Friday, March 27, 2009

Crossover Appeal

Comment from: gus chavez

For your information. La migra in action, Hispanic advertising agencies see opportunity and cash in on the plight of the immigrants coming into the U.S. In this case, crossing the line has a new meaning and interesting opportunity for Hispanic marketing and music artists.
Gus Chavez

Crossover Appeal
By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post, March 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - To its arsenal of agents, fences and stealthy sensors skirting our
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 our nation's security forces, the
Unites States Border Patrol (USBP) is deploying up-tempo Mexican folk songs about tragic
border crossings to dissuade would-be undocumented immigrants.

The agency has paid - how much, it won't say - a D.C.-based advertising company to write,
record and distribute an album, "Migra Corridos," to radio stations in Mexico. Its title, its
makers say, is intended to mean "songs of the immigrant" but "migras" [sic] 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 in the works is scheduled to be ready by May. There are also tentative plans for a collection
of similarly themed songs with styles of music more geared toward would-be undocumented
immigrants from Central America.

Many of the 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.

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")

"It's pretty slick," says Jason Ciliberti, a spokesman with the USBP in Washington.

The music is part of the Border Safety Initiative, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's push
to squash smuggling and increase safety along the border. As part of that effort, the USBP
launched "No Mas Cruces en la Frontera," a campaign aimed at educating communities with
many potential undocumented immigrants about the dangers of crossing.

Undocumented 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.

"No Mas Cruces en la Frontera" (which means both "no more crossings on the border" and "no
more crosses on the border") has primarily relied on newspaper, television and billboard ads. In
one poster, men walk in a line, with some of their shadows showing as crosses rather than
bodies. In another, someone has collapsed in a seemingly endless desert. "Before crossing to the
other side," the poster advises, "remember that the burial plots are full of the valiant and the

The most recent twist on the media blitz is "Migra Corridos," a brainchild of Elevación, a D.C.-
based advertising boutique, with 20 or so employees, that specializes in Hispanic market
advertising - producing jingles, television spots and billboards. Elevación, which had already
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. Reenergized in recent decades by such popular Mexican groups as Los Tigres del
Norte, the genre reverberates deeply with Mexican and Mexican American communities, says

Martha I. Chew Sanchez, the author of "Corridos in Migrant Memory" and an associate
professor at St. Lawrence University in New York.

The songs, Sanchez says, 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 from dehydration, a
mother who is raped and beaten by a child-killing smuggler, one man's suffocation in an airtight

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 strike a chord with listeners, as long as they tell a
compelling narrative, Sanchez says. "If it's a good story, the people will like it. And no matter
what generation, they will listen to it, dance to it."

"Migra Corridos" lives up to its dance-inducing predecessors, despite its somber stories. The
music is peppy, even cheerful. Drums tippity-tap along with piping accordions and strumming
guitars. The songs were distributed to six Mexican states, where, according to Elevación's
research, many migrants left for the border: Zacatecas, Michoacán, 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," says
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 says, there's nothing fake about the songs. "There is no commercial message. It's
all heartfelt, and it's all from the point of view of the people."

After some hours
Abelardo opened his eyes
And in the middle of the cold night
Discovered his dead cousin at his side.
- "El Más Grande Enemigo" ("The Biggest Enemy")

Izquierdo says that feedback from the stations was positive and that even though the CDs were
not for sale, listeners started requesting the songs. Research done by Elevación in the
communities where the songs were being played found that the songs became "the talk of the
town," Izquierdo says.

It is difficult to measure how effective the corridos have been in aiding the government's overall
effort, but the Border Patrol's Ciliberti cites a steady decline in deaths and rescues along the
Southwest border over the past four years. He attributes it to the agency's broader approach to
undocumented immigration. According to Ciliberti, 492 people died along the Southwest border
in 2005. Last year, 390 deaths were recorded. In terms of rescues in that same area, the Border
Patrol assisted 2,550 people in distress in 2005. Last year, 1,263 were rescued.

"What we're doing now, that we really haven't done before, is take a more holistic view of
border security," he says. "There's no mention of being punitive in any of these corridos. These
are simply about the dangers."

But whatever its intent, the program raises questions about whether the Border Patrol should be
doing this at all. The U.S. has long used music, art and other forms of cultural diplomacy as a
way of reaching and influencing people in other countries, but those efforts have been relatively
out in the open. The Border Patrol's involvement is not mentioned, nor is it traceable on the
brown glossy CD cover with "migra corridos" printed in gold. More-discerning eyes might
notice "bsi" (for Border Safety Initiative) at the bottom right-hand corner inside the cover.

Still, the agency defends the approach despite the lack of transparency. "I think the message
we're putting out is real, and it's a message that needs to be heard," says Steve Cribby, also with
the USBP. "Whether people decide to hear it or not is up to them. We're not making anything

up. We're educating people."

Juan Flores, a drummer in a Stockton, CA-based band that plays corridos, says the USBP
approach is a smart one. "They are thinking outside the box," he says. "It's propaganda, in a
good way."

A number of the professional writers, musicians and singers for the "Migra Corridos" project
are Mexican nationals now living in Washington and New York. And all were aware of Border
Patrol's involvement - and concealment - in the project.

Rodolfo Hernández, who works for Elevación, wrote the lyrics for the corridos, inspired by
newspaper clippings. He said any initial hesitation among the musicians was eased knowing the
CD's release would benefit their country. "Mexico is suffering a lot," says Hernández, 35. "The
effect of immigration is not just what happens at the border, it's what we leave behind."

And the backing of the USBP didn't give pause to New York-based Rubén Flores, who sang two
of the tracks on the CD: "En la Raya" and "Veinte Años."

"I thought it was a smart thing to do, to have that kind of approach," says Flores, who once sang
for a popular musical comedy show in Mexico. To those in his native country who might feel
deceived by the project, Flores says, "I would like them to think of their parents, their brothers
and sisters - the people who are left behind if somebody dies - and how they would feel," he

"I would say that if they really listen to the lyrics and what the song is about, that is the most
important thing," he says.

"It wouldn't be important where the message is coming from, but the essence."

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