February 12, 2003
funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
By Josh Kun
LAST MONTH TWO Mexican women who have yet to be identified were thrown from the back of a pickup truck into an embankment on the side of a southern California highway, where they died instantly. They were 2 of 12 Mexican migrants being shuttled in a flatbed across the line at the Tecate checkpoint to points north. In a story that Mexicans are getting to know by heart, the truck sped across the border, the Border Patrol chased, the coyote behind the wheel pushed the truck to 80, the Border Patrol threw down spike strips, the truck ripped through a guardrail, and the familiar search for a new life ended in anonymous death.
"The line always wanted to suck the private out of you," a character from Paul Flores's recent novel Along the Border Lies remarks. "Spit you out and make you part of the noise."
The noise comes from helicopters and steel turnstiles, padlocks and cocking shotguns the noise of armed soldiers in migra green fighting unarmed civilians with backpacks and baseball caps. It's the soundtrack to what Naomi Klein describes in the current issue of the Nation as "Fortress NAFTA," the birth of a new "security continent" selectively militarized by Presidents Bush and Fox to maximize commercial mobility and labor exploitation. Klein points to Fox's Bush-backed inauguration of Plan Sur (a Mexican close-the-southern-border initiative that deports Central American migrants headed to the United States), which recently resulted in the United States footing the bill for the detention of Indian refugees in a Guatemalan holding pen.
But as the migrant deaths off California Interstate 8 remind us, a fortress continent does not mean the end of fortress nations. The Web site for the Arizona vigilante group American Border Patrol, for example, provides anyone who wants it wherever you are with downloadable software that lets you monitor and report border crossing activity through Web surveillance cameras, "bringing you to the front lines," as the organization's slogan puts it. The border between the United States and Mexico remains its own battlefield, or in the words of corridista Paulino Vargas, a tomb. On the southern side of the border wall near the Tijuana Airport, the tomb has been given improvised tombstones: hundreds of white crosses that try to bring the dead back from the noise of the line.
Revolución de amor, the new album from Guadalajara pop-rock giants Maná, includes "Pobre Juan," a song about a Mexican migrant who gets jacked by his coyote and never makes it across. Buried beneath the song's patronizing title is a memorable image, "en la línea se quedó" he stayed in the line, never arriving, never returning.
The new video from Mexico City's Molotov, "Frijolero" (from their third Universal/Surco album, Dance and Dense Denso), is in heavy rotation on MTV Latin America. It turns the real-life video game of the border chase into an animated, red-white-and-green South Park-ian comic drama complete with Bush caricatures, falling missiles, and chorus lines of dancing girls. The band's binational makeup gives the video's border plots extra racial weight. White, New Orleans-born drummer Randy Ebright plays the two most prominent gringo roles, the white contractor cruising street corners for day laborers and the Border Patrol agent cruising street corners for illegals. His three Mexican bandmates one for each color of the Mexican flag play the day laborers and the middle finger flipping cholos on lowrider bicycles.
That the same gringo plays both roles only highlights the cruel paradox of a sealed, militarized border that agribusiness and industry desperately need to keep open (one of the few things Bush, a Texas businessperson well aware of the value of illegal Mexican labor to his own assets and campaign finance, knows for sure). That the same Mexicans play both roles only highlights Mexican typecasting the laborer is the illegal is the laborer.
All of this is carried out as the visual companion to a song that, lyrically anyway, boils the battle of the U.S.-Mexico border down to the violence of racial insult, to a bout of bilingual name-calling that radio stations are gonna have to bleep out, if they play it all (it's not Molotov's finest musical moment). The song flits between the Mexican telling the gringo to stop calling him frijolero to the gringo telling the frijolero to stop calling him gringo. It's a racist call ("Don't call me gringo you fuckin beaner / Stay on your side of the goddamn river") and a defensive response ("No me llames frijolero, pinche gringo puñetero") that rarely get heard together.
"Frijolero" is as deep as Molotov's lefty frat-boy politics have always been (in the video they just can't resist the urge to turn a mountain into a naked breast). But it does end up calling a few cards on Bush's plan to wreak global devastation in the name of homeland security. Molotov drop in oil and drugs and remind us that the same imperial mind-set pushing us toward war has long been workshopped at the border itself, where death and democracy are all too familiar neighbors.
E-mail Josh Kun at firstname.lastname@example.org.