7 May 2022


The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez

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One of the greatest arguments about the Iliad of Homer is how much of it is true and how much is false. Archeologists have proven that the epic poem is premised on some truth. Some parts of it however, are clearly a figment of Homer’s imagination. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez mirrors the Iliad of Homer in that singular manner. It is premised on a true story, but no one bothers about the truth anymore. The Ballard of Gregorio Cortez also known as the " El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez " is perhaps less famous and more recent than the Iliad. However, it is almost an anthem in the Chicano community in particular and also among the Mexican (Rodríguez, 2016; Noe, 2016). The Ballard of Cortez has been a major source of pride, solace, and inspiration for the Chicano community of the USA as it makes them believe in their ability to conquer in a land that they have always seemed to be victims. 

According to Rodríguez (2016), the original version of the Ballard was composed by an unknown poet who was a guitarrero. This was a form of one man guitarists who entertained in Mexican restaurants known as Cantinas. The Ballard was said to have been written at the advent of the 19th century in praise of a Chicano hero and fugitive Gregorio Cortez (Rodríguez, 2016). This was after Mexico had been defeated by the USA in the Mexica-American war where a large portion of Mexican territory was annexed to the USA along with its population. The Mexicans who found themselves marooned in a foreign nation elected to have a distinct identity; this was the advent of the Chicano people (Dean, 2016). The identity has remained today. This is the premises for the " El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez ", being referred to as part of Chicano poetry (Rodríguez, 2016).

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According to the general narrative in the Ballard as well as contemporary historiography, Cortez was a law abiding young man (Rodríguez, 2016). He is however, apprehended by a Texan Sheriff who is investigating a horse theft. Cortez is with his brother Romaldo and due to the translational errors of the Sherriff’s assistant, a confrontation ensued. An attempt to arrest Cortez turns violent and the Sherriff shoots Romaldo who jumps in the way to save his brother. Irked, Cortez fatally shoots the Sheriff and flees. This triggers one of the biggest manhunts in Texas at the time. 

It is reported to have involved more than 300 Texas rangers and hundreds of other people. The heroics of Cortez during the flight are epic. He is claimed by the Ballads to have killed two other sheriffs, walked for a hundred miles and ridden horses for another 400 miles. Cortez was finally arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He started his jail term at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville on New Year’s Day 1905 (Rodríguez, 2016).

The incarceration of Cortez made him even a greater hero than his escapades. An innovative way to collect money for his appeal was devised through the Ballad sang in his honor. Among the Mexicans, this was not just a compatriot in trouble, but a symbolic war between them and the establishment. Many version of the Ballard were composed and sang as far away as Mexico City. According to Rodríguez (2016), the situation escalated to the point that being found performing any version of the Ballad in the USA would lead to instant persecution. Many Chicanos were harassed, beaten up and others lost their jobs. As expected, this only increased their determination to sing the song and collect money for Cortez. Through these efforts, Cortez was finally released in 1913 after only 8 years in prison. 

The story of the release of Cortez re-inspired the singing on the Ballad; this time round it coincided with the Mexican revolution. The story of a Chicano hero who stood up against the great American system and triumphed was a great inspiration in the Mexican revolution (Rodríguez, 2016). This not only increased the fame of the ballad, but also exponentially increased the versions thereof. The song remains popular among the Mexican community. The Chicano has since translated several versions of it into the English language. It is still unclear which version of the Ballad is authentic. Having not been written down and popularized through oral narrative, perhaps the original version does not even exist. However, the inspiration derived by the story is still real among the Chicano communities of the US, who over a century after the story of Cortez are still marginalized (Rodríguez, 2016). 

An analysis of the form of the " El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez " shows that it is a corrido. A corrido was a form of typical Mexican folksong congruent to a ballad and mainly sang around the Mexico-Texas border, in the praise of a hero. Before the Mexico-American war, the border between the two nations was always amorphous. Conflicts were common between the Mexicans and Americans, therefore, the general premises for heroism among the border Mexican community was premised on a successful attack against an American (Dean, 2016). The first corrido was sung in honor of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina who is credited for shooting an American marshal while defending one of his mother’s servants. The popularity of the corrido created a cultural custom of creating folksongs in the praise of real and presumed heroes (Dean, 2016). 

As with all forms of music, the corrido was affected by the advent of industrialization and the resultant urbanization thereof. The purity of music was lost as entertainment became more commercialized. Music was no longer created for fun and as a cultural heritage but was circumspectly designed to entertain and generate income. This hijacked the corrido as it became the instrument of guitarreros who sang in restaurants functions and canteens to earn a livelihood (Noe, 2016). 

Unfortunately commercialization also ruined the identity of the corrido. It was no longer premised on the cultural need for a means of traditional oral narrative. Fictitious heroes and heroic deeds would be created to find material for a new corrido for commercial reasons (Dean, 2016). However, as with the story of Cortez, every now and then, a real story would arise. A real hero would emerge; hence a real corridor such as the " El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez " would be born. 

The place of the corrido as a means of expressing Chicano poetry can however,[ not be denied. Many years after the end of slave trade, African Americans have still held on to a part of their African heritage as a form of identity. The Chicano people, being by culture and heritage Mexican have obstinately held on to their Mexican heritage (Dean, 2016). Among the integral elements of this heritage is the corrido. Further, becoming American did not end the racial discrimination visited upon the Chicano people (Noe, 2016). This has ensured that the need for the corrido, being to create hope by reminding the people about the greatness amongst them has remained. However, through the aforesaid commercialization of cultural heritage including music and poetry, the corrido had clearly lost its place as a conduit of oral narrative. The main premise of carrying forth history through oral narrative is consistency. 

As clearly depicted by the instant analysis of the " El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez ", from the very word go, the narrative was diluted. Within a few years, it was completely mutilated and transformed. However, through the advent of education and authorship and the contemporary technology of retrieval systems for information, consistency has returned to the corrido. From the Chicano to the other Mexicans right down to Nicaragua, the corrido is once again being used as a means to propagate history (Dean, 2016). This mirrors the renaissance of historical cultures that had been abandoned after the industrial revolution all over the world.


Dean, J. E (2016). How myth became history: Texas Exceptionalism in the Borderlands . Arizona: University of Arizona Press. 

Noe, M. (2016). Autoethnography and Assimilation: Composing Border Stories.  The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning 21 (1), 10. 

Rodríguez, J. C. (2016).  ‘El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez.’  Retrieved from <https://tshaonline.org//handbookonline/articles/xee02/> 

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