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The Chicano Wave

Chapter 2: Masking Mexican-American Identities


For a half dozen years after Valens' death, a handful of Mexican-American bands had national hits. And, like Valens, they used names that masked their identity. Few in the television audience knew that The Premieres came from the barrios of East LA. Cannibal and the Headhunters, too, lived in the barrio, and picked up R&B harmonies from their African-American neighbors.

ROBERT JARAMILLO, Cannibal and the Headhunters (VO) There was this black (OC) group called the Showcases.


ROBERT JARAMILLO (VO) They would pass in front of my house they would sing and harmonize and hang around together. It was a beautiful thing. (OC) And I would follow 'em and I'd just be in awe, just following 'em around and just watching 'em sing and harmonize together and it was great man. And they took, those black guys took this Chicano guy and took him under their wing and showed me how to harmonize, showed us all how to harmonize.


Question Mark and the Mysterians had a number one hit with "96 Tears" sung by Rudy Martinez, the son of migrant field workers in Michigan.

Sam the Sham, of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, was actually Domingo Samudio, of Dallas, Texas.

And Jose Maria DeLeon Hernandez packed dance halls across the southwest as "Little Joe" with his band, Little Joe and the Latinaires.

LITTLE JOE, Little Joe and the Latinaires (VO) We wanted to be hip and play (OC) what was happening at the time so, and whatever you know the bands dressed like we wanted to emulate and, and play the music and dress to look like what was happening then.

But the era of Mexican-American bands downplaying their identity with matching tuxedos and R&B sounds was coming to an end.


["That will be a day not of the white man, not of black man, that will be the day of man as man."]

TONY VALDEZ (VO) You've got Dr. Martin Luther King marching in the south. You've got black pride developing. (OC) We're looking at that stuff and we're seeing that just as our African-American brothers can think about roots and going back to Africa, maybe it's important for us to discover the roots that we never paid any attention to because our parents wanted us to become Americans. (VO) So you suddenly see the onset of Mexican and Brown pride.


This new sense of ethnic pride inspired Chicano artists to search out their musical roots.

Little Joe's journey away from R&B toward more Latin sounds began in the late 1960s on tour in northern California.

LITTLE JOE (VO) We checked in about three, four in the morning, (OC) and we were all tired and sleepy and didn't pay much attention to the surroundings and uh the next morning I got up early 'cause I wanted to go get a haircut for the performance that we were gonna uh have that evening. (Laughs) And I remember walking out of the room, on the street, (VO) and seeing all these long- haired people you know it was like women or guys or what?


(OC) And all of a sudden, I thought I needed a haircut and I felt naked, and I said "oh my God, what is this?" (VO) I didn't cut my hair for quite a while after that and at some point didn't shave just fell into that incredible craziness, weirdness that was happening. Great bands like Santana and everything that was happening in the Bay Area just gave me an awareness that (OC) I didn't have before, and I wanted to change my music you know, I wanted to you know expand on it.

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