Mar 4, 2006


In this part of the state, politics has historically been closely tied to a cultural event called a "pachanga." Hence the phrase: "pachanga politics," sometimes used pejoratively to describe an old-school type of politics.

Margaret E. Dorsey, an anthropologist from the University of Houston-Victoria, recently published a book called "Pachangas: Borderlands Music, U.S. Politics, and Transnational Marketing" (University of Texas Press, $21.95. In her book, Dorsey describes the old style pachanga as:

"events in which a group of men, usually spanning two or three generations, gather in the country to talk, informally organize, drink, eat, and listen to and play music."

Without a doubt this is still a primary way for a political figure in South Texas to meet people in his community. Although in most present day pachangas, but not all, men and women are allowed to be present. The more traditional pachanga is a gathering of men or at the least there is a separation of the sexes. As a young boy I still remember my grandfather giving me a stern warning because I had wandered over into the area were women were gathering. These cultural mores were not written or regularly spoken yet everyone seems to understand them. Some pachangas I have attended still maintaining the "old ways" prohibit men from drinking in the presence of women as a measure of respect.

To those of you who live up north or in the urban areas of the state may think this cultural tradition on first blush to be primitive, in fact many aspects of the cultural event maintain and communicate old values of respect, honor and tradition. A long history strongly influenced by conservative Mexican values here in the frontier ranch country have made their mark on the pachanga. Much of these traditions have influenced and can still be seen in traditional Texan barbecues in other parts of the state.

Margaret E. Dorsey's book is a good read on this tradition. The Monitor has their review.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've heard about pachangas for years but as a gringo from "up north" (Tyler, then Austin) I've never been to one. Do you think her difficulty getting people to talk as described in the Monitor review was gender-based? Sounds like a male author might have had an easier time researching them. The book looks interesting but my reading list is way backed up.

The Rep. said...


On a number of levels she is at a disadvantage. From an anthropologists point of view, even I as a city boy in the more urbanized area of South Texas, do not as frequently experience the more traditional, mostly Mexican ranching traditions, that can still be viewed in the western regions to the west of the Valley.

As this region becomes more urbanized, more "modern" traditions are influencing the pachanga.

It is good to have her documentation and am glad she wrote the book.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book immensely. I have lived in the South Texas area my entire life, and have experienced many pachangas but did not know that I was experiencing them. Dorsey's research and observations allowed me to understand those "backyard parties" a little bit better, and perhaps, a better way to identify and socialize with my Hispanic friends. I also enjoyed her review of transnational marketing, the strategies she mentions were extremely benefitial at my current position.

Margaret Dorsey said...

Dear gritsforbreakfast,

Hello. I hope that you take the time to read my book. It provides a fuller explanation of the research process.
There are two issues at play: one, as you put it "getting people to talk;" and another, procuring invitations to the pachangas themselves. Either way, sex certainly plays a role in the research process.
One element is for certain: being a woman opened doors to the "women only" pachangas. I discuss the significance of gender more fully in the book.

Dr. Dorsey

Miguel said...

I teach anthropology at Swarthmore College and have found the book incredibly useful for teaching about South Texas, a place which can seem like another world up here! My family is originally from Texas so I am a bit biased when it comes to talking about Texans.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read this book in planning a political campaign in South Texas. I would think the book would be a help. Let me know, I am interested. Sincerely ,Miguel