La Onda (The Wave) was a multidisciplinary artistic movement created in Mexico by artists and intellectuals as part of the world-wide waves of the counterculture of the 1960s and the avant-garde. Its followers were called "onderos", "macizos" or "jipitecas".
La Onda encompassed artistic productions of the world of cinema, literature, visual arts and music and strongly addressed social issues of the time such as women's rights, ecology, spirituality, artistic freedom, open drug use and democracy for a country tightly ruled by the PRI.
According to Mexican intellectual Carlos Monsiváis, La Onda was "a new spirit, the repudiation of convention and prejudice, the creation of a new morality, the challenging of proper morals, the expansion of consciousness, the systematic revision and critique of the values offered by the West as sacred and perfect".
- 1 La Onda in music
- 2 La Onda in literature
- 3 La Onda in cinema and theater
- 4 La Onda in drug use and spirituality
- 5 Society from the Mexican Revolution to the 1970s
- 6 Politics: Single-party government
- 7 Economics: A widening gap between the middle and lower classes
- 8 Social protests
- 9 1968 Student Movement and the Tlatelolco Massacre
- 10 Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro
- 11 See also
- 12 References
La Onda in music
La Onda began with the importation of American and British rock and roll into the Mexican music culture. Throughout the world, rock and roll was spreading and taking root as "a wedge and a mirror for societies caught in the throes of rapid modernization". According to Eric Zolov, author of Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture, "rock was a wedge in the sense that it challenged traditional boundaries of propriety, gender relations, social hierarchies, and the very meaning of national identity" which the Mexican PRI (or the Institutional Revolutionary Party) was struggling to define.
By the late 1950s, "youth from the middle classes began to form their own bands…practicing as best they could versions of hit songs in English by their favorite foreign rock'n'rollers". The youth of Mexico was beginning to identify with the youth of the United States and the United Kingdom, and it was only a matter of time before they were also inspired by the social activism of other modernizing countries.
After the 1968 Mexican student movements ended in the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City, a native hippie movement known as the "jipitecas" grew in its wake and expanded to the whole country and parts of the USA and Central America. By 1969, a new wave of Mexican rock music began to emerge, fusing Mexican and foreign music with images of political protest. This movement was called La Onda Chicana, culminating in a two-day "Mexican Woodstock" known as "Avándaro" (Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro) which attracted ca. 300,000 people in September 1971.
La Onda in literature
Starting in 1965, La Onda made its mark on the "new Central-American novel" and other genres. The wave of popular Mexican novels in the 1960s, "emphasized the sentiments of the new urban middle-class adolescent and the influence of United States culture, rock music, the generation gap, and the hippie movement." La Onda influenced many Mexican authors and intellectuals, like José Agustin, liberal priest Enrique Marroquin, ecologist Carlos Baca, Parménides Garcia, Alberto Blanco and Gustavo Sainz, and they became icons of the movement; also including Guatemalan writer Mario Roberto Morales. Some writers who were not part of the movement but sympathized with it were Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Monsivais, Gabriela Brimmer, Jose Emilio Pacheco and Octavio Paz.
La Onda in cinema and theater
La Onda had its icons with Alejandro Jodorowski, the Gurrola bros. and Sergio Garcia, making Super 8 filming a synonymous of counterculture. Iconic films which gained world-wide attention varied from the women's liberation-oriented ones like Jose Agustin's "5 de chocolate y 1 de fresa" to the Jodorowski's psychedelic avant-garde masterpiece "El Topo".
La Onda in drug use and spirituality
Society from the Mexican Revolution to the 1970s
Mexican Society had undergone a tremendous change after the Mexican Revolution; a period of modernization pushed forward by the PRI. Mexican Society had a great deal to do with the growth and popularity of the Mexican counterculture. "The country’s transformation from predominantly rural to urban, the expansion of national industries, the emergence of a mixed economy with a high profile, and the expansion of educational institutions all fostered the impression that Mexico had finally emerged from the blight of underdevelopment and was on the road to peace and prosperity". The PRI was pushing for modernization, longing to become an evolved and prosperous country, much like the United States.
