Senora Santana

The Melting Pot

When Zora Neale Hurston worked for the Works Progress Administration as a folklorist, she advocated for an expedition to collect folk songs in Florida. Having grown up in Eatonville, Florida, she knew the region well. In her expedition proposal, she wrote:

Recordings in Florida will be like backtracking a large part of the United States, Europe and Africa for these elements have been attracted here and brought a gift to Florida culture each in its own way. The drums throb: Africa by way of Cuba; Africa by way of the British West Indies; Africa by way of Haiti and Martin i que; Africa by way of Central and South America. Old Spain speaks through many interpreters. Old England speaks through black, white and intermediate lips. Florida, the inner melting pot of the great melting pot — America.

Carita Doggett Corse, state director of the Federal Writers' Project, offered support for Hurston's proposal:

I believe that Zora can assist the expedition in getting excellent and origional recordings int he State. If possible, she should accompany the expedition on its trip through Florida, as she has an intimate knowledge of folk song and folklore sources in the State.

Ask students to consider Husrton's description of Florida.

  • What does it mean for America, and Florida, to be a "melting pot?"
  • How does folk music relate to this characterization? Why is the "melting pot" characterization an argument for preserving music in this region?
  • Would you call your community a melting pot? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with Corse's opinion that someone with "intimate knowledge" of a community would be valuable in its study? Why or why not?

Students' thinking on these questions may deepen as they exlore some of the resulting folk-song collection, including Senora Santana.

Finding Folklore: Who? Where?

Many Cuban-Americans migrated to Ybor City, following the cigar manufacturers' move from Key West toward Tampa. The recordings preserve the voices of the elderly and very young, Bahamans, Cubans, Italians, and others from Ybor City's rich immigrant population. Pieces include children's games, riddles, smutty rhymes, stories, and songs of all sorts. One of the most unusual pieces is Coocoo Bobo, described in the study as "an imitation of a train by a deranged Cuban, Enrique Rodriguez."

  • Why might folklorists seek out diverse people and a variety of art forms when documenting a community?
  • If the students' community was to be studied today, what individuals or art forms should researchers seek to record?

Folk Songs and Change

Many Cuban-Americans of Ybor City were doubly migrants: Having originated from Cuba, they had recently migrated north from Key West. Adelpha Pollato recalls her childhood in Key West as she sings Senora Santana. Ask students to analyze the lyrics, as translated in the recording transcript.

  • How might the lyrics relate to a community's experiences of migration?
  • Do students have any life experiences that help them empathize with the child's longing?

A Related Song: Senora Santa Ana

In the same year of Senora Santana's recording, 1939, John Lomax recorded four versions of a similar song: Senora Santa Anna. One version is sung by Sra. Isabe la Salazar, who ran a boarding house for Mexican girls attending college in Kingsville, TX. Another is sung by a group of girls from Blalock School near Brownsville, TX. This school historically served students of Mexican descent.

  • How are the melodies different?
  • How do the lyrics reflect different attitudes toward the apple?
  • How could these differences suggest different attitudes toward movement, cultural change, and nostalgia?
  • How might the Cuban-American and Mexican-American songs have evolved from a common musical ancestor?

Transcription of Girls from Blalock School, taken from Field Notes:

Señora Santa Ana, Por que llora el niño, Por una manzana; Que se le a perdido.

Vamos a la huerta Cortaremos dos Una para el niño Y otra para Dios.

Arriba del cielo Hay una ventana Por donde se asoma Señora Santa Ana.

Arriba del cielo Hay un abujerito Por donde se asoma El nino chiquito