Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Border Patrol requests Mexican music encore (Migra Corridos)


Border Patrol requests Mexican music encore

By Ashley Surdin


2:00 a.m. March 17, 2009

“Before you cross the border, remember that you can be just as much a man by chickening out and staying.

“Because it's better to keep your life than ending up dead.”

– “Veinte Años” (“20 Years”)

WASHINGTON – To its arsenal of agents, fences and stealthy sensors skirting the nation's southern border, the U.S. Border Patrol may soon add another weapon in the fight against illegal immigration: a follow-up album.

Yes, as in CD. With singers, guitars, accordions.

In what may be among the lesser-known deterrents exercised by the nation's security forces, the Border Patrol is deploying up-tempo Mexican folk songs about tragic border crossings to dissuade would-be illegal immigrants. The agency has paid – how much, it won't say – a Washington-based advertising company to write, record and distribute an album, “Migra Corridos,” to radio stations in Mexico. Its title is intended to mean “songs of the immigrant,” but migras is commonly understood as a code word for Border Patrol in much of Mexico.

The first CD of five songs was recorded in 2006 and distributed over the past two years. Another CD is scheduled to be ready by May. There are also plans for a collection of similarly themed songs with musical styles geared toward would-be illegal immigrants from Central America.

Many stations in Mexico that play the songs and the listeners who request them are seemingly oblivious to who is behind the bouncy ballads of death, dashed dreams and futile attempts at manhood.

“It's pretty slick,” said Jason Ciliberti, a spokesman with the Border Patrol in Washington.

The music is part of the Border Safety Initiative, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's push to squash smuggling. The Border Patrol launched “No Más Cruces en la Frontera,” a campaign aimed at educating communities with potential illegal immigrants about the dangers of crossing.

Illegal immigrants can encounter severe hazards on their journey: professional smugglers and bandits who beat, rob, rape and abandon them; bitingly cold or scorching temperatures; snakes, scorpions; drowning; and death by dehydration or exhaustion.

The slogan, which means both “no more crossings on the border” and “no more crosses on the border,” has relied on newspaper, TV and billboard ads.

The most recent twist on the media blitz is “Migra Corridos,” a brainchild of Elevación, an advertising firm that specializes in targeting the Latino market. Elevación, which had been working on the border campaign, sold the Border Patrol on the idea of songs-as-deterrents.

The five-song album draws on corridos, popular Mexican narrative ballads with roots in Spain's Middle Ages. Re-energized in recent decades by such popular Mexican groups as Los Tigres del Norte, the genre reverberates deeply with Mexican and Mexican-American communities, said Martha Chew Sanchez, the author of “Corridos in Migrant Memory” and professor at St. Lawrence University in New York.

The songs, Sanchez said, humanize the experiences of those communities with tales of love, death, migration, globalization and social and political events. More recently, there has been an explosion in the popularity of narcocorridos – ballads that recount the drug traders, their violent exploits and, often, their deaths.

Among the perils mentioned on “Migra Corridos”: a cousin who dies of dehydration, a mother who is raped and beaten by a child-killing smuggler, one man's suffocation in an airtight tractor-trailer.

“He put me in a trailer

“There I shared my sorrows

“With 40 illegals

“They never told me

“That this was a trip to hell.

– “El Respeto” (“Respect”)

Whatever the subject, the songs can connect with listeners, as long as they tell a compelling narrative, Sanchez said.

“Migra Corridos” lives up to its dance-inducing predecessors, despite its somber stories. The music is peppy, even cheerful.

The songs were distributed to six Mexican states, where, according to Elevación's research, many migrants left for the border: Zacatecas, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco and Chiapas. Elevación contacted stations and asked them to play the songs as part of the border initiative.

“When we approached the Mexican media, we approach it as a humanitarian campaign,” said Pablo Izquierdo, vice president of Elevación. “We didn't tell them who was behind it because consumer research indicated that it wasn't going to be as well-received.”

But, Izquierdo said, there's nothing fake about the songs. “It's all heartfelt, and it's all from the point of view of the people.”

Izquierdo said feedback from the stations was positive and that even though the CDs were not for sale, listeners started requesting the songs.

It is difficult to measure how effective the corridos have been in aiding the government's effort, but the Border Patrol's Ciliberti cited a steady decline in deaths and rescues along the southern border, attributing it to the agency's broader approach to illegal immigration. According to Ciliberti, 492 people died along the southern border in 2005. Last year, 390 deaths were recorded. In 2005, the Border Patrol assisted 2,550 people in distress in that same area. Last year, 1,263 were rescued.

“There's no mention of being punitive in any of these corridos. These are simply about the dangers,” he said.

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