Migration Soundscapes. Music, Emotions and Consumption in the Texas-northeastern Mexico Migration Circuits1

Reception: April 29, 2020

Acceptance: August 17, 2020


This paper explores the role of music and emotions in the construction of transnational ties, based on two ethnographic vignettes related to nostalgia. On the one hand, this emotion prevails in the daily life of Mexican migrants in Houston, through their diverse practices, behind which Mexican popular music is present along with images of the terroir. On the other hand, in the context of the visit of migrants and their families to the places of origin in northeastern Mexico, popular music is heard to express their nostalgia and induce a nostalgic attitude in the spaces of family and social reunion, creating a distinct soundscape of the season of migrants' absence.

Keywords: , , , ,

Migration Soundscapes. Music, Emotions and Consumption in the Texas-northeastern Mexico Migration Circuits.

Our work explores the role played by the music and emotions in the constructions of transnational ties, from two ethnographical vignettes related to nostalgia. On the one hand, this emotion prevails in the everyday lives of Mexican migrants in Houston, through their practices, behind which Mexican popular music is present, along with images of the homelands. On the other hand, in the context of the visits of migrants and their families to their places of origin in northeastern Mexico, they listen to popular music to express their nostalgia and induce a nostalgic attitude in spaces of family and social reunion, creating a different soundscape to the one found in the time of absence of migrants.

Keywords: popular music, nostalgia, consumption, transnationalism, soundscape.


Listening to popular music of various genres in Spanish is one of the cultural practices that have been disseminated among Mexican migrants in the United States to maintain symbolic and emotional ties with Mexico and their homelands. The music they listened to in the country of origin not only accompanies migrants in different activities of daily life in the country of destination, but is also a substantial element that is part of the cultural landscape of the communities of origin in Mexico when they are visited by numerous migrants and their families during vacation periods. A dominant and persistent emotion that migrants experience when listening to Mexican popular music in both destination and origin places is nostalgia.

This emotion was studied in depth from a transnational perspective (Glick-Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton, 1992) by Hirai (2009), who explored the construction, representation and impact of nostalgia around migration from Jalisco to California. This author pointed out the ubiquity of images of terroir in everyday life in the destination country and various practices that contribute to the construction of transnational ties. In proposing the idea of political economy of nostalgiaHirai demonstrates that nostalgia emerges not only as an emotion that is constructed from the spatial and temporal distance and sociocultural contrast experienced by migrants, but also as an emotion induced by various actors and institutions that use the symbols of the homeland and enunciate nostalgia as a discourse. However, Hirai focused mainly on the "images" of terruño and the visual construction of transnational ties and did not delve into the sound dimension of the political economy of nostalgia, even though Mexican popular music is a type of symbol of terruño that accompanies migrants' diverse practices of remembering, imagining and feeling terruño and is embedded in their daily lives in the country of destination.

This article explores the role played by music and emotions in the construction of transnational ties and seeks to review the nexus between economic processes and emotions from the musical plane. The analysis of the consumption of popular music allows us to better understand how the soundscape (Schafer, 1977)2 The study of the music, sounds and silences in the places of destination as well as in the places of origin, and how music, sounds and silences are linked to the emotions and practices of migrants.

In the following section, after a brief review of some research on the symbolic, subjective and economic dimensions of the construction of transnational ties around Mexican migration to the United States, a comprehensive approach to soundscapes will be presented from the focus on the tripartite relationship of music-emotion-practices. Subsequently, two ethnographic vignettes on the place of music in the construction of transnational ties will be presented. The first vignette describes several scenarios where the ubiquity of the images of terruño in Houston, Texas, one of the migratory destinations of Mexicans from northeastern Mexico, is observed. The music of the terruño is one of the symbols that are embedded in the urban landscape and evoke nostalgia, an emotion that sustains the diverse sociocultural practices of migrants at the destination. The return visit of migrants and their families to their hometowns is a spatial practice that occurs on a massive scale, sustained by nostalgia. The second vignette will present the soundscape that emerges in the festive season of the community of origin in Los Ramones, Nuevo León. Nostalgia is present in the local festivities as a dominant narrative form about migratory life and as the basis of the acquisitive desire of migrants who consume during their stay a series of symbols of the terroir, one of which is popular music. In the last section, taking up the discussions in the two ethnographic vignettes, some final reflections will be presented.

Transnationalism and the link between music, emotions and economy

Over the past three decades, numerous academic publications on international migration have documented various cases of international migration. transnationalismthat is, "processes by which immigrants construct the social fields that link the receiving countries with the countries of origin" (Glick-Schiller, Basch and Blanc Szanton, 1992: 1). One of the pioneering investigations in this field of study was carried out by Rouse (1991), who proposed, through the case of migration from Michoacán to California, the concept of transnational migratory circuits to refer to a single dispersed community spread out on both sides of the border, which is made up of multiple links between the place of destination and the place of origin through the continuous circulation of people, goods and information.

