Six Immigrant Songs Of Triumph And Tragedy

The members of the NYC rock band Outernational wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to immigration issues. i i

hide captionThe members of the NYC rock band Outernational wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to immigration issues.

Courtesy of the artist
The members of the NYC rock band Outernational wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to immigration issues.

The members of the NYC rock band Outernational wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to immigration issues.

Courtesy of the artist

Music is a big part of how many of us celebrate the Fourth of July — whether it's hearing "The Stars and Stripes Forever" while you watch fireworks hit the sky or turning up the radio at a backyard barbecue. That made Tell Me More's Michel Martin wonder about music that captures the immigrant experience.

Immigration songs have a long history in America, from Pete Seeger's "No Irish Need Apply" on down. Over the last 20 years, several themes have emerged from the bulk of immigrants that have come from Central and Latin America: the dangerous trek to the States, missing home, how immigrants are treated and illegality. Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, the hosts of Alt.Latino, share these lyrical themes on Tell Me More.

Immigrant Songs

Calle 13

Pa'l Norte (Heading North)

  • Artist: Calle 13
  • Album: Residente o Visitante

"I feel like it's significant that a band based in Puerto Rico gives a shout-out to the pan-Latin interest in immigration," Contreras says. "It's not just for people in Mexico, Central and South America. I think a lot of Latinos across the country, no matter where they're from, are looking at these issues. They are, in fact, making it a part of this presidential election season."

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Los Tigres

La Jaula De Oro (The Golden Cage) feat. Juanes

  • Artist: Los Tigres del Norte And Friends
  • Album: MTV Unplugged: Los Tigres Del Norte And Friends

"The way the band writes its songs is that they spend hours talking to their fans afterwards and somebody's taking notes," Contreras says. "So whenever they get back and they hear these stories of triumph, of tragedy, of longing, those notes become songs. It's like street reporting."

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Cover for Illustrated Songs

Ave Que Emigra (Migrating Bird)

  • Artist: Gaby Moreno
  • Album: Illustrated Songs

"She's talking about missing home," Garsd says, translating. "She's saying, 'I came from far away / Searching for a blue sky following predicaments / Memories of my childhood sometimes break my soul / I never forget my Guatamala / I always take her with me.'"

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Manu Chao

Clandestino (Clandestine)

  • Artist: Manu Chao
  • Album: Baionarena [2 CD/1 DVD]

Manu Chao is Spanish, born of parents who fled Spain in France, Contreras says, and "his appeal is very broad-based because he is based in Europe and his audiences across Latin America flock to him for their own political situations." Jasmine Garsd adds, "And really, as far as immigration songs go, this one is iconic. This one is the immigration song."

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Cover for Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals

Todos Somos Ilegales (We Are All Illegals)

  • Artist: Outernational
  • Album: Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals

"They're wearing their heart on their sleeves," says Contreras. "There's no questioning what their point is or what their mission is."

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Celia Cruz

Por Si Acaso No Regreso (In Case I Don't Make It Back)

  • Artist: Celia Cruz
  • Album: Siempre Vivire

"She's an icon — one of the greatest who ever lived," says Garsd. "[This song] is about saying, 'I love my country so much and I might never make it back.' In fact, I don't think she ever did."

"She died without ever having gone back," Contreras says, "because she vowed never to go back while the Castro government was running the island."

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