Since pre-Columbian times, soldiering has been a traditional life experience for innumerable women in Mexico. Yet the many names given these women warriors—heroines, camp followers, Amazons, coronelas, soldadas, soldaderas, and Adelitas—indicate their ambivalent position within Mexican society. In this original study, Elizabeth Salas explores the changing role of the soldadera, both in reality and as a cultural symbol, from pre-Columbian times up to the present day. Drawing on military archival data, anthropological studies, and oral history interviews, Salas first explores the real roles played by Mexican women in armed conflicts. She finds that most of the functions performed by women easily equate to those performed by revolutionaries and male soldiers in the quartermaster corps and regular ranks. She then turns her attention to the soldadera as a continuing symbol in Mexican and Chicano culture, examining the image of the soldadera in literature, corridos, art, music, and film. Challenging many traditional stereotypes, Salas finds that the fundamental realities of war link all Mexican women, regardless of time period, social class, or nom de guerre.
Few Mexican musicians in the twentieth century achieved as much notoriety or had such an international impact as the popular singer and songwriter Agustín Lara (1897-1970). Widely known as "el flaco de oro" ("the Golden Skinny"), this remarkably thin fellow was prolific across the genres of bolero, ballad, and folk. His most beloved "Granada", a song so enduring that it has been covered by the likes of Mario Lanza, Frank Sinatra, and Placido Domingo, is today a standard in the vocal repertory. However, there exists very little biographical literature on Lara in English. In Agustín Lara: A Cultural Biography, author Andrew Wood's informed and informative placement of Lara's work in a broader cultural context presents a rich and comprehensive reading of the life of this significant musical figure. Lara's career as a media celebrity as well as musician provides an excellent window on Mexican society in the mid-twentieth century and on popular culture in Latin America. Wood also delves into Lara's music itself, bringing to light how the composer's work unites a number of important currents in Latin music of his day, particularly the bolero. With close musicological focus and in-depth cultural analysis riding alongside the biographical narrative, Agustin Lara: A Cultural Biography is a welcome read to aficionados and performers of Latin American musics, as well as a valuable addition to the study of modern Mexican music and Latin American popular culture as a whole.