Defining a path for immigrants to achieve U.S. citizenship is one of chief challenges being faced by Congress now. So, the character strength of CITIZENSHIP (and its core virtue of Justice), seems an appropriate choice for this month’s post. The yearly fireworks of July 4 are a perfect emblem for this strength. Josh became a U.S. citizen in the late 1960’s. We still remember how deeply affecting the naturalization ceremony was for both of us.
Musically, the quintet “Los Tigres del Norte,” recognized as “the voice of the immigrant people,” made headlines in 2010 by joining a massive boycott of the State of Arizona for its controversial, punitive immigration policy. Now, with over 32 million records to their credit, they have won five Latin Grammy Awards. Among their hits are songs about the plight of Latino immigrants: “El Tamal,” “La Jaula de Oro,” “Contrabando Y Traicion,” and “Tres Veces Mojado.”
“Tres Veces Mojado” (“Three Times a Wetback”) from 1989 is a corrido (ballad) that vividly expresses the determination of an immigrant to achieve legal status. “Wetback,” an ethnic slur originally applied to those who swam rivers like the Rio Grande to freedom, takes on special meaning here.
We learn this from the song’s opening words, which may be summarized as follows: “When I came from my country El Salvador in order to reach the United States, I knew I would need more than courage…I had three borders to cross…walked undocumented…three times I had to risk my life. So say I’m three times wet.”
The closing words speak of good fortune and express the spirit of dedication to the cause. “Luckily a Mexican called Juan gave me a hand….I’ve become legalized at last….I dedicate my song to those, who like me, are wet three times.”
The emotional tone of the music is upbeat, conveying a transformative power not unlike that of The Blues, which also carry an underlying message of survival and commitment to move on to a better place. An example of what is called Tejano or Norteno style, the song here is strophic–that is, the melody is repeated with each change of verses. At the same time, the song shows a unique kind of acculturation. Its Polka beat and the use of the accordion reflect the long-term effect of Polish and German immigration to south Texas and Mexico that dates back to the late 19th century. As you will hear, it also tells a story.
This video by Los Tigres del Norte singing “Tres Veces Mojado” (“Three Times a Wetback”) turns the term “illegal immigrants” into people.
A personal note: we live in a small town with a large immigrant Latino population. So we have some of the best Latino food in the area. We also have an organization called Neighborhood Link, that provides services for the community. When we applied to volunteer there to bring music to their children’s programs, we were told that so many of the mothers were extremely depressed because of terrible things, including rape, they had suffered crossing the border. That raised our awareness of the high costs of their journey. Let’s hope those will soon become part of the past.