The scene in the just-released music video by Alex Rivera looks calm and quaint, at first. Like a few friends camping in the desert who decide to sing a song at sunset, accompanied only by acoustic guitar and the taps of their toes in the dirt. But it’s not so simple. The place is Arizona, the state that wants to regulate illegal immigration at the cost of human rights. And the city is Phoenix, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has terrorized residents with his harsh crackdown on illegal immigration. The friends consist of a guitarist, percussionist, acclaimed Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, and a few others — supporters of Puente and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), organizations that are fighting against anti-immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere. They have gathered to give a message.
“La hora sonó / No permitiremos más, más tu doctrina del shock” (The time is now / We won’t allow any more of your “shock” doctrine), sings Tijoux, seated on a log wearing flip-flops and a red hoodie. Her song, “Shock,” rails against corrupt, greedy politicians who govern by the fist. (See the complete lyrics to “Shock” with an English translation here.) Tijoux wrote it with Chile in mind, but the lyrics apply to Arizona as well.
To her side, a makeshift screen — not much more than a white sheet — displays images and clips from recent marches and rallies in Arizona. It also shows one object of the song’s anger: Arpaio. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio is attacking immigrant families in Arizona…” reads a statement on the screen. “But immigrants are fighting back…” Tijoux keeps her rapping steady and firm. Her solo voice accompanied by a single acoustic guitar — different from the loud, highly produced version of the album — reminds the viewer of her vulnerability and humanity. Of the humanity of the multitudes caught in the chaos of Arizona’s harsh immigration stance.
“Shock” is Rivera’s second music video collaboration with NDLON. The first, made a couple of years ago, features Manu Chao singing “Clandestino” (Clandestine) outside an Arizona “tent city” erected by Arpaio to house detained illegal immigrants. Conditions there have been described as unpleasant at best and inhumane at worst.
To explain this context, the video begins with the sound of a phone ringing. A woman’s voice on the answering machine of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office says, “Thanks for calling… here are some interesting facts…Nearly all those convicted in Maricopa County live in a tent city. It is an inexpensive jail housing system that has become known throughout the world….more tents are now under construction to make room for a predicted surge in illegal immigration arrests.” Meanwhile, images of that tent city are seen in the video — a tall guard tower, barbed wire fences, men wearing shackles over black-and-white striped jump suits, and tents that are little more than canopies on poles, with rows of thin beds underneath.
Then the video zooms in on Chao, strumming an acoustic guitar outside of the barbed wire fence. He begins to sing “Clandestino,” his popular immigrant anthem, with a clear, melodious voice. Chao’s only accompaniment is a fellow guitarist playing and singing the counter-melody. “My life is prohibited, say the authorities,” sings Chao. Then he changes an original lyric to sing, “Maricopa, illegal,” and gestures behind him toward the camp. Chao wears an image of two eyes on his shirt lapel, as if to indicate that he is watching the world.
Rivera filmed the video in a single take; law enforcement arrived within moments to order Chao to leave the property. NDLON’s lawyers held off the police long enough to film the video. Tijoux’s video lacks that sense of urgency. But its placid setting presents a stark contrast to the video clips, where police swarm in riot gear on Arizona streets.
“Arpaio is telling us ‘you’re illegal,’ but through music we’re telling him, ‘no, you are illegal,’” NDLON director Pablo Alvarado told me in a recent visit to Occidental College, explaining why these kinds of songs and videos are so important. He hopes that they can help to “dispel myths” about immigrants and “reach out to the hearts and minds” of anti-immigrant opponents.
Both videos are part of NDLON’s “Alto Arizona” campaign. Learn more at http://altoarizona.com/.