Instead of appropriating Mexican culture and drinking until you are blotto this Cinco de Mayo, celebrate with these musicians.
It is not the least bit unpatriotic to say that the United States would be nothing without is neighboring countries. Unfortunately, our current administration wishes to block our southern neighbors with an expensive, xenophobic vanity project.
Much of American culture, labor and history can be traced back to Mexico. From our extended borders to cultural customs, much of it has come from the people who have emigrated from south of the border and into the states — many of whom were in native territory, which became part of Mexico, which was then stolen again by Americans.
Instead of appropriating Mexican culture and drinking until you are blotto this Cinco de Mayo, why not celebrate the people who enrich our culture by learning a bit about theirs? Check out these five Mexican and Chicanx musicians and settle in with a cup of tea. Leave the partying to those who were actually affected by The Battle of Puebla.
1. La Santa Cecilia
Described as a Mexican-American roots band, La Santa Cecilia hails from Los Angeles but embarked upon a trip to Mexico for their latest visual album, Amar Y Vivir. The band decided to forego the traditional studio recording process in order to record live at twelve different locations across Mexico City in order to capture the authentic synergy between the band and live audience and provide context for these beautiful tunes. Named for the patron saint of musicians, the band creates a combination of cumbia, bossa nova and boleros, with influences as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and Mercedes Sosa.
La Santa Cecilia recently appeared on NPR’s Democracy Now to speak about what it’s like to be an undocumented musician and the socio-cultural roots of their music. Featured is a bilingual performance of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” inspired by seeing the many fields of strawberries across northern and central California and the migrant workers who diligently (yet thanklessly) care for our country’s food supplies.
Band member Pepe Carlos talked with NPR about the restrictions of travel while undocumented. While other band members are able to travel between Mexico and the U.S. and even intersate, Carlos has been stuck within California’s borders. Finally, three years ago, he was approved for DACA. He’s been able to travel with his band and return to his birthplace of Oaxaca, where he could finally see many members of his family.
2. The Chamanas
The Chamanas is about as cross-cultural as you can get — literally. Based in the border towns of Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, half of the band resides in Mexico while the other half lives over the border in the United States. A modern blend of indie rock, Mexican folk, bossa nova and electropop, El Chamanas creates incredibly intricate, catchy, modern multi-culti sounds.
The Chamanas’ own name is a literal mashup of cultures: “The” is taken from the English language, and “Chamanas,” which means “shaman.” They describe their music as being like shamanism, as music has emotionally transmutive properties which can change things around it.
Check out the interview between The Culture Trip and The Chamanas regarding living cross-culturally in the age of President Donald Trump’s proposed wall.
Zapoteca hip-hop musician Mare Advertencia Lírika began as feminist and poet examining and questioning her surroundings. Lírika later branched out, joining the OGC Crew and 2003 and forming Advertencia Lirika, Oaxaca’s only female hip-hop group.
Lírika has since begun focusing on her solo work as well as community-centric activism that’s also very present in her songs. Check out “Cuando Una Mujer Avanza” or When a Woman Steps Forward, a documentary that focuses on Lírika and her life as a Zapoteca woman, and how her experience as an indigenous person held down by institutionalized racism and sexism informs her art.
4. Diana Gameros
Folk musician Diana Gameros is a musical jewel in the crown of the already deeply culturally rich San Francisco Bay area. The Berkeley-based musician came to the States to visit an aunt in Michigan when she was 13 and chose to stay. She attempted to gain legal status at 18, but was denied went on to attend college as an undocumented citizen. Gameros wrote “¿Cómo Hacer?” back in 2011 to express feelings regarding being unable to return to her home country of Mexico.
“The translation of some of these lines are, ‘How can I make life last? How can I dissolve borders? How can I make my land forgive me?’ ” she says of the song.
“I was in a very vulnerable state,” she tells NPR. “I was really missing home in Mexico, and several things happened. A very dear aunt who lived in Mexico had lost her battle to cancer. My hometown, Ciudad Juárez, where my parents and siblings and little nephews still live, was going through really tough times, since it was enduring a militarized policing of streets and drug cartel conflicts — and my father and sister experienced direct violence by getting pulled out of their car at gunpoint in broad daylight.”
The 35-year-old musician says that she now has her documentation, but is still waiting on a green card. Once it arrives, she plans to finally visit her home country after 15 years away.