Telling Our Stories Through Our Music

The colonias of the Texas border are some of the poorest communities in the state. Build outside city limits, these neighborhood developments lack the same standards of housing, public services, and infrastructure that most city residents take for granted.

Alberta Ramirez, mother of 9 children and resident of the colonia Owassa Acres, saw how hard it was for her children to deal with unpaved streets and lack of drainage every time it rained. With muddy roads, she saw how hard it was to get her children to the school bus or have them play outside risking an injury in the potholes full of water. After 2 years of organizing with her neighbors, visiting county commissioners, and the help of LUPE, her colonia was able to receive proper drainage and paved streets for the first time ever.

In partnership with other organizations, La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) launched El Sonido del Agua (The Sound of Water), a multiyear initiative that aimed to mobilize and equip residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s colonias to tackle public health issues that arise from inadequate infrastructure..

As a part of the campaign, colonia residents developed folk songs known as corridos.  To commemorate the work of colonia residents in El Sonido del Agua project, we held a conjunto music celebration at the historic La Lomita Park in McAllen, TX.

(Juan Manuel Alejo plays “Inundación,” a corrido that tells a story of a neighborhood where he grew up plagued with flooding until local community groups like LUPE helped them organize and get the attention of local politicians.)

The event marked the live debut of six original songs that were written by community members for El Sonido del Agua.

Musicians and colonia residents collaborated to compose corridos that tell the stories of colonia residents who have organized for and won drainage improvements for their Hidalgo County neighborhoods.

The songs, which speak powerfully to real experiences of colonia residents, aim to move listeners to better understand the issues due to the lack of adequate infrastructure. While at the same time honoring the rich history of the conjunto musical tradition and traditional corridos, or narrative ballads, like those composed through the Mexican Revolution and the migrant farm worker movement.

Colonia resident and corrido writer, Alberta has been a member and LUPE leader for over 4 years. As a representative of her colonia she believes it is her responsibility to advocate for the needs of her community. Alberta not only helped organize for drainage improvements and paved streets in her neighborhood. She penned many of the verses used in the songs of “El Sonido del Agua”. This album tells her story and the story of all those that suffered as a result of lack of infrastructure but most importantly the victories that came after they organized.

(Listen to El Sonido del Agua below.)

El Sonido del Agua is aproject of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP ([bc]), La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE), the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center, and Texas Housers, with the support of UTHealth School of Public Health, UTRGV School of Medicine, and UTRGV-Cameron County.

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