Regarding the symbolic dimension of transnationalism, Boruchoff (1999) analyzes the circulation of objects between Guerrero and Chicago as an influx of signs representing geographically distant people and places. He proposes the concept of cultural objects to pose the possession of objects from the other side of the border as a practice that seeks the presence of the absent through symbols, as well as the ability of migrants and inhabitants of the places of origin to imagine a territory extended beyond national boundaries.

The ethnographic research conducted by Hirai (2009) in Jalostotitlán, Jalisco, and California deepens the analysis of the symbolic dimension of the construction of transnational connections and the materialization of the imaginaries of homeland by focusing on nostalgia, a dominant and persistent emotion in the lives of migrants. For Hirai (2009), nostalgia is an emotion that is expressed and stimulated through the images of homeland that are produced and circulate between the country of destination and the country of origin; it is not only constructed based on the experience of temporal-spatial separation and the sociocultural contrast between the society of origin and the society of destination, but also through the intervention of the various actors and institutions that surround migrants. In addition, nostalgia has a "cultural force" (Rosaldo, 1989) that triggers the various social, cultural and spatial activities of migrants. Based on this theoretical approach to nostalgia and transnational processes, Hirai (2014) documented the case of the return mobility of Mexican and Mexican-American migrants originating from Los Ramones, Nuevo León. In the north of that municipality, the return visit of Mexican migrants and their families has become a massive phenomenon in winter. In order to reintegrate into the local society this population that comes to spend their vacations, local festivities are celebrated. In this context, nostalgia has been used as a discourse to promote the visit to the town of origin and the local festivities.

Returning to this line of research, Ramos (2016) also conducted fieldwork in Los Ramones and explored the functions of music in the community of origin and the expression of nostalgia around popular music in the context of the return visit of the Mexican population residing in the United States. One of the important contributions of his work to migration studies from a transnational perspective is to construct an analytical view that combines the perspective of the anthropology of emotions and the anthropology of the emotions.3 with the perspective of anthropological and sociological studies of music. Ramos (2016) describes the socio-spatial context, economic activities, festivities, socialization and cohesion of the community of origin from soundscapes and emphasizes the importance of listening and perception of the sounds and silences of the terroir.

Here we would like to recover the work of Pistrick, who investigated the case of migrants from southern Albania and proposed the idea of "migration songs", a musical genre whose repertoires have to do with the emotions that arise when migrating abroad, such as nostalgia, pain and longing for the homeland. This author argues that nostalgia is not only constructed and expressed on the basis of spatial and temporal distance and the socio-cultural contrast between the country of origin and the country of destination, but also on the basis of other senses such as hearing. sonic nostalgia as inherent in the repertoires of most migration songs, as an emotion that underlies both the creation and performance of migration songs (Pistrick, 2016: 12).

To establish the nexus between music and emotion in our conceptual framework, following the analytical looks proposed by Ramos (2016) and Pistrick (2016), in this article we highlight the following approaches from the anthropology of emotions and music studies. From the constructivist approach to emotions (Lutz and White, 1986), first, emotions are understood as language, therefore, as a communicative act (Lutz and Abu-Lughod, 1990: 1-23; Luzt and White, 1986: 424); second, emotions have effects and function as drivers of actions and as an impulse or a force that orients individuals towards certain ideas and actions (Hirai, 2009; 2014; Rosaldo, 1989).

These two approaches to the anthropology of emotions are complemented by the following approaches proposed in anthropological and sociological studies of music. Music has the capacity to convey a wide range of emotions to the audience, including basic emotions as well as more complex emotions such as nostalgia (Corrigal and Schellenberg, 2013: 316). In this sense, music is understood as a "language of emotions" (Corrigal and Schellenberg, 2013) and has a cathartic or discharging function for the emotions experienced. Likewise, music moves its audience and evokes emotions, therefore, it has an effect and impact on them. In addition to these, music can evoke certain memories and influences the formation of memories, since the emotions evoked by music strengthen memories (Jäncke, 2008). Because of this ability to evoke emotions, music has been used as an "emotional instrument" in various ways in our daily lives (Frith, 2003: 100).

In order to explore the economic dimension of migratory circuits (Rouse, 1991), through which people and cultural objects circulate (Boruchoff, 1999), and which are crossed by affective ties (Hirai, 2009), we recovered the idea of the following two scenarios of cultural consumption linked to the manifestation of nostalgia. Mendoza and Santamaría (2008) consider that the development of the market for products and services aimed at Hispanic consumers in the United States has to do with the fact that nostalgia is the basis of the purchasing desire of migrant consumers. They propose the idea of a "nostalgia market" to refer to this type of migrant consumer market. For their part, Mines and Nichols (2005) point to the importance of consumption by migrants and their families on their return visits to Mexico and argue that "paisano markets" exist in communities of origin in Mexico, where these visitors become potential consumers of souvenirs, typical products of the regions of origin and various local services during their stay.

