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K-State Today

February 2, 2017



Broyles-González publishes on music icon Jenni Rivera

By Russell Norris

Yolanda Broyles-González, department head of American ethnic studies, has published the first academic treatment of singer Jenni Rivera, as part of a cultural studies anthology titled "De Aztlan al Rio de la Plata," edited by Sergio M. Martinez.

The anthology's title marks its transnational focus: "Aztlan" is a Nahuatl Aztec designation for North America, while "Rio de la Plata" designates South America. Mexican American singer Jenni Rivera enjoyed a singular hemispheric popularity across national borders. When Rivera died in a plane crash on Dec. 9, 2012, Mexican-Americans lost their greatest living song idol, while the world in general lost one of the most eloquent and engaged advocates for women of color.

Jenny Dolores Rivera Saavedra (Jenni Rivera) topped the record sales charts and won multiple Grammy Awards, while serving as spokeswoman for the National Coalition Against Battered Women and Domestic Violence, and also establishing her own foundation in support of single mothers and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. What is more, she combined her legendary singing voice with her advocacy for women of color, immigrants and LGBT constituents at concerts. She was utterly fearless and always provocative, interrupting her own song performances with powerful social advocacy messages.

In her article, Broyles-González traces the emergence of Rivera from a Long Beach, California barrio to a stardom, which gave voice to the most disenfranchised sectors of society. Her voice performed a powerful history from the fringe, which modeled empowerment for women, most especially immigrant Mexican women.

The article examines how Rivera, along with her older brothers, sang at the beginning of a major ranchera, or ranch song, roots resurgence, which became a powerful tool of self-affirmation and self-defense among youth during one of California's most violent anti-immigrant hysterias and immigrant scapegoating eras. That era featured multiple anti-immigrant ballot initiatives directed at immigrants. Such was the case with Proposition 187 in 1994, which denied schooling to undocumented immigrant children, and denied prenatal and other hospital care to women undocumented immigrants.

Another anti-immigrant ballot initiative was the English-only measure Proposition 227 in 1998 which banned Spanish language bilingual education instruction in the public schools. Within that "English only" California, Rivera came out singing Spanish only. The young, college-educated, and fluently bilingual Rivera opted to cultivate the stigmatized Spanish-language traditional ranchera music, one of many biographical facts that endeared her to working-class Spanish speaking audiences. She took up the music of her family and of poor immigrant Mexican communities plagued by unemployment, violence, racism and a host of other social problems, exacerbated by the full-on political assault of the1990s and into the 21st century. In effect that, roots music became a discursive response to all the oppression, responding with a strong beat, varied voices, and youth organized with new dance moves and thousands of dance clubs.