Over the years, this border between countries has created a border between a people: the divide that separates mexicanos from Chicanos. Rubén Guevara calls this The Great Pocho Wall real, puro Mexicans to the south, their gringofied, English-speaking pocho brethren to the north and hes spent most of his adult life as an activist, writer and pioneering Chicano rocker (Ruben and the Jets, Con Safos) trying to tear it down through quiet artistic revolution.
His latest attempt is the Mexamérica project, a TJ-L.A. musical summit (funded by the Rockefeller Foundations U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture) that, besides being proof that TJ and L.A. have more to do with each other than LAPD corpse searches in Baja trash dumps, has resulted in a not-for-sale CD and an upcoming L.A. concert (where you can snag the CD for free). The Mexamérica disc throws together members of L.A. Chicano bands (Los Illegals, Calavera, Quetzal, Aztlán Underground, Blues Experiment, Slowrider) and Mexican bands from Tijuana (Nona Delichas, Mexican Jumping Frijoles, Tijuana NO!, Mercado Negro, Fussible) along with a tongue-twisting Mexico City cameo from Maldita Vecindads Roco, and poetic spray from Culture Clashs Richard Montoya and tijuanero Gerardo Navarro in a series of studio tag teams that rightfully deserve the transfrontera label that Guevara and project co-organizer Rubén Martínez have envisioned.
There is a transfrontera nation being born, Martínez writes in the CDs liner notes, which also include cross-border musings from Chicana writer María Elena Fernández and veteran Tijuana music critic Octavio Hernández Díaz. From Boyle Heights to Culver City/From Michoacán to Wisconsin/From the taquerías of Queens to/The raves of Guadalajara.
The roots of the project stretch back to 1974, when Guevara, who was born in East L.A. and raised in a Mexican hamlet in 40s Santa Monica, went down to Mexico feeling like family and came back a rejected orphan.
I was treated as a foreigner, recalls Guevara, whose family left Mexico for the U.S. as part of the great migration north after the Mexican Revolution. Which was odd to me, because I always thought of myself as Mexican. I was raised that way as a kid. My language was Spanish first. And suddenly I thought, Geez, I guess Im not Mexican but Im not American either. Its a cultural schism Ive been trying to bridge ever since.
Mexamérica is that schisms explosive, bumpy soundtrack, being worked out by parties on both sides of the line. Fittingly, it begins with the sound of binational friendship: Roco, Tijuana NO!s Luis Güereña and Aztlán Underground trading whats-ups and hand-slaps before ripping into Breaking Down the Borders, a bilingual metal-rapathon over indigenous drums that calls cards on the usual suspects (the border patrol, Columbus) and waves the flags of peace, justice and, in Rocos neo- pachuco parlance, una conciencia en comunidad.
The politicized agit-rocanrol thats at the top of Mexaméricas to-do list does get the occasional rest, though. Calavera and Frijoles drummer Alfonso Nakamura conspire on a ThorogoodmeetsEl Tri beer-bust garage hustle (Como Has Cambiado Tia Juana), and Fussible drops technofied banda and mariachi samples into Blues Experiments retro Eastside funk (What They Do). But its the trip-folk of Tener o Ser, a soaring violin-and-jarana-laced duet between Quetzals Martha Gonzalez and Nona Delichas Claudia Morfín (the albums only mujer â moment), that, by choosing melodies over slogans, and by weaving voices between voices and languages between languages, most delivers on Mexaméricas community-through-music promise.
Otherwise, theres a slight dissonance to Mexaméricas transnational couplings. Which makes perfect sense: L.A. and TJ are connected by the very same forces culture, economics, migration that divide them. So their merger into another country that no single flag can repre- sent (Martínez again) shouldnt sound smooth. On Mexamérica, everything is appropriately just out of sync a note, a tempo, a beat away from a seamless fit.
I think somethings been started, Guevara says. I hope that when people see the actual manifestation of our work, it creates a deeper commitment to this kind of art, and to thinking about each other more. Then lets just make more music together.
Mexamérica bands play at Olvera Street (at Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and Alameda Street) on Saturday, October 21, at 6 p.m., following El Pueblo Historical Monuments Rediscovering Our History conference. Admission is free.