Figure 1: Conceptual frameworks for exploring the linkages between music, emotions and practices

Based on this theoretical planning (Figure 1), we will now present two ethnographic vignettes where we observe the nexus between music, emotions and migrant practices linked to the consumption of symbols of terroir. First, we will show the general characteristics of the nostalgia market in Houston, where the various signs of terroir are embedded in the urban landscape, one of which is the popular music of Mexico that accompanies different migrant practices. Subsequently, we will present the case of Los Ramones, one of the places of origin of those who are part of the Mexican community in Houston, to show the role of music in the paisano market and in the collective expression of emotions in the festive context of the place of origin.

The ethnographic material presented in the first vignette was collected by Hirai during fieldwork conducted in Houston in 2012, with the exception of updating some data through secondary information. The second vignette was elaborated based on the results of the ethnographic research conducted by Ramos between 2014 and 2016 in Los Ramones.

It should be noted that norteño music4 is a genre of Mexican popular music that is extremely important for understanding the cultural connection between Texas and the Mexican northeast. Several academic works have pointed out the relevance of the economic dimension and the transnational character of the historical construction of norteño music, its close link with Mexican migration to the United States (Díaz, 2015; Montoya, 2014a and 2014b; Ragland, 2009) and its important role in the formation of the social and identity spaces of the population of Mexican origin, not delimited by the political and geographical borders of two nations (Díaz, 2015; Madrid, 2011; Ragland, 2009). This article also aims to contribute to those discussions around northern music and the cross-border cultural region by focusing on the nexus between music, emotion, and migrant practices.

The ubiquity of the symbols of the terroir and background music in Houston

Although northeastern Mexico seceded from Texas in the first half of the 20th century xixSeveral sociological and anthropological investigations have demonstrated strong sociocultural and economic links that the northeastern region has maintained with Texas in various ways, among which stand out migratory flows (Hernández-León, 1999), other cross-border mobilities, informal trade and the circulation of goods (Sandoval, 2012), the media and cultural industries that played an important role in the dissemination of norteño music and the construction of the taste for this musical genre (Olvera, 2014). Olvera argues that the Mexican northeast and South Texas form "a set of circuits of distribution and exchange between different communities, towns and cities" (2014: 4).

Connectivity with the Mexican northeast is a relevant aspect that can be observed both in Houston's history and today. Houston is one of the three major cities that has a huge population of Mexican origin.5 It has 2,569,769 "Hispanics" (37.6% of the total population), of which the population of Mexican origin is 73.5% (bbc, 2019). One of the areas where the Mexican population is concentrated is Magnolia Park, one of the first colonies within the area called Second Ward, inhabited by Mexican Americans who became U.S. citizens when Texas was annexed to the United States (Esparza, 2012). In this area, Mexican Americans worked in various industries that sprang up on the Houston Ship Channel. Since the early 1900s xxSecond Ward experienced the process of Mexicanization of urban spaces (Trapaga, 2019: 31). Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was built in 1911 in the area. Also, in 1907 Rusk Settlement House and School was opened that offered Mexican Americans food, shelter and pre-school education service (Esparza, 2012). Hidalgo Park, named after Mexico's independence hero, was founded in 1927, and has been a neighborhood landmark (Trapaga, 2019). Other aspects of this process are the businesses that cater mainly to the population of Mexican origin and other Spanish speakers, the widespread use of Spanish, the offer and consumption of symbols and services related to the popular beliefs of Mexico, the presence of the national symbols of Mexico (Trapaga, 2019).

This process of Mexicanization of the neighborhood has been accentuated by the continuous flow of Mexican migrants from the other side of the border throughout the decades of the last century. Rodriguez et al. point out that "the neighborhood became, as it remains today, a dual community of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants" (1994: 85). One of the examples of the connectivity that Houston has with the Mexican northeast is the existence in Magnolia Park and other areas of the city of the facilities of several bus companies that offer trips to different locations in Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas. The use of Spanish is dominant in the facilities of several companies (see photo 1), given that the vast majority of passengers are Mexicans who cross the border to travel to their country or crossed it to get to Houston or to other parts of the U.S. During the trip, Spanish is the dominant language. During the trip, Spanish is the main language heard in the passengers' conversations, the movies on the televisions, and the music played by the driver. Houston is located within the circuits of mobility and constant circulation of people between Mexico and the United States, thanks to these bus companies that are part of the cross-border mobility infrastructure (Sandoval, 2012), which also makes possible the transportation of sounds that link passengers with Mexico.

