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La Bamba and the Farm Worker Origins of Rock and Roll

by Curtis Marez

Asleep in a Northern California labor camp, near what is in the process of becoming Silicon Valley, future Rock and Roll reverb and overdubbing og Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) dreams of a prophetic plane crash while Santo and Johnny’s steel guitar lowrider favorite “Sleep Walker” plays on the dream track.  He awakes and soon a new soundtrack revs up, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” (““tomb stone hand and a graveyard mine/just 22 and I don’t mind dying”—shades of farm worker vulnerability to early death), to accompany the return of the prodigal son, Ritchie’s brother, Bob (Esai Morales), through the Valley hills. 

As Bob arrives the filmmakers interpolate a realistic scene recreating a period apricot packing shed, complete with conveyor belt and gendered division of labor that introduce the Valens matriarch Connie (Rosanna De Soto). Moreover, Bob’s response to his mother’s playful reproach—“I’m lucky I even found this place-” speaks to the extreme spatial segregation agricultural labor and farm worker camps. 

Farm Machinery Murder Weapon

by Curtis Marez

The use of a tractor-drawn disc harrow to kill a U.S. agent investigating the murder of farm workers recalls historic agribusiness ideologies that frame imagine technology as a weapon aimed at controlling labor.

La Bamba opening

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The opening scenes of La Bamba foreground the farm worker origins of Rock and Roll.

from La Bamba (1987)
Creator: Luis Valdez
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Posted by Critical Commons Manager