Among acculturated Mexican Americans, only a handful of Mexican songs have managed to gain wide popularity and a special cultural significance on this side of the border. A few become iconic songs, with lyrics and melodies memorized by the children and grandchildren of immigrants.
One of them, of course, is “La Bamba,” the traditional jarocho tune turned into a 1950s rock hit by Ritchie Valens, and later reprised by Los Lobos for the 1987 biopic of the teenaged Chicano singer from Pacoima, California. Another is “El Rey,” the mariachi classic by Jose Alfredo Jimenez, about a spurned, penniless vagabond who clings to his overblown pride and capricious ways, a monarch in his own mind.
There is only one song, however, that is so embedded in the bicultural community that it’s been dubbed the Chicano National Anthem. Surprisingly, it’s not a rousing number that stirs some sense of ethnic pride. It’s a beautiful yet sorrowful torch song about the lingering traces of a lost love: “Sabor a Mi.”