Photo 1: Installation of one of the bus companies in Magnolia Park. Source: Shinji Hirai, Houston, 2012.

The images, the taste and smell of the land

Mexican food restaurants are the businesses that abound not only in Magnolia Park, but also in different areas of Houston. In general, these restaurants are managed by people of Mexican origin, offering Mexican food dishes from different regions of Mexico and providing service in Spanish to cater to the Mexican population. In addition to the food, its smell and taste, the ranchera or norteño music that can be heard,6 the Spanish spoken, the staff of Mexican origin and the customers who are also of Mexican origin, as well as the names of the restaurants, are the signs and sounds that evoke the connection to Mexico. "Taqueria Mi Tierra", "Mi Cocina Mexicana", "El Pueblo Michoacano", "Taqueria Rancho El Jalisco", "Mi Rancho", "Los Charros" (Photo 2). These are examples of the names of Mexican food restaurants, some of which refer to the migrant-sending states and others evoke images of the terroir as a rural space and a sense of belonging.

Photo 2: A Mexican food restaurant in Magnolia Park. Source: Shinji Hirai, Houston, 2012.

According to Vázquez-Medina (2016), who did fieldwork in Mexican restaurants in California, Houston and Chicago to explore the practices and discourses of Mexicans working as cooks in the United States, restaurants are not only the labor anchor points in family migration networks, but consist of "a series of complex networks that link migrant subjects to Mexico" (Vázquez-Medina, 2016: 81) and are spaces where they are commoditized MexicanThe sense of belonging is expressed through the representation of the food identity, the distinction is made between we Mexicans and they Americans. This author proposes the idea of culinary nostalgia as a subjectivity observed among Mexican migrants in the United States, and argues that it is an emotion that can be "assumed as a social category that is articulated by elements such as sensory memory, kinship, paisanaje and collective identities associated with eating in Mexico" (Vázquez-Medina, 2016: 242).

Supermarkets are other places frequented daily by the Mexican population residing in Houston to satisfy their nostalgia (Hirai, 2013). Fiesta Mart is a supermarket chain frequented daily by numerous consumers of Mexican origin. This company was founded in 1972 by Donald Bonham and O.C. Mendenhall based on Bonham's experience living and working in the grocery business in Latin America. Bonham "perceived the need for supermarkets in the United States that provided products to the Hispanic community to satisfy the nostalgia for items they had in their home countries" (Sarnoff, 2015), and partnered with Mendenhall and opened the first store in Near Northside, Houston, where the majority population was Hispanic American. Parallel to the growth of that population in the region, the business grew and in the 1990s opened branches in Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2015 the company had 34 stores in Houston, two in Austin and 24 in Dallas-Fort Worth (Sarnoff, 2015).

The Fiesta Mart store is decorated with symbols that evoke the memories and imagination of the terroir, the desire for continuity of the culinary culture of the country of origin and the closeness to Mexico and other Latin American countries. It offers a variety of fresh and processed foods used for Mexican, Salvadoran and Guatemalan cuisine and mate for the typical South American beverage.

The emblematic symbol that this company emits to consumers is "the party". "Our stores have a real party atmosphere - visit us and feel the excitement!" This was one of the advertising slogans presented on the supermarkets' website.7 In the commercial videos, the supermarket is presented as a place where you can find the traditional flavors of Mexican dishes, family and cultural ties with Mexico.8 and "a little piece of our own".9

Both Mexican restaurants and supermarkets are the spaces composed of symbols that stimulate different senses: sight (by the names of the restaurants, by the images of the dishes and by the staff of Mexican origin), smell and taste for the Mexican food that is prepared and hearing (by the Spanish and the music). In these sites of consumption of symbols of the terroir, culinary nostalgia (Vázquez-Medina, 2016) crosses over with nostalgia based on the visual and other senses, and even with sonic nostalgia (Pistrick, 2016).

The sounds of the terroir and its festivals

The flea markets (flea markets) are the places where many families of Mexican origin living in Houston go on weekends. Buying everyday items in the markets on weekends, after going to mass, is a custom that Mexicans have maintained despite being far from their homelands. The flea markets frequented by Mexicans consist of stalls offering a wide variety of products: clothing, hats, boots, second hand items, jewelry, appliances, cell phone accessories, religious images, toys, fruits, various Mexican food. The Spanish spoken by vendors and visitors and the popular Mexican music in the aisles are the main sounds in the markets.10 There is also a record stand and DVDs in one of the markets and there they were selling DVDs of jaripeos filmed in Mexico, and even discs of music performed by groups from Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Mexican music is not only sold in flea markets to be taken home, but also to be listened to live. In the markets there are dance halls that on weekends organize performances of different musical genres such as norteño music, salsa and cumbia. Although there are several products of daily consumption more expensive than in supermarkets, flea markets aim to offer an atmosphere similar to that of the weekends in the province and different urban areas of Mexico. Going to the cantina and discotheques and going to the tianguis and the market on weekends is a custom of the rural regions of Mexico. These sociocultural practices can be repeated to some extent in flea markets, which is why these places are valued by the population of Mexican origin. The popular music of Mexico has an important weight in the markets, given that the dance halls occupy a considerably large area within the market facilities and also attract large numbers of men and women of all ages.11

