On February 15, 2009 BBC Mundo reported on the U.S. Border Patrol commissioning Spanish songs to deter immigration. Currently being played at border radio stations, these songs have become known as migracorridos. The corrido is a particular style of Mexican folklore narrative ballad, with themes that typically range from love to war. The U.S. Border Patrol however, paid for a CD of six songs in the style of corridos that have very specific and targeted themes. Migracorridos sing of the perils and dangers of crossing the border, usually with the protagonists facing agonizing endings-murdered, jailed, or left for dead in the middle of the desert. The Border Patrol commissioned these from Elevacion, a Washington DC based Hispanic ad agency. While the rate of arrests, deaths, and overall incidents at the border have not declined drastically in the last year (and in the BBC article, author Carlos Ceresole points out that any decline is due to the worsening U.S economy and an increase in border agents.) the Border Patrol has claimed these songs as highly successful and popular. Apparently, one song has been nominated for an award in Mexico.
Government sanctioned art is not new. Whether it is nationalist music, or war monuments, art and government agenda is at times, a symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately what is particularly offensive about migracorridos is that, the U.S. Border Patrol has stolen a Mexican folk medium, to try and keep Mexican immigrants out.
This March 15th New York Times Opinion article is about Saul Linares, a factory worker and immigrant rights advocate who wrote his own corrido. Linares wrote about Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio, who has come under federal investigation for racial profiling and police brutality. While Linares’s song will probably not get the kind of airplay that the migracorridos have, it was well received by his colleagues and he was asked to make a recording. It is in this simple act, that perhaps Linares took the medium back.
If the U.S. Border Patrol thinks that it’s clever to use a folk medium against the folk that they are trying to keep out, it is probably because they think they have more control then they do. But corridos are structured to be subversive. They are short, concise, and as Linares states in the NY Times Opinion article, he was simply “[with his] left hand...... eating, and with my right hand I was writing it down.” He did not need to be paid or pay an ad agency to send his message. He was inspired, he wrote, was heard, and the audience wanted more. Linares’s corrido was not packaged and sold, but irreverent and passionate. This is part of what makes corridos a folk medium. The U.S. Border Patrol can try to use corridos for its agenda, but it can’t stop people from writing songs back.