Puebla-York: Memories of a Sonic Diaspora

The technological diaspora of SST often overlaps with migration trajectories, from the Global South to the Global North and back. This diasporic movement shapes not only individual and collective identities but also music, business models, and the technology itself. The sense of belonging, nostalgia, displacement and the various affective bonds that inform migrant communities’ life feed back into the sonic craft of SST practitioners. This is especially true for those sonideros whose practice sonically bridges Mexico and the United States. We are very pleased to welcome as a guest blogger Dr César Rebolledo González, coordinator for SST Mexico, reporting on his early research trips among the Puebla sonideros scene in New York.

(Spanish version is available at this link)

by César Rebolledo González

He calls it Puebla-York with a wink and, at the same time, with absolute seriousness. I’m with Raymundo on the way to the interview we agreed to. He is the owner of La Fantastic Señal NY, a sonidera radio station that has been broadcasting online for thirteen years. He is also the head of Los Cinco Fantásticos (The Fantastic Five), an organization gathering sonideros in New York, as well as the face of sonido Disco Móvil Barranquilla, which turned eighteen in October 2023. We have recently met on social networks and he is briefing me before we talk about his life as a sonidero in the United States: “New York is Puebla’s largest district.”

Raymundo is originally from Amalucan, Puebla, but has been living in New York for seventeen years, having crossed the Rio Grande with his father. Shortly afterwards, his wife and then his two young children caught up with him. One of his brothers already living in NY encouraged them to migrate in 2006, following the closure of the Volkswagen car plant in Puebla. Today, almost his entire family is in New York. It is estimated that there is more than one and a half million poblanos currently living and working in the United States – equivalent to one-sixth of the total population of Puebla in Mexico. Although there are no official statistics, it seems that the majority dwell in the the Big Apple (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx) and in other New York State cities such as Nassau, Westchester and Newburgh.

Mole poblano for sale at La Amistad

We stop at La Amistad, a typical Puebla-styled store offering a colorful selection of pan dulce and other foods. Raymundo tells me that each region of Puebla has brought its own customs and flavours to New York. The store owner’s name is Francisco. To my surprise, he is also a veteran sonidero, who established his own sonido Proyección Estrella in 1994, right around the time of what he calls “the sonido fever in Newburgh, New York.” Here he learned how to wire passive audio equipment and setting up dance events from Sonido Sonimex and Sonido Cobra. At that time Francisco was a high school student who also worked during the afternoons, besides devoting his free time to sound: “we filled large rooms, people from both Puebla and Mexico City attended the dances, but mainly from Puebla… It was about five or six years in which there was an increase in the number of active sound systems.”

Proyección Estrella was founded in New York and gradually relocated to Puebla. Francisco shipped large quantities of audio and lighting equipment to Mexico: “I bought amplifiers, speakers, lights and sent everything to Puebla, so that they would have a source of income there, to help the family.” When he retired from the sonidero scene, he sent almost all of the equipment collected over the years: “All my sound is there [in Mexico]. And now I go there twice a year just for the pleasure of listening to it. I don’t go for work, I go to enjoy myself […] There are fifty bass speakers in the system […] Here in New York I would never have been able to play them altogether […]” This is due to the strict decibel limitations and tight state control over both public and private space.

Raymundo and Francisco

According to the Bank of Mexico, in the first half of 2023 alone, the country received more than 41 million dollars from abroad, mainly from the United States. This is conceived as regular help between family members or even as savings for the migrants’ eventual return to Mexico. Francisco imports food and crafts from Mexico to the United States to market them to the Mexican community in New York, and from his earnings he exported a sort of sonidera remittance to his family for years. He thus created a family business, transforming money into techno-cultural capital with a high affective value. To this day, this allows him to share his passion for sound and, at the same time, maintain a traditional business in Puebla with his family.

We had come to buy bread, but instead bumped into a sonidero story. “They sent me the music from Mexico, it was very difficult to get it. The little that reached, you took care of it like your own life.” Francisco’s words find an echo in Raymundo’s, my host. “The recordings of the sonidos from Mexico came here, that’s how we first knew the songs, before they were hits […] People would come up to you and ask what song was playing because it was new music, nobody knew it. Many times we didn’t know what country it came from or what genre it was. We discovered that little by little. The music came to us in physical format, family and friends sent it to us from Mexico.”

Pastries for sale at La Amistad

Puebla is known as a bastion of sonideros and cumbia bands. Puebla-York could not be conceived any other way. In both Puebla and New York, Francisco created a sonic territory from speakers, amplifiers, lights and cables; he designed an economy of enjoyment, musically moving from party to party, generating monetary and emotional revenues. Puebla-York may appear as just an enclave of immigrants, whose identity is strongly rooted in their region of origin. However, it is also a bridge connecting two territories and ensuring a continuous economic, political, cultural and affective flow between them.