Civic and religious festivities celebrated at different times of the year are other scenarios where Mexican cultural practices are replicated and music is an important component of the collective activities that create the atmosphere. In other words, music runs through the various rituals that the Mexican population celebrates in order to recover the local culture of the terroir or national culture in their place of destination. For example, the celebration of May 5th is the largest Mexican celebration organized in the city, with the participation of various musical groups, media, local civic groups and various companies, one of which is Fiesta Market (Photo 3).

Photo 3: Fiesta Market's announcement of the Cinco de Mayo celebration in a local Spanish-speaking newsletter. Source: Shinji Hirai, Houston, 2012.

Another example of the link between the sounds of the terroir and the ritual is the celebration of December 12, the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the most important religious events for many families of Mexican origin living in Houston. Several years ago, in a neighborhood located in the southern part of the city, the Danza San Martin Caballero was formed, a group of dancers matachines of children, youth and adults of Mexican origin. This group has accompanied the celebration of the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe organized by the neighbors of the neighborhood. One of the reasons for the celebration of this religious feast and the formation of the dance group is to transmit the traditions of Mexico to the new generations. The sounds of drums and the sounds generated by the matachines dancers in their steps and through the accessories they use are the symbols of the terroir that are inserted in the streets of the neighborhood during the festivity and through which both dancers and spectators achieve the appropriation of public spaces as their territory. Although smaller in scale than the celebration of May 5th, this type of civic and religious organization demonstrates the replication of a cultural practice of the country of origin through the initiative of Mexican migrants and their families, who are also generators of the symbols and sounds of the terroir in the receiving society.

Background music of reterritorialization

Appadurai (1991) proposed the idea of "ethnic landscape" as one of the dimensions of global cultural flows. The ethnic landscape is a scenario composed of mobile people and their social identities. In the previous pages of this section we have presented ethnographic descriptions of various scenarios of the ethnic landscape of the Mexican population in Houston, in which the symbols of the Mexican migrants' terroir are embedded through social, economic and cultural practices in their daily lives and in extraordinary moments such as festivities. The insertion of the images of the terroir and the cultural reproduction of migrants are sustained and motivated by the desire to be in the terroir and to be connected to that place. In this sense, the Mexican ethnic landscape is a landscape of nostalgia (Hirai, 2009), that is, a space of expression of the desire to return to the homeland and to be connected to it.

Nostalgia is the emotion that is expressed through individual and collective practices that reterritorialize (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997) Mexican culture, and at the same time, it functions as a "cultural force" (Rosaldo, 1989) that orients migrants towards a process called "simultaneous incorporation" (Levitt and Glick-Schiller, 2004), that is, maintaining social and cultural ties with the country of origin, while at the same time, incorporating into the destination society.

In these processes, popular music and other sounds such as the Spanish that is spoken and the sounds that are generated in dance, have been, along with the images of the terroño, behind the various practices of the migrants to create the ambience similar to that of their homelands. Popular music and the sounds of Mexico are present in the daily life of the population of Mexican origin in Houston as if they were background music. They are used by different actors and institutions to mark spaces of belonging and identification and to liven up the atmosphere of various places, such as bus stations, Mexican food restaurants, supermarkets, flea markets, city streets, etc. It is reproduced in various activities of daily life through the use of discs, DVDthe memories usb and different media (radio, television in Spanish and internet) and in festivities through live presentations. This is where the ethnic landscape is crossed with the soundscape (Schafer, 1977), whose construction has much to do with the commodification of Mexicanness and the use of various symbols as part of the services or products offered to the population of Mexican origin.

The Sounds and Silences of Migration in Los Ramones, Nuevo León

Los Ramones is a rural municipality located in the central-eastern part of the state of Nuevo León. It is known in the region for two reasons. On the one hand, it is a municipality that has had a high rate of international migration since the beginning of the last century. Currently, there are many families that migrate completely to the neighboring country and maintain significant ties with their places of origin through different activities. On the other hand, Los Ramones is also known for its festivities, especially for its musicality, specifically for its Norteño music. It is in this municipality where some of the main exponents of this genre have emerged, which is why it is known as the "cradle of great musicians".12

Since the 1950s, migration to the United States became a massive phenomenon in Los Ramones and Ramonenses have gone to different parts of the United States, such as Texas, Washington, California, North Carolina and South Carolina. Houston is one of the destinations where many families from Los Ramones have settled and with whom transnational migratory circuits have been consolidated (Rouse, 1991).

