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by Julie Swarstad
Founded in 2000, the University of Arizona Bilingual High School Corrido Contest celebrates the corrido--a musico-poetic form unique to the U.S.-Mexico border region--by asking high school students to write their own corridos. Three winners are chosen each year by a distinguished judge, and music is written by a professional musician to accompany the corrido. The Poetry Center celebrates the first ten years of the contest by publishing Ten Years of Young Corridistas in September 2010.
The Poetry Center will hold a panel discussion by corrido experts on Saturday, September 24 at the Poetry Center. A benefit performance for the Corrido Program, featuring many of Tucson's top Mariachi musicians takes place Saturday, October 2.
The University of Arizona Poetry Center's Bilingual High School Corrido Contest is truly unique in what it celebrates. For the past eleven years, the contest has challenged high school students to learn about the corrido form and its deep connection to the U.S.-Mexico border region while demonstrating this knowledge by writing a corrido of their own. Edited and published by the UA Poetry Center, the winning entries presented in Ten Years of Young Corridistas cover an incredible range of topics and demonstrate remarkable emotional depth. They speak to community concerns, personal hopes, and cultural values, presenting the voices of Arizona's high school students at their finest.
The winning corridos printed in the anthology are presented in both English- and Spanish-language versions. The majority of the corridos were originally submitted in Spanish, and translations have been provided by Wendy Burk, the Poetry Center's own Library Specialist. Recurring themes in the corridos are family, loss, struggle, and the plight of undocumented immigrants; a call for justice echoes throughout many of the corridos. Subjects matter ranges from Pancho Villa to Pat Tillman, from the Border Patrol to an illegal immigrant who saves a motorist's life, from the difficulties faced by soldiers to the importance of a family's love. The students explore these subjects with nuance and grace, teaching their readers about the issues that carry weight in the lives of Arizona high school students. This collection truly demonstrates the traditional role of the corrido as a voice for the voiceless, allowing readers to hear the voice of up-and-coming Arizona citizens.
Ten Years of Young Corridistas is accompanied by a CD with primarily live recordings of the winning corridos set to music and performed by a variety of talented Arizona musicians. It's a pleasure to hear the corridos set to music, the context in which corridos are meant to be experienced. Additionally, the book includes an essay by former Poetry Center Literary Director Frances Sjoberg on the founding of the Corrido Contest along with two essays on the history and formal elements of corridos by UA professors Celestino Fernández and Maribel Alvarez. The essays and audio recordings complete the collection by providing a context for understanding and appreciation.
Ten Years of Young Corridistas serves as a clear and compelling introduction to what a corrido should be, formally, intellectually, and emotionally. More importantly, however, this text can serve as inspiration to other students today and in the future by demonstrating everything Arizona's high-school-aged youth are capable of achieving. The students' voices are vibrant and rich, and their writing resonates with the power of the corrido and its importance as part of our cultural heritage.