Friday Nite Videos -- Songs of Immigration -- July 12, 2013
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[This year, a remarkable piece of detective work finally gave names and faces to the 28 Mexican nationals who perished in a plane crash over Los Gatos Canyon in 1949 -- the people who, as Woody Guthrie's powerful song Plane Wreck at Los Gatos says -- were called only "deportee." Their names and stories were unknown for 65 years. But no more. Tim Z. Hernandez, the writer whose investigation freed the plane crash victims from anonymity, said, "Each of our families is made up of epic stories. Tales of migration, struggle, sacrifice and triumph."
Many of the stories of immigrants and their communities are told in song. It is a complex tale, sometimes with bittersweet themes of nostalgia and regret, with both ambivalence and determination. But -- above all -- it is a story of courage and insistence on equality.
Who defines the Dream, as the Dreamers movement implicitly asserts, matters a great deal. In fact, it defines the nation, because immigrants and immigration -- both free and in chains, legal and extra-legal -- have always been central to the formation of our national identity. To recognize who we are as a nation we need, to borrow what Bob Dylan colloquially wrote, to say, "I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours."
Here are 10 songs of immigrant experience and identity that span more than a century. We begin and end with two performances (Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash) of Guthrie's Deportee. -- moderator]
Bruce Springsteen -- Deportee
These lyrics were written by folk trailblazer Woody Guthrie, and set to music by Martin Hoffman. Guthrie wrote these words on reading the story of 28 Mexican nationals who died in a plane crash while being flown back to Mexico. They were buried in an unmarked grave, their names unknown until 65 years later, when a remarkable piece of detective work brought them to light. The song is available on the album "til we outnumber 'em -- songs of Woody Guthrie," conceived by Ani DiFranco and featuring, among others, DiFranco, Tim Robbins, Country Joe McDonald, Arlo Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Billy Bragg.
La Santa Cecilia -- Ice El Hielo
The Latin-Grammy nominated group La Santa Cecilia is composed of immigrants, children of immigrants and dreamers. Ice El Hielo is a play on the acronym of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which deported over 400,000 people last year, and the Spanish words for ice. This video was produced with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and noted filmmaker Alex Rivera. NotOneMoreDeportation.com is a project of NDLON meant to foster collaboration between individuals, organizations, artists, and allies to expose, confront, and overcome unjust immigration laws.
Sign to stop deportations.
Jamaica Farewell is a nostalgic song about the beautiful women of Jamaica. It was written by Brooklyn native Lord Burgess, son of a U.S. father and Barbadian immigrant mother. Belafonte's 1957 version brought the song to world attention; it has been translated into many languages and covered by such singers as Sam Cooke, Carly Simon and Sting.
Freddy Fender -- Across the Borderline
Across the Borderline, written by Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, and Jim Dickinson, highlights the pain and uncertainty of emigration. Freddy Fender (Baldemar Garza Huerta) was a Texas native son of a Mexican immigrant. The song was featured in the soundtrack of the movie The Border.
Melanie Clarin -- Follow the Drinking Gourd
The 'Drinking Gourd' refers to the stars of the Big Dipper constellation, pointing the North Star (Polaris). The song was supposedly used as a kind of Underground Railroad map guiding the route of escaped slaves to freedom. It was first published in 1928. Lee Hayes published the song in 1947 in something like its current form in the People's Songs Bulletin. In the following decades the song featured prominently in the Civil Right Movement and in the folk song movement.
Tommy Makem -- No Irish Need Apply
No Irish Need Apply is performed by Pete Seeger, Earl Robinson, Odetta, Ronnie Gilbert, Alan Lomax, Tommy Makem and Chet Washingtonon the album Songs of the Working People -- From the American Revolution to the Civil War (1987).
The Limeliters -- Rumania, Rumania
A nostalgic Yiddish song about 'The Old Country,' here performed by the Limeliters in Yiddish and with English translation and wry commentary by Lou Gottlieb. Rumania, Rumania was written by Aaron Lebedeff, who immigrated to the United States in 1920.
West Side Story -- America
The musical West Side Story is a Romeo and Juliet crossing rival Italian and Puerto Rican gangs in New York City. In the song America, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno debate whether life is better in the adopted country or the native land. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Black Eyed Peas -- Where Is the Love?
Lead rapper will.i.am (William Adams) introduces this 2011 performance in New York's Central Park with an impassioned explanation of the debt the Black Eyed Peas owes to immigrants and their supporters: fellow BEP Allan Pineda (apl.de.ap) immigrated "from a third world country." Where Is the Love was written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter, and originally performed by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
Paul Robeson -- Ballad for Americans
Written by John La Touche, with music by Earl Robinson as part of a WPA theatre project in 1939, Ballad for Americans was first performed by Paul Robeson. The song emphatically asserts the democratic character of Amerian nationality from class, ethnic and racial, and religious angles, declaring that to be American is to be "Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, French and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Scotch, Hungarian, Litwak, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian, Greek and Turk and Czech ... and lots more."
Johnny Cash -- Deportee
Lyrics by folk trailblazer Woody Guthrie, and set to music by Martin Hoffman, in honor of 28 Mexican nationals who died in a plane crash while being flown back to Mexico. They were buried in an unmarked grave, their names unknown until 65 years later, when a remarkable piece of detective work brought them to light. This performance is by The Highwaymen -- Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.