Migrants have maintained ties with each other in their U.S. destinations and are also in constant communication with their places of origin, not only through family ties, but also through collective activities. For example, those living in Houston formed a group of migrants called "Ramonenses de Houston" and have used the 3x113 to contribute to the development of their communities of origin. This group eventually organizes activities to raise funds to support the communities that present more social backwardness within the municipality; athletic races and music or dance concerts are also organized.

For migrants living in the United States, their places of origin occupy a special place. It is in the place of origin where they carry out various activities, such as visiting family or friends, celebrating family and community festivities, bureaucratic procedures related to school life or housing, building, remodeling or maintaining their homes, and resting. This last activity is extremely relevant both for migrants who have decided to return permanently after retirement and for those who visit temporarily after the long workday of the year in the United States.

Return visits take place year after year, from October to December, when migrants working in agricultural fields are released from their work activities after the harvest and other migrants working in other labor sectors take winter vacations. This influx of people from the United States is a massive, intergenerational and multinational mobility phenomenon, given that in addition to Mexican migrants, there are also migrants naturalized as Americans and their children born and/or raised in the United States.

Photo 4: The landscape of Repueblo de Oriente, Los Ramones. Source: Raquel Ramos, Los Ramones, 2014.

In this season of the return visit, the communities of origin begin to have another landscape, physical and sonorous, different from the rest of the year. During the remaining months, when the migrants are in the United States, there are few people living permanently in the towns of origin, so silence is a very important and valued element for the inhabitants who stay behind. There is little movement of automobiles, little traffic of people in the streets, few students in the schools, closed restaurants and grocery stores, silent weekends with no festivities to appreciate. For example, in Repueblo de Oriente (Photo 4), the community hosting the December 26th celebration,14 Silence prevails for most of the day, and it is thanks to the absence of noise and bustle that the sounds of nature and the countryside can be appreciated, as well as the melody emitted by the clock of the Catholic church every few hours (Audio 1), these are the main elements of the soundscape of the village.

Audio 1: The melody of the church clock in Repueblo de Oriente. Source: Audio was recorded by Raquel Ramos in 2015 in Los Ramones.

However, when migrants visit with their families to spend their vacations in the fall, this entire soundscape changes, transitioning from silence to diverse sounds that are generated as the number of people and the number of cars and ATVs increases. The transformation of the listening begins in the plaza and the houses, which are filled with the noise of family and friends who gather. In the streets you can hear the sounds of vehicles and masonry work. Of course, live or recorded music sets the mood for various social activities that are reactivated in the communities of origin. For example, the plaza of Repueblo de Oriente, which had been empty for months until the arrival of the migrants, becomes the main scene of dancing and other activities (Video 1).

Video 1: "Dancing at the local festival in Repueblo de Oriente". Source: Video recorded by Raquel Ramos in Repueblo de Oriente in December 2015.

In addition to the multiple activities that migrants carry out during their stay, their places of origin play an important role in strengthening emotional ties. Their homelands are the places where they reunite with other members of their extended families who during the rest of the year live dispersed in Mexico and the United States, so the return visit is an extremely important spatial practice to reinforce emotional ties with their families. November and December are the months in which, according to their "emotional calendar" (Hirai, 2009: 125-131), they hope to express and reaffirm affections through family reunions.

The places of origin are also spaces whose landscape detonates the memories of their childhood and youth, the memories of their loved ones already absent and the longing for the lifestyle that existed before.15 The nostalgia that arises in migrants is the result of the evaluation or interpretation of the contrast between their present life in the United States and their past in Mexico and a resignification and idealization of what they had left behind by migration (Hirai, 2009: 164), such as the geographic landscape (the dirt roads, the mountains, the ranch, the nature), the food, the freedom to do various activities such as parties late at night and to drink alcoholic beverages without restrictions. This symbolic reworking of the cultural experience in their homeland leads migrants to search for a soundscape, idealized from the context of the destination societies in the United States, composed of sounds, melodies and lyrics that evoke nostalgia for their places of origin. It is in this scenario-the place of origin-where the migrant experiences sonic nostalgia (Pistrick, 2016) and brings with him/her the desire to relive, through migration songs (Pistrick, 2016), past memories and emotions (Jäncke, 2008), such as the affections of loved ones, the joy of reunion, and the feeling of freedom in rural spaces.

