To celebrate the release of the new Lydia Mendoza Forever® stamp (the first in the new Music Icons series!), we talked to a few people who had the honor of meeting Ms. Mendoza and speaking with her about music. Today we eavesdrop on a chat between the Queen of Tejano and Deborah Vargas, who interviewed her for the Smithsonian and served as our expert consultant for the project.
Vargas: I will never forget the experience of conducting an oral history with Mendoza, as part of the Smithsonian’s Latino Music Oral History Project. Even at her older age and being the humble person she always was, Mendoza still conveyed a magical presence whose spirit filled the room.
What struck me the most were little things that represented the masterful professional performer she was her entire life. For example, she knew exactly where to place herself in proximity to the microphone for best sound quality. She sat with perfect posture during the entire interview (just as she had for decades when she sang and played guitar). She was extremely thoughtful when she spoke about the music, because she was so connected to how music conveyed histories, and joy in Mexican working people’s everyday lives.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote from the interview?
A: My favorite quote from the interview was when I asked her how she would deal with it, if someday, she was not able to play her guitar. Her response: “There is no Lydia Mendoza without her guitar.” This was a profound response because it conveyed how intertwined Mendoza was with her instrument and how her instrument was never a side, mechanical sound apparatus for her, but rather who she was in her essence.
Q: What makes Lydia Mendoza a great stamp subject?
A: There are tons of Mexican Americans and Latinos who will never be cultural performers or famous for what they do, but they take pride in their work and social contributions, just as Mendoza did. Mendoza certainly saw herself as a musician, but she never dissociated it from work and therefore she had tremendous respect for those who worked hard at the hardest jobs.
Mendoza didn’t make music to become famous or make money, she made music to create beauty and joy in the worlds of the most downtrodden. Her public felt this every time Mendoza sang and when they would hear her over the radio waves. This makes Mendoza’s stamp meaningful for American music history, as well as Mexican American history, because Mendoza’s image is such a profound symbol that so many can see themselves in.
What a beautiful sentiment. How has the music of Lydia Mendoza impacted you?
The Lydia Mendoza Forever® stamp was released May 15, 2013, and is currently available at usps.com/stamps and at Post Offices around the country. You can also purchase the stamps by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724). Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.