Mexican History in Steel Nation

In the late 1800's and early 1900's Pennsylvania based steel companies recruited Mexican laborers from Texas to work in the steel mills.  For Mexicans, the migration experience of leaving the rural south to work in the northern steel mills was a departure from the typical agriculture work that was common in Mexican-American communities during that time. Evidence of this history is depicted in "Corrido Pensilvanio".

Corridos are songs which tell the stories of the Mexican and Mexican-American experience. They chronicle the daily highs and lows of family, labor, social justice issues, migration and other stories common within the community.

Like Jazz, Hip Hop, Puerto Rican Plena, Bomba  and Salsa, Mexican Corridos tell of the struggles people went through in order to survive. While the lyrics of these songs are sad, the tune of the music is upbeat in order to help lift spirits. Using music to tell stories and process pain is as old as humanity and for that reason these song lyrics are still relevant in today's world. 

The Corrido Pensilvanio was written in 1929 by Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martinez. It tells the story of men leaving behind their families in Texas to travel up north to work in the steel mills. In the story, the travelers encounter part of the United States that seems a world away from the places they are used to.  While there is sadness in leaving their loved ones behind, there is an elation at the realization they will not need to work in the fields picking cotton any longer. 

Listening to this song makes me wonder who were these Mexican and Mexican-American steel workers? Did these men stay in the area and eventually bring their families up to Pennsylvania?  What is their legacy within the folklore of Southwestern PA and the steel worker identity? In doing research I did not find much more information than what is presented in this blog. It seems that a more sizable population may have ended up settling in Bethlehem, Pa. This group may or may not have been met with cold shoulders and racist stereotypes from that community. It makes me wonder if this is why Southwestern Pa did not develop a sizable Spanish or Portuguese speaking population sooner. 

Corrido Pensilvanio

By Pedro Rocha & Lupe Martinez

El día 28 de abril 
a las seis de la manaña, 
Salimos en un enganche
pa'l estado de Pensilvania.

Mi chinita me decía, 
Yo me voy en esa agencia, 
para lavarle su ropa
para darle su asistencia.

El enganchista me dijo, 
No lleves a tu familia
para no pasar trabajos
en el estado de West Virginia.

Pa' que sepas que te quiero
me dejas en Fort Worth,
Cuando ya estés trabajando
me escribes de donde estés.

Cuando ya estés por allá
me escribes, no seas ingrato,
En contestación to mando 
de recuerdo mi retrato.

Adiós estado de Texas
con toda tu plantación,
Ya me voy pa' Pennsylvania
por no piscar algodón.

Adiós, Fort Worth y Dallas,
pueblos de mucha importancia,
Ya me voy pa' Pensilvania
por no andar en la vagancia.

Al llegar a ese Milwaukee
cambiamos locomotora,
De allí salimos corriendo
ochenta millas por hora.

Cuando llegamos allá
que del tren ya nos bajamos
preguntan las italianas
De dónde vienen mexicanos?

Responden los mexicanos
los que ya hablan inglés,
Venimos en un enganche
del pueblo de Fort Worth.

Estos versos son compuestos 
cuando yo venía en camino,
Son poesías de un mexicano
nombrado por Concestino.

Ya con ésta me despido 
con mi sombrero en la mano,
Y mis fieles compañeros
son trescientos mexicanos.