Music, musician and nostalgia

Audio 2: "A mi pueblito", interpreted by Benito Garza. Source: Audio recorded by Raquel Ramos in 2015 at Repueblo de Oriente.

...how nice it is to get to my little town,
...to walk through its streets and its people,
...so he feels he is returning to his homeland,
...he who remains is comforted by hope
despite the distance, God will bring us together again.

This is a fragment of the song entitled "A mi pueblito", performed by Benito Garza, a migrant musician, at the December 26, 2015 party in Repueblo de Oriente (Audio 2), in the northern part of the municipality of Los Ramones. It is a song that expresses the joy that a migrant experiences upon returning to his homeland. He is a musician considered a spokesman for the nostalgia that is present in most migrants. According to Valenzuela (2006), migration is a recurring theme in northern music, whose plots are focused on nostalgia for family, partners, friends, people, homeland and homeland. In the case of the Ramonense migrant, the identification would be in the emotional issue, in particular the longing and sadness he feels when leaving his homeland and his "freedom" that only the place of origin gives him.

Only four milpas have been left
of that ranch that was mine
that little house, so white and pretty
how sad it is

This is a fragment of the song "Cuatro milpas" by the composer Jesús García de la Garza.16 According to Eugenio, a musician with Los Ramones, this is one of the songs that local musicians perform when the majority of their audience are migrants. As can be seen in the theme of this song, the lyrics refer to nostalgia for the land. The imaginary of the countryside and what it implied is a representation of the life of the place of origin that refers the migrant to his experience of leaving his town, the work and the longing of leaving it to migrate.

Hirai points out that nostalgia is an emotion consisting of two aspects:

on the one hand, there are dissatisfaction, displeasure, discontent, disappointment with the condition of their present life in the displacement destination; on the other hand, preference, attachment and longing for the past and for the lifestyle, landscape and people that are absent in the present life abroad, but that there are, were or could be in the homeland (Hirai, 2009 :124).

Nostalgia is an emotion experienced by migrants who have experienced this type of discomfort and longing. Music is selected and listened to in the context of the return visit as an "emotional instrument" (Frith, 2003), which has the function of evoking certain memories and emotions (Jäncke, 2008) and "inducing attitudes", one of which in this case is nostalgic (McAllester, 1960: 469, cited in Merriam, 2001).

If music has this function, it is the musician who has the role of selecting which song to perform and what emotion and attitude to induce. The empathy and sensitivity that musicians have with their audience are important to play this role. Most of the musicians from Ramón have had their careers in the municipality, but also in other states of the Republic, and even in the United States. Most of them choose to move to the city of Monterrey for tours and recordings and some others reside in the Valley of Texas. An example of this is the norteño musician, Noe Marichalar, who returns to his homeland in Los Ramones for seasons or to make video recordings for his songs. Noe composes songs about his homeland, his love for the countryside and the community he has been a part of. However, much of his life is spent in Texas with his family. Noé mentions that he tours his music, mostly in the United States, but following the migrant route. He goes to the main destinations of the Ramon migrants, such as Washington, North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, etc. Just like Noé, musical groups originating from Los Ramones also tour among the places where migrant communities are located in the United States (Ramos, 2016).

By following the migrants, the Ramon musicians have formed a sensitivity to the tastes of their migrant audience, as Noé explains the preferred themes of their audience as follows:

I sing a lot to the people, ...suddenly I have themes of people who leave, of people who migrate, the suffering they go through when they leave their families, that is the theme that people there like... not everything that works there works here, unless it is a theme of heartbreak, which is neutral for everyone, that anyone likes, a romantic theme, love is love. It's universal. So it's a matter of looking at your work zones and what you want to do.17

Based on his knowledge of the migratory context in which his audience lives, this musician points out the importance of materializing emotion in his interpretation and inducing it in his audience.

Music Consumption and Music Journey

The concert in the place of origin (Video 2) is a powerful and emblematic musical occasion where the music carries all the symbols of being a migrant of Los Ramones: the countryside or the ranch, the traditional food, drinking alcohol freely, all accompanied by the songs that identify the people and the migrant. The construction and reaffirmation of emotional ties is one of the migrants' expectations about the return visit to their homelands and about the celebration of family parties and community festivities during their stay in Mexico. Live music is hired to express and transmit affection for their loved ones and their homelands. The relevance of live music consumption is that emotions are not only evoked, felt and expressed through sound, but also through other senses. People dance looking at and embracing their loved one and stepping on the soil of their hometown that they missed so much. That is where sonic nostalgia crosses over with spatial nostalgia, temporal nostalgia and contrast based on other senses, so listening to songs of migration in the homeland is not a simple sonic experience, but a total experience (Pistrick, 2016).