As Mexican society grew more and more inspired and connected to other foreign countries, the cultural dos and don’ts became more in tune with those of other countries - especially those of the United States. As rock and roll music was imported into Mexico, along with American television and movies, the youth of Mexico changed ‒ slowly evolving into a rebellious stage inspired by the youth rebellion of the United States. One of the major ways in which the youth of Mexico began its counterculture, was by listening and performing rock and roll. At first, the youth would perform famous songs from famous rock and rollers in English, such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, among many others. The Mexican government saw this as a chance to reach the youth of Mexico. By supporting rock and roll music and helping Mexican musicians in their efforts to play rock and roll music ‒ the Mexican government was hoping to change the meaning of the music. Instead of rebellion, the music would be morally good and inspire Mexico’s youth to support the Mexican government and be upstanding citizens. Unfortunately for the Mexican government, "government efforts to blockade the arrival of foreign music indirectly contributed to the emergence of a native rock’n’roll product" as more and more rock and roll bands began to emerge.
Rock and Roll represented a connection; a connection between the youth of Mexico, as well as a connection between the youth of Mexico, and the youth of the ever trend-setting youth of America. Both countries had seen rapid modernization after World War II, and the effects of this modernization were that the youths of these and other leading countries craved a unifying identity that was separate from past generations under the Revolutionary identity. The youth of Mexico especially craved their own identity separate from that of their parents and grandparents who had fought for and brought about the Mexican Revolution. As the PRI tried harder and harder to control the identity of Mexico’s citizens, the youth of Mexico felt it necessary to fight against this stifling oppression.
As time wore on, Mexican rock and roll bands needed a place to perform their music that was accessible to everyone. With this need, they began performing in places like Cafe Cantante, which was a rock club that allowed everyone to access the counter culture. The youth of Mexico identified with the youth of the United States, unfortunately they were only able to witness a small part of the American counterculture, and that of other countries, so they had to interpret and express what they saw through their music. Besides television, film, and literature, the youth of Mexico only had one true way to experience the counterculture in a unified way, and that was through music. The Cafes Cantantes "thus served as a kind of transcultural performance space where the styles, gestures, and sounds of the youth culture from abroad were transposed for a Mexican audience". Naturally, the Mexican government had to shut down the clubs because they "foment 'rebellion without a cause' that leads to a heightened level of juvenile delinquency". As the cafes were being raided and shut down, the counterculture of the 1960s was growing and being inspired to question and challenge authority.
The counterculture was becoming more detailed and focused on the youth. It was no longer just about rock and roll music. Now, in the early 1960s, the youth were also adopting foreign fashion and attitudes towards authority and rock music "was again becoming a wedge against traditional social values and a vehicle for free expression". At a time when the Mexican government was so focused on outwardly projecting a unified culture, it was important for the youth of Mexico to express themselves and their negative feelings towards this rigid modernization and unification through their music and clothing.
As the decade went by, the emergence of hippies, or jipitecas, was seen in the youth of Mexico. These politically conscious students began to openly defy societal norms ‒ much like the hippies of the United States. The youth of the counterculture needed to break the bonds of society and find new ways to express themselves. Young men faced the problem of breaking out of the mold set forth by their fathers. To do this they had to look disheveled and wrinkled as opposed to the older generation of men who looked very manicured and put together, and dressed much more conservatively. Girls faced a similar problem, but instead of just looking disheveled, women had to fight for a new freedom. Women sought a new freedom where they had the same rights and opportunities as men. But both genders were beginning to fight for their rights to express themselves, be original, and be individual.
Politics: Single-party government
After the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican government worked for a time to legitimize the acts of the new Constitution and to help settle the country into a stabilized government. For a time, Mexico boasted "high levels of popular participation, featured a wide array of opposing political parties, and observed peaceful transfers of power from one administration to the next". In spite of this political stability and program to further the industrialization of Mexico, an authoritarian government eventually emerged. "The combination of favorable international circumstances and internal conditions enabled the governing party to become a monopoly party of government during the three decades after 1940". The presidents, such as Álvaro Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles, and Lázaro Cárdenas wanted to perpetuate the teachings of the Revolution ‒ solidifying revolutionary ideals into Mexican society. But, the government following the Mexican Revolution did not only want to solidify the ideals of the Revolution, it also wanted to improve the government elevate the status of Mexico to a modern, First World power. The Mexican government began, in the 1940s, "to industrialize the country, by means of an import-substitution policy…displacing the traditional center of gravity, which had been the countryside, to the cities". This expansion and focus on the middle-class family would eventually lead to the first phase of La Onda, in which the children and grandchildren of the Revolutionaries began to challenge authority and individualizing and expressing themselves through rock and roll music and foreign fashion trends.
By the 1960s, the import-substitution model was no longer working. The enthusiasm with which the Mexican government had fostering towards economic growth and political stability was slowly stifling the Mexican people. In the 1950s, Northern Mexico witnessed "a vigorous mobilization of peasant groups that invaded lands under the direction of organizations with relatively radical ideologies, outside the official structures". By the late 1960s, "the monopoly party had deepened its control over the political processes and took credit for the economic expansion as a result of the structures it had set in place". Now, it was not just Mexico's middle-class youth that were rebelling against the authoritarian government. Now, the working-class was rebelling against the old industrial institutions and fighting for better pay and protection from the companies and the government.
Economics: A widening gap between the middle and lower classes
Mexico’s economy had expanded substantially since World War II. As it expanded, the economy became prosperous and focused on the middle class. More and more factories were being built to help bolster the economy ‒ unfortunately resulting in lower pay for the workers ‒ the people who kept the economy afloat. Mexican politics and economy went hand in hand when "political stability [under Ávila Camacho] encouraged enough foreign capital back into the country to bolster high rates of growth". Mexico’s "emphasis on economic development…has focused on those activities, industry and commerce, that are most efficiently undertaken in urban areas, where there is an adequate supply of labor, credit, transportation, and communication". This emphasis on urbanization would eventually lead to the workers and student movement of the 1960s.
As 1968 approached, the position of President of Mexico became more and more absolute and monopolizing. Under the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, one can truly see the terrible effects of an absolute government on the people of Mexico when "the issue of accountability, along with other constitutional questions such as the relationship of the powers and the effective participation of civil society in the political processes, fell by the wayside". The monopoly of the PRI ‒ especially under Díaz Ordaz had gone unchallenged before the 1968 Student Movement, and the growth of presidential power was seen as a blatant abuse under Díaz, inspiring students, peasants, and industrial workers to challenge this absolute authority.
Finally, the year was 1968, and Mexico City had been nominated to host the 1968 Summer Olympics. Already the Mexican government had been dealing with the effects of La Onda through minor social rebellions inspired by the American counterculture movement. As passive and active resistance grew, the Mexican government saw a need to put down opposition. Ordaz knew that the Olympics were Mexico’s initiation into the First World community, and knew that a student movement just weeks before the Games would be disastrous for Mexico’s image.
Mexico’s economic situation improved in the 1950s with the Bracero Program and with the "Export-Import Bank approved $150 million loan to finance transportation, agriculture, and power facilities". With the Between 1954 and 1971, the Mexican economy experienced a stabilized development under the President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines and Adolfo López Mateos. This stability lasted until 1971 when the Mexican economy began to decline. One of the major reasons for such a prosperous economy during this time was Mexico’s decision to nationalize its oil. This nationalization of resources along with Mexico’s modernization program helped to stabilize the economy. Another factor to the stability and prosperity of the Mexican economy was the Korean War which "had increased world prices, provided opportunities for Mexican exports, and led to the inflow of foreign capital". But, by the late 1960s, the Mexican economy was unable to finance itself ‒ resulting in lowered wages and workers’ discontent.
Before the Student Movement of 1968, there were other political movements. One such movement took place between 1964 and 1965. At this time, "Díaz Ordaz’s political miscalculations allowed a dispute over better pay and working conditions with hospital doctors working in the public sector to escalate into a strike movement". Although this strike did not have to do with La Onda, it did serve as an example for Mexico’s youth in their fight against the authoritarian government.
