While Madam Booker is away, the iPod will play. Today's guest DJ is author Sam Quinones.
A reporter for the LA Times and author of two books of nonfiction, Quinones spent 10 years in Mexico covering the country as a freelance writer. His first book, True Tales from another Mexico, featured stories of drag queens, narcoballadeers, pistoleros, Oaxacan basketball players, immigrants, and the village that got rich making Popsicles.
In his latest book, Antonio's Gun and Defino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, released this spring, Quinones explores the history of velvet painting on the border; the story of the Tomato King who returned to Mexico to run for mayor of his hometown; the emergence of opera in Tijuana; and a soccer season in Southwest Kansas. Through it all is the story of Delfino Juarez, a modern-day Huckleberry Finn, who had to leave his village to change it.
Called "genuinely original work, what great fiction and nonfiction aspires to be," by the San Francisco Chronicle, Quinones will be reading from Antonio's Gun tonight at Olsson's Books in Dupont Circle at 7.
Today on the Happy Booker, Quinones has put together a list of the top Mexican immigrant corridos by Los Tigres del Norte, the most important bi-national band and the foremost musical chroniclers of the Mexican-immigrant experience.
Guest DJ Sam Quinones
When people risk everything to escape poverty for a shot at a better life, it is grist for breathtaking stories.
And for fantastic music, as well.
For almost 40 years, Los Tigres del Norte have created the best of it, combining music and tales into a series of terrific corridos, ballads.
The band is as unknown to non-Mexican America as the immigrants to whom they sing.
Los Tigres left Mexico in 1968, a child norteno band of brothers and a cousin —led by accordionist/singer Jorge Hernandez —and came to San Jose, California.
Since then, their stories of drug-smuggling shootouts and the anguish of immigrant life, backed by cheerful accordion polkas, transformed Mexican pop music.
Their best songs gauge Mexican immigrant feeling better than any anthropologist. (Transcribing their songs, which are sung in clear Spanish, can be great homework for those learning Spanish, by the way.)
They still tour 10 months a year on both sides of the border. Their dances in Mexico start at midnight and go to 5 a.m.
The band has released several greatest-hits albums:
Here are five of their best songs about Mexican immigration, plus one album worth noting:
VIVAN LOS MOJADOS (Long Live The Wetbacks): Recorded in 1976, it was the first Mexican pop music hit about illegal immigrants, most of whom at the time were farmworkers.
The song was the first to express how they saw their situation, and asked the question “when the wetback goes on strike, who will pick the onions, lettuce and beets?” In small towns across America, Los Tigres heard a roar go up every time they started the song and realized that undocumented farmworkers ached for songs that recognized them. Vivan los Mojados spawned a wave of jokey mojado songs by other bands in which the ingenious immigrant fools the bumbling Border Patrol.
LA JAULA DE ORO (The Gold Cage): Years later, the immigrant has outwitted the Border Patrol. He finds himself imprisoned in his new country. He has all he needs, but is unhappy. He cannot go outside for fear of being deported. His children, meanwhile, reject being Mexican and don’t speak Spanish. In the middle of the song, his son, in English, says, “Whatcha talking about, Dad? I don’t want to go back to Mexico. No way.”
PEDRO Y PABLO (Peter and Paul): The story of two orphaned brothers, inseparable friends. The oldest goes to the United States to earn money so his brother will be able to study. While he’s away, his girlfriend takes up with the younger brother. The kind of melodrama drenching many great Tigres’ songs.
El OTRO MEXICO (The Other Mexico): The Mexico in the United States. The song was a response to an attitude, common in Mexico for many years, that immigrants were betraying their country for leaving it to work in the United States. The song insists it is immigrants who keep Mexico alive.
”While the rich go abroad to hide their money and travel Europe,” the band sings, “the campesinos who came here illegally send almost all our money to those who remain back home.”
TRES VECES MOJADO (Three Times a Wetback): The story of a Salvadoran immigrant who must cross three borders to get to the United States.
The band recorded it in 1988 amid the exodus of Central Americans to the U.S., gaining them a huge following there. One radio station in Guatemala has a daily Tigres del Norte hour.
The only unbelievable part of the song is when a Mexican gives the Salvadoran immigrant a hand in his trip – an uncommon occurrence, according to many Central Americans.
JEFE DE JEFES (Boss of Bosses): One of the few double albums in Mexican pop history, it was recorded in 1997. The album title refers to a fictional drug boss and the album has several narco songs.
But the album was also a response to the anti-illegal immigrant feeling created by California’s Proposition 187, which would have denied various government services to illegal immigrants.
Three of the album’s best songs are about immigrants and their conflicted feelings toward Mexico and the United States. El Mojado Acaudalado (The Wealthy Wetback) is about an immigrant who’s made his money and, not feeling welcome in the United States, is returning to Mexico. Mis Dos Patrias (My Two Countries) has an immigrant naturalizing as a U.S. citizen, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and protesting that, again, he is not a traitor to Mexico, but simply wants to protect his pension in the country where his children were born. Finally, Ni Aqui Ni Alla (Neither Here Nor There) doubts that immigrants can find justice in either country.