However, expressing affections and materializing nostalgia for one's homeland through live norteño or ranchera music implies a greater monetary investment in the musical groups and folkloric ballet, as well as greater participation by migrants. In this sense, live music is not an economic emotional instrument. Here nostalgia appears as a service demand for the use of this "instrument" and is the basis of the purchasing desire.

Video 2: "Live music at the agricultural fair in Los Ramones". Source: Video recorded by José Juan Olvera in November 2015 in Los Ramones.

During their stay in their homeland, music is also consumed by migrants to be taken to the United States. The migrant chooses to bring his own music or the music of his liking by means of discs or other technological devices: "one has one's own CDs here, or whatever. Yes, ...filled the usb I record everything on the usb... the stereo... the usb. And there you just put the usb and, therefore, you listen...".18 This practice allows "migrating" the music of the homeland and will be used as an instrument or cultural object (Boruchoff, 1999) to remember their loved ones who will be absent, to feel close to their homeland and to relive the affections and sensations experienced during the visit (Jäncke, 2008). This "migration of the music of the homeland" that happens when the return visit ends during the vacation period, is one of the practices of migrants who embed the symbols of the homeland in their daily life in the United States and contribute to a soundscape that orients migrants to maintain a nostalgic attitude.

Final thoughts

The first reflection that emerges from the analysis of two ethnographic vignettes that present the nexus between music, emotions and migrant practices, is that we observe the dual nature of soundscapes in the migratory circuits that extend between Houston and Los Ramones. On the one hand, soundscapes are composed of sounds that are primarily settled or embedded in the daily routines and life cycles of the migrant population (Rocha, 2010). This "natural" aspect of the soundscape is observed in the use of Spanish, the sounds generated in festivities and the music that accompanies migrants in various individual and collective activities. For its part, both in the place of destination and in the place of origin, another aspect that we could say "artificial" is observed, in the sense that there are components of the soundscape, such as the "migration songs" (Pistrick, 2016) that were intentionally produced and selected to generate, recover and market longing and nostalgia. But despite the intentionality of the use of music as an "emotional instrument" (Frith, 2003) by the different actors who know the effects of nostalgia in actions, this artificial aspect of the soundscape is no less real or relevant, given that the musical genre, the themes of the selected songs, and the places and moments of music consumption are valued by migrants and have significant features and are important to them (Schafer, 1977).

The second reflection we wish to extract from both ethnographic vignettes has to do, precisely, with this relevance of the components of soundscapes for migrants. Both in the nostalgia market at the destination and in the paisano market at the place of origin, nostalgia is not a simple state of mind, but a persistent and dominant emotional state, constantly induced by the symbols that evoke the memories associated with their homelands. Both markets form an "economy of signs" (Lash and Urry, 1998), diverse signs that stimulate the migrant's senses and induce impulses and attitudes to be connected to their homeland.

The relevance of popular music consumed both in the place of destination and in the place of origin is its capacity to permeate different areas of daily life, in extraordinary times and in diverse social, cultural and economic activities of migrants, establishing connections between the senses. In some sites where a process of commodification of longing and nostalgia is observed, such as, Mexican food restaurants, ethnic supermarkets, flea markets in the place of destination, festivities celebrated both in the receiving society and in the places of origin, sonic nostalgia permeates with other nostalgias (Pistrick, 2016) based on other senses. These sites are. affective multi-sensory spaceswhere transnational ties are not only imagined, but also felt through sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. What the analysis of this case of popular music consumption allows us to understand is that on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border there is an economy based on signs, emotions and senses and a cross-border regional culture of the Mexican population that never renounces its musical taste and nostalgic attitude.


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Shinji Hirai is a Japanese anthropologist based in Mexico. He holds a PhD in Anthropological Sciences from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa, and is a member of the National System of Researchers level 1. His areas of research are transnationalism, anthropology of emotions and international migration. He is the author of the book Political economy of nostalgia. A study on the transformation of the urban landscape in transnational migration between Mexico and the United States. (uam/Juan Pablos Editor, 2009). In addition, he has published the following works: an article entitled "La nostalgia. Emotions and meanings in transnational migration", Nueva Antropología 81 (2014).

Raquel Ramos Rangel is a sociologist and social anthropologist. She has a degree in Sociology from the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Noreste unit. She is currently a professor and researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and a research assistant in the Project conacytChildhood amputated, adolescence at risk. Childhood and chronic violence in northeastern Mexico". She has collaborated in several research and diagnostic studies for coneval, forcan, ift and market and consumer studies. His areas of research are transnationalism, music and emotions; soundscapes of migration; childhood and violence; and precariousness and education.

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EncartesVol. 5, No. 10, September 2022-February 2023, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: encartesantropologicos@ciesas.edu.mx. Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at https://encartes.mx. Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 22, 2022.