With the recent SB 1070 debacle in Arizona, many musicians have come out in support of the immigrant movement. Whether it is boycotting concerts in Arizona, or being part of the pro-immigrant marches going on across the U.S., I am proud to see that many have been behind the movement. However, there have been a number of well-intentioned artists who are writing and releasing songs in support of the Anti-Immigrant movement that are sub-par at best. The songs may come from the heart but most of them are full of clichés and slogans, mostly from those who have not gone through the immigration experience themselves. I don’t want to insinuate that these artists are opportunists, but if you haven’t been writing about immigrant issues since before all this madness in Arizona, you are probably a little late to the party. Besides, would you really want to rally a pro-immigrant song written by the likes of Taboo, probably the least talented member of the pop group The Black Eyed Peas?
Los Tigres Del Norte have been singing about immigration issues for the last forty-something odd years. They themselves immigrated into the U.S. in the late sixties, relocating to San Jose, Ca to try to make a living as musicians. In 1972, Los Tigres scored their first hit, "Contrabando y Traicion," a song that made them a household name in Mexico as well as among Mexicans living in the U.S. The song was considered the first Narcocorrido to become a hit and thus started the Narcocorrido boom that continues to thrive today. Over the years they have written many tunes, including some great songs critical of both the Mexican and U.S. government. But it’s their ability to write about the immigrant experience in the U.S. that sets them apart from most groups. As each immigrant experience is different, so is each song. Below are some of my favorites that Los Tigres Del Norte have recorded featuring different spectrums of the immigration experience:
“Vivan Los Mojados” (Long Live The Wetbacks) from the album Vivan Los Mojados
Released in 1976, it was one of their earliest attempts to write about immigration with a message. The message was clear: You may try to stop us from coming into The U.S., but you won’t because you need us. The song makes a simple point: If we are gone, who will pick the onions, lettuce and beets? You will lose your crops and beyond that, the dance halls will be empty. It’s the same point made in the movie A Day Without A Mexican, without having to sit through that god-awful disaster of a film.
"La Jaula de Oro" (The Golden Cage) from the album Jaula De Oro
Enrique Franco was a musician based in Tijuana. He started to work with Los Tigres Del Norte in the mid-eighties and helped them write some of their best songs. As an illegal immigrant himself, Franco used many of his life experiences and of people like him struggling to make it in the U.S. By far one of his best collaborations with Los Tigres was in 1984 on the song "La Jaula de Oro." It is song as told by an immigrant living in the U.S. without papers, working all the time for years with the fear of being deported. He longs to be back in Mexico, but cannot return because he is not legal. His children that are born in the U.S. speak English and reject their Mexican culture and soon he becomes a stranger to his own children. He feels trapped by his circumstances. He is living in a golden cage, a place of comfort, but a cage nonetheless.
“Tres Veces Mojado” (Wetback Three Times) from the album Idolos Del Pueblo
Another collaboration with Franco led to "Tres Veces Mojado." Most naïve Americans still think that all persons crossing the U.S. border illegally are all Mexican. Starting in the late eighties, thousands of Central American immigrants escaping poverty and civil war in El Salvador not only had to cross into the U.S. illegally, but pass through Guatemala and Mexico as well. With this song, Los Tigres paid homage to people who had struggled as much, if not more, than most Mexicans that crossed into the U.S.
"Mis Dos Patrias" (My Two Countries) from the album Jefes De Jefes
"Mis Dos Patrias" is a song that resonates with me as a child of two Mexican immigrants. In the mid-nineties, both my mother and grandmother decided to become U.S. citizens in order to retain their social security and medical benefits. My father, on the other hand, refused to do because he felt that he would become a traitor to a country he one day hoped to returned to. In the song, the main character defends his decision to become naturalized as a way to receive his benefits. He does not want to be considered what some in Mexico will call Un Malinchista, a traitor to his own. He is still Mexican, like pulque and cactus (Sigo siendo mexicano como el pulque y el nopal), something poetic that I wish I expressed to my own father during that time.
“Somomos Mas Americanos” (We Are More American) from the album Uniendo Fronteras
"Somomos Mas Americanos" is one of their more controversial songs the band has performed about immigration. The title of the song alone infuriated most hate groups and has been one of the most referenced songs by anti-immigrant groups across the U.S. Many paranoid anti-immigrant groups actually believe that one day the U.S. will be invaded by Mexico, trying to reclaim what they took during the U.S./Mexican War of 1846-1848. (History lesson: It was during that war that the U.S successfully invaded Mexico after a dispute over Texas. After Mexico’s defeat and signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, The U.S. annexed Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming from Mexico.)
The song is not about physically reclaiming the land, but about respect. The land that many try to keep immigrants from is their ancestral land, and as much as you may tell them to go back to their own country, they are in their own country! Certainly an anthem for the times, especially during the aftermath of SB 1070 and other laws that are geared to keep immigrants away from their land, rights and culture.
Other Los Tigres Del Norte songs about the immigrant experience:
"Pedro y Pablo" from the album La Jaula De Oro
"El Otro Mexico" (The Other Mexico) from the album El Otro Mexico
"Los Hijos de Hernández" (The Hernandez Sons) from the album Gracia America Sin Fronteras
"El Mojado Acaudalado" (The Wealthy Wetback) from the album Jefe De Jefes
"Ni Aqui ni Alla" (Neither Here Nor There) from the album Jefe De Jefes
“El Emigrante” (The Immigrant) from the album La Granja
"La Tumba Del Mojado" (The Wetback's Tomb) from the album La Tumba Del Mojado