Besides student movements, the government also responded severely to labor unions ‒ usually with harsh repression. In the 1930s and 1940s, the PRI used police and military force to suppress labor protests. Later, in 1958-1959, the government responded to the railway workers’ dispute by arresting numerous workers and union supporters. In 1961, in Mexico City, students had gathered to celebrate the newly instated Fidel Castro administration in Cuba, when the gathering was broken up by police use of tear gas and rifle butts. This severe, one-track way of dealing with social movements did not work to the Mexican government’s advantage. After the 1968 Student Movement and resulting massacre, "an alliance of students, peasants, and urban workers in Oaxaca succeeded in forming a political movement independent of the PRI by 1972". Throughout the time of Mexico’s economic stability under the PRI, there were many minor protests to question the moral credibility of the Mexican government.
1968 Student Movement and the Tlatelolco Massacre
For a long time, the Mexican government had been forcing the Mexican people into a unified structure ‒ one where the youth of Mexico did not rebel and the entire population worked together to recreate Mexico as a First World power. This forced and false unification was what inspired the Mexican counterculture. The youth of Mexico saw other countries protesting a false unification, and craved the individuality that those protestors had found. As mentioned before, this challenged of authority culminated in the adoption of rock and roll music and dress into the every day lives of Mexico’s adolescent population. Then, just as the students of other countries began peacefully protesting their conservative governments, so to did the students of Mexico begin to challenge authority in Mexico. According to Gilberto Guevara Niebla, a student leader stated in an interview: "The Student Movement had many dimensions. On one hand, it was a student movement; on the other, it was not. The Student movement was the bearer of demands that were not only strictly student concerns but those of the society. Before 1968, the authoritarian state had brutally beaten workers also campesinos, and it had destroyed the leftist opposition parties. It was in this vacuum, that students injected their demands, aspirations, and desires that were not exclusively of student interest, but also of interest to campesinos, workers, intellectuals, political parts, etc.".
The 1968 Student Movement was the "articulated restlessness and rage for much of the youth of a middle class which had come of age during Mexico’s acclaimed modernizing 'miracle' and which afterward opened the floodgates of cynicism and everyday resistance to a political system bent on maintaining control". According to Zolov, the Student Movement made only six demands which included, "freedom of political prisoners, abolition of the riot police, the dismissal of the Mexico City chief of police, and justice against those responsible for repression". The 1968 Student Movement didn't consist only of students; peasants and businessman ‒ Mexico’s working class also partook in the fight for democracy in Mexico’s government. In 1968, the Student Movement "challenged the legitimacy of the system and proved, by the bloody repression it suffered, that it (the Mexican Government) had and authoritarian core". Those protesting during the 1968 social movement wanted a mass movement to force the government to reform the official party and provide greater opportunity for political participation.
The economic growth after World War II and the following stabilized development led to overall declines in levels of poverty and inequality, but the "opportunities created for the middle sectors did not match their expectations and instead created a large population of upwardly mobile young people whose dreams and aspirations" grew faster than the Mexican economy. The younger generation was still being inspired by foreign acts of protest against rigid government regimes. Through literature, music, and art, Mexico’s youth was able to connect and amass into a larger group including students, peasants, and industrial workers. This adolescent generation was beginning to challenge the status quo and question authority, seeking self-expression and equality for all. Now, with world events like the Vietnam War and the Cuban Revolution, the student movement was taking form and participating in a radical protest of authoritarian government. Across Mexico, as more and more universities got involved, students began to meet and address issues and held rallies protesting world events as well as events of injustice in Mexico. As more and more campuses joined in and began to hold meetings to decide how best to fight for democracy, the Mexican government became uncomfortable and paranoid about the effect these student movements would have on Mexico’s reputation.
As more and more students joined the cause and began protesting in marches, the Mexican government became paranoid and began to monitor the politically active students. The more the government monitored the students, the more students joined the cause. By late 1968, even some high schools and middle schools had joined the student movement. No longer was the younger generation fighting against conservative family values with rock and roll music, beatnik literature, and daring fashion. Now, the students were unifying and banding together behind a resentment of the authoritarian government.
