend time with one another. As their numbers continued to increase, public venues began to appear such as La Tropicana, Tampico and Howards, which featured Mexican American music and dancing. Today Mexican American music continues to be played by musicians at venues like Howards and the Guaca Maya, continuing to provide diversion for all their patrons. Much of the music that was played during the 20th century and currently continues to uphold the themes of family unity, community identity and visibility, and preservation of Mexican history, during the filming of this documentary these values were still present within the Mexican community.
Additional teaching resources for Mexican American music history can be found at TeachRock.org