Slowly but surely, I am learning to appreciate the role of music in all of the work that I do. Whether drying dishes in the comedor or celebrating life and community in posadas or graduations or other fiestas, songs pop up everywhere. I have heard a great variety stretching from Cielito Lindo, which is considered the second national anthem of Mexico to the many corridos (ballads) that form many a migrant’s repertoire.
No musical performance I have heard was quite as unlikely as this Tuesday, when one of the students in the Day Laborer Exchange program that I coordinate brought her guitar to the Home Depot parking lot where the day laborers wait for jobs. The week before, a few of the workers had been talking nostalgically about music from their home countries and the instruments that they enjoy. I don’t think that they were expecting these musings to result in a parking lot jam session.
Yet that is exactly what happened. When the Georgetown sophomore took out her guitar and started playing, day laborers began to draw near. We started to invent an English/Spanish call and response song to teach some of the basic phrases that we work on at the corner. As more people gathered, she handed the guitar over to a man who proceeded to sing a corrido from Los Tigres del Norte about the difficulties of migration and especially of the relationships between immigrant parents and their US-born children.
The tone of the morning was lighthearted but the lyrics of the song were painfully close to the reality of the immigrant experience. That is the power of music. To express hard truths and process reality. But also to bring people together. It is not an escape from the journey but instead the underlying rhythm of life.
As we left the parking lot, many of the day laborers were still talking about instruments and music and songs and one Mexican from Oaxaca was still singing some of his favorite songs. Apparently they started passing around a sheet of paper as they started to think of organizing people into a music group – inspired by the Jornaleros del Norte, a band of day laborers who have grown in fame and now participate in many activism movements (Below is a video of one of their songs). Music expresses the mix between lighthearted art and profound realities. Music is not really the goal. It is part of the journey and part of forming community. Part of remembering our common humanity.
Especially when it pops up in the most unlikely of places.