As mentioned before, Mexico had been selected to host the 1968 Olympic Games, and so the PRI were on high alert for student protests ‒ which they were not tolerant of. Students played a key role in the democratization of the Mexican government. As police abuse became more and more prevalent, students across Mexico felt that an political upheaval was necessary. On one occasion on July 29, 1968, "students barricaded themselves inside their high school to protest police abuse" to which "infantry troops used a bazooka to blast" into the school and "proceeded to beat and ultimately arrest one thousand students". From this and many other cases of police abuse stemmed the ultimate student protest on October 2, 1968. Internally, the 1968 student movement was linked to "the growing criticism of the Mexican Revolution that was particularly evident in the labor struggles of the 1950s and 1960s". The political movements of other countries and their success in changing legislation inspired the revolutionary youth. The Mexican youth thought that if they peacefully banded together and showed the amount of support they gave to their cause that the PRI might just listen to their demands.
The massive student movement began on July 26, 1968, when demonstrators were attempting to gather at the Zócalo ‒ which was technically reserved for organized demonstrations of support for the president. As more and more people gathered, Díaz Ordaz "regarded the movement as an affront to the dignity of Mexico".). At this point, the PRI had no control over the student demands for respect and constitutional rights. By August 13, 1968, "100,000 people were protesting against the regime’s disrespect for public liberties and the presence of tanks in the city streets". The growing political unrest was viewed by the government as "a revolutionary conspiracy…designed to bring down the existing political order". As people gathered on the evening of October 2, 1968, at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of Three Cultures) the administration made no attempt to establish dialogue with the student leaders. Instead, troops and police opened fire on the Tlatelolco demonstration and massacred rioters of the Student Movement.
After the massacre at Tlatelolco "which effectively terminated the protest movement", there was a call for a new counter-movement and new forms of opposition to bring an end to support for the authoritarian government. No longer was the youth of Mexico solely focused on rebelling against authority in the home; no longer were the students only expressing themselves through their fashion and the music they listened to, now they had a new movement. Now, the student movement had turned into La Onda, focused solely on expressing the deep need for democracy in Mexico’s rigid one-party government, as well as the need for self-expression for the youth of Mexico.
The massacre at Tlatelolco "created a legitimacy" for democratization ‒ no longer could the Mexican government refuse and refute the fact that Mexico was now ruled under an authoritarian government. Not only did the massacre "reorganize civil society and catalyze electoral reforms", it also "spotlighted Mexican authoritarianism". After the Massacre at Tlatelolco, La Onda evolved again. First it had been a protestation of conservative traditions legitimized during the Mexican Revolution. This youth movement questioned authority through the use of rock and roll music, beatnik literature, and daring fashion. Next came the Student Movements that challenged the authoritarian government and fought for the democratization of Mexico. After the Tlatelolco Massacre, a new wave of La Onda emerged ‒ that of the jipitecas, or hippies, who rebelled against the status quo and preached peace and democracy above a strict authoritarianism government.
Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro
The Festival Rock y Ruedas in Avándaro, Mexico, took place September 11–12, 1971 in the hamlet of Tenantongo, near the Avandaro lake and golf club in Valle de Bravo, State of Mexico. The Rock y Ruedas (Rock and Wheels) festival had originally began as "nothing more than a series of auto races". The organizers suggested that rock music should be included to have a Noche Mexicana the night before the event. As many bands were hired to participate a rock festival was organized to promote the auto race ‒ but instead turned into the "Mexican Woodstock" with a huge amount of Mexican rock bands such as Dug Dug’s, El Epilogo, La Division Del Norte, Tequila, Peace and Love, El Ritual and so many more playing to a crowd of over 300,000 people for 2 days. This huge music spectacle was the culmination of all the effort of La Onda, describing "a modern sense of movement and communication, as in radio or television 'wavelength'". The festival, which greatly resembled the Woodstock of the United States, was a culmination of the efforts of La Onda along with the efforts of the government to control political unrest and make the audience feel as though their protests were heard. La Onda, which had started as a teenage rebellion against conservative parenting, had turned into a political movement fighting for democracy in an authoritarian government, and lastly had returned to a musical demonstration, but instead of violently rebelling against authority, it taught passive resistance, peace, and unification.
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