Lydia Mendoza--with 12-string guitar and soulful renditions of tangos, boleros, corridos, and other popular songs--catapulted to fame (if not fortune) as ``La Cancionera de los Pobres'' (``The Songstress of the Poor'') in the 30's Southwest, becoming the most renowned member of her performing family. Here, Strachwitz-- chronicler on both records and film of Mexican-American music--has skillfully compiled and woven together ten years' worth of vivid, personal interviews with Mendoza, her family members, and her associates. Leonor Mendoza, the family matriarch, was born into a well- educated, middle-class Mexican family, but upon fleeing the Mexican Revolution with her hard-drinking husband (who responded to most situations with imaginative lies), she plunged into poverty with her children, most of whom had only what little education Leonor could provide. They traveled the US, harvesting crops, but soon found they could earn more as performers, even in the early days when they played for pennies in the streets and, most notably, in the Plaza del Zacate in San Antonio. Lydia's Blue Bird recording of ``Mal Hombre'' in 1934--wildly popular over the airwaves--made her name on both sides of the border, even though she was cheated out of royalties. With Lydia's radio popularity as a draw, the family went on the road, performing in circus tents, church halls, and theaters. The shows were stopped temporarily by marriage, children, and WW II gas rationing; sisters Juanita and Maria became famous as a duet; and Lydia was still touring in the 80's, during the folk revival. A real treat for Mendoza fans, and a good read for those interested in Mexican-American popular culture or the emergence of American vernacular music, performance, and recording. (Photos, plus discography and transcriptions of songs and vaudeville skits). -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP.