Yesterday’s dining section of the New York Times featured an article about Sonoran-style hot dogs: bacon-wrapped, smothered in beans, guac, tomatoes, onions, salsa of all kinds, mayo, potato chips, etc.
Despite the fact that I’m rather intrigued by this development–given that I grew up in the land of a thousand variations on cooking bratwurst, sausage culture nostalgically interests me–I valiantly tried to ignore the food part of the article so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try a Sonoran hot dog. (Bacon+pork hot dog+dairy products=quite unfriendly to the quasi-kosher vegetarian who authors this blog.)
What really caught my attention instead was how the reporter deployed music to set the scene for his detailed descriptions of southwestern-U.S./northern Mexico hot-dog-eating life. Check it out:
One Sunday afternoon, as a mariachi band played, an after-church crowd, half Anglo and half Hispanic, thronged El Güero’s outdoor dining pavilion. Babies cried. Teenagers table-hopped. And parents argued that, rather than order a second dog, children should fill up at the salsa bar at the back of the pavilion, stocked with peeled cucumbers, sliced radishes and chunky guacamole. Front and center at every third table was a Sonoran hot dog.
Doesn’t knowing that a mariachi band was playing help you taste the sliced radishes a little more pungently?
One recent afternoon, at one of the two Oop’s hot dog stands he operates on Tucson’s south side, Martin Lizarraga sat beneath a tent-draped ramada anchored on one end by a flattop-equipped hot dog cart, and on the other end by a minivan painted with a hip hop-inspired, anthropomorphic hot dog character.
As a tripod-mounted speaker blared norteño music into the street, and toritos–mozzarella-stuffed, bacon-wrapped güerito chiles–browned and then blistered on the flattop, Mr. Lizarraga talked of the days when he worked as a liquor salesman in the Sonoran capital city of Hermosillo, frequenting the “table dancing club” for which he named his two hot dog stands.
With his 14-year-old daughter, Abigail Lizarraga, by his side, he spoke, with great enthusiasm, of Hermosillo, where “every corner has a hot dog stand” and “the health department is not so strict” and vendors have the freedom to garnish a dog with everything from cucumbers in sour cream to crumbled chorizo.
Notice how different music is linked to each type of setting. The family-oriented setting plays mariachi; it’s characterized by restraint, with parents telling kids not to get another dog, but rather to fill up on toppings if they need to. The second cart both plays norteño and has a hip-hop-inspired logo. The owner used to be a liquor salesman and enjoys the creative freedom his profession enjoys back in Hermosillo–the description of his business is characterized by more expansiveness and sensual joy.
The music evoked in each case is also a provocative commentary on U.S.-Mexican border culture. Given the popularity of Sonoran hot dogs and northern Mexican musical styles in the southern U.S., along with many other cultural signifiers of course, what conclusions can we draw about border culture and the effects of immigration and colonization?
One easy way to think about the ethnomusicological approach is to think about both how music is influenced by its context, and how it in turn influences that context. Both dimensions are operating here: how do you think about norteño and mariachi (whether or not you have ever heard either style) based on the settings the reporter evokes? How do you think about each hot-dog-eating setting based on the musical descriptions that have been embedded in the story?