It’s only thirty minutes since I met Raymundo in Newburgh and I haven’t started the interview yet, when his friend Gaspar from Sonido Galaxia phones him and invites us to his house to chat. My work schedule will have to adapt to an unexpected good luck. I came for an interview but it seems the day will be full of encounters with other sonideros from the network in which Raymundo operates: “Here everyone knows each other and almost everyone is from Puebla.”

The exception makes the rule. Gaspar is from Mexico City, he is a shareholder in La Escondida Inc., a tortilla factory with a 26-year history. Gaspar is “sonidero and tortillero,” but what really stands out is that he is one of the few New York sonideros who performs regularly on the Mexico City scene. Sonido Galaxia belongs to a community of sonideros from Puebla who identify with the music style of Mexico City barrios (hoods). However, in practical terms they insist on stressing the designations of origin and putting the related conflicts first: “every year we do a poblanos versus chilangos sound event in New York where we only play barrios music […] we give each other a good shake.”

Gaspar from Sonic Galaxia

Contrary to what is usually assumed, “Puebla is not just wepa.” [1] Raymundo reiterates that there is a misconception about Puebla’s sonidero style, and points out to what happens in the capital of Puebla and the Mixteca area: “few know that after the 1985 earthquake many chilangos moved to Puebla [2]. Many people from the city center went to live in Puebla, and this is why barrios music is also popular. You listen to a sound from the city of Puebla and it is very different from one from the Mixteca. But if you listen to a sound from Mexico City and one from Puebla you will also be able to notice the differences. In Puebla, barrios music is played because we also have our own music.” [3]

Puebla-York is not only in the United States, but also in Mexico. It is a transnational territory, where immigrant presences from across Latin America converge. The sonidera Puebla-York is a place where musical postcards from countries such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Argentina are also recreated. The sonideros’ Puebla-York is a place where tropical imagery such as the sun and palm trees, natural exuberance and good living is materialized. The sonidero from Puebla-York is not the mere sum of two distinct geographies, but the result of complex displacements and Spanish-speaking cultural appropriations.

Gaspar’s tapes collection

As argued by Cathy Rangland (2013), the figure of the sonidero does not represent the mere nostalgia for the place of origin from within the United States, but rather a space where immigrants’ identity is reconstructed and borders are literally reconfigured. Puebla-York represents the tension of a community that is forcibly divided between two territories; it represents the cosmopolitan reinvention of two states intertwined by a passage of migratory conflicts. Puebla-York is a place where the conflict between personalities that marks transterritorial communities is exalted. It is an evocation, a memory, and therefore a fictional geography with its own soundtrack. The Mexico that those living in Puebla-York refer to belongs to another era, that sounded different, to which it is impossible to return without the mediation of music and sound technology. Therefore, the Puebla-York sonidero is retro. He plays with vintage turntables and adorns himself with vinyl collections. He earns his place in the present by retrieving the memory of the sounds of yesteryear, rescuing the little-known stories about the rhythms that accompany the dramatic migratory transits – roots that are rooted in uprooting.

Raymundo and I are on our way to the interview at his studio. He asks me what I thought of the unexpected encounters with his sonidero colleagues. He gives me an extensive list of those I will meet in the next days. I can anticipate what their stories will sound like. I am in Puebla-York and with only three hours here I already know that Puebla-York is sonidera.

Disco Móvil Barranquilla anniversary dance


[1] Wepa is a style of cumbia whose origin is usually associated to San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Wepa evokes a Colombian expression related to the joy of dancing; it is a cry for joy and well-being. It is identified by its catchy and danceable rhythm, closer to electronic music than to classic cumbia. Wepa is very popular in Puebla’s Mixteca, which is why it is often thought to originate there and it is even referred to as the cumbia poblana of NYC.

[2] Chilango is the name given to the people of Mexico City. It has a derogatory connotation, although the word has been resignified and is also a flag of pride. There is a popular saying in Mexico: “Kill a chilango and build the nation.” Puebla, Monterrey and Guadalajara are cities that are often considered rivals of Mexico City.

[3] Here, Raymundo means that in the capital city of Puebla there are marginal and working class barrios, which also generate their own music while they identify with that from Mexico City.


Rangland, Cathy, “Communicating the Collective Imagination. The Sociospatial World of the Mexican“Sonidero in Puebla, New York and New Jersey”, in Cumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre (eds. l’Hoeste, Héctor Fernández, and Pablo Vila), Duke University Press, 2013.

About the author

César Rebolledo González is sociologist and researcher at La Salle University Mexico. Bass player and music lover. He is devoted to the study of identities and social stigmas.

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