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Mexican singer writes migrant corridos to make human suffering visible

Mexican singer writes migrant corridos to make human suffering visible

Miguel Salas is one of the thousands of Mexican migrants who, due to the violence generated by organized crime and drug trafficking, have been displaced from their places of origin. 

He had to leave his town in Amaculí Durango, after his father witnessed a crime, which represented a danger for him and his entire family since organized crime in the rural communities of that state located in northwestern Mexico, control and terrorize peasant communities. 

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Since he was a child, Miguel explains that singing corridos has been a way of expressing himself, but since he, his son and wife had to migrate to Tijuana at the end of the 90’s in search of the ‘American dream,’ his lyrics have taken a different direction. They are more political and of protest, in order to make visible the suffering of those who have no other option but to migrate. 

Unfortunately, the day-to-day work as a construction worker and provider for his family left him with no time other than to write the verses that came to him in his free time and in moments of inspiration.

“First we arrived in Sinaloa before coming to Tijuana, I remember that one of the first corridos I composed about what it means to migrate was done with a piece of charcoal on a piece of cardboard. About 15 years ago,” said Salas. “Now I have more than 100 songs that talk about all kinds of things, but nothing about the cartels, I have one called ‘The flight of the bird,’ it’s about how birds can cross borders but humans can’t.”

“Now I have more than 100 songs that talk about all kinds of things, but nothing about the cartels, I have one called ‘The flight of the bird,’ it’s about how birds can cross borders but humans can’t.” – Miguel Salas

Like many, Miguel was trapped in limbo between a city that was not his and with difficulties in being able to integrate into life in that border city and without the possibility of crossing into the United States to seek refuge. Miguel decided to cross the border illegally and leave his family behind. He hoped to save money and pay for a coyote to cross his wife and daughter who had been born while they were in Tijuana. 

The opportunity to find a job that would give him the possibility of saving money did not come due to his migrant status. The only thing he could do was stay alive and send money to his family across the border. Years later he was deported to Tijuana, ending his hopes of crossing into the US with his family.

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Without much education to access a well-paid job, Miguel and his family remained in Tijuana to provide a good education for his two children. After years of surviving working multiple jobs at once, Miguel and his family joined a contingent of Central American migrants set up in a camp a few yards from the San Ysidro border crossing in Chaparral.

It was in February 2020 that their hope of crossing into the US resurfaced: they joined the camp and despite very few Mexican citizens who were there, Miguel did not feel any difference between them and the Central Americans who founded the Chaparral camp. 

“I felt equal to them, we are all human you know? But they have suffered more because they had to cross three borders as my corrido says,” explained Salas. “I saw and heard so many tragedies, people being attacked with knives, a woman missing a leg because she fell off a train, or people who just died on the way here.”

It was at Camp Chaparral that Miguel was inspired to write a song addressed to the Biden government about Central American migrants, when the camp received international media attention. He said that he wrote it in no more than five minutes, without any instrument, just him and his long experience of 15 years composing.

There Miguel met Judith, the director of the Border Line Crisis Center, dedicated to offering free humanitarian and legal aid to migrants seeking refuge. Without hesitation, Judith decided to support him and asked him to record one of his corridos addressed to the newly elected president of the United States, Joe Biden.

“When I heard the song I was quite moved, I liked its lyrics. My family is from Sinaloa and even though the cartel culture is so strong within the corrido culture, I like how corridos tell stories through music,” said Judith. “I think it’s very important that they sing about themselves or talk about themselves, and not just an artist who doesn’t even know what it’s like to be a migrant.”

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Miguel has two dreams, the first, to reunite with his family who have been living as refugees in the U.S. for more than 6 months. The second, to be able to live from their songs and that their corridos reach more and more people so that they become aware of the adverse situations that migrants experience when trying to achieve a more dignified life on the other side of the border. 

“My dream is to be heard by the Biden government and get my pardon, then sing my songs there. In fact, I want to make a record of my songs. Unfortunately I live daily and I can’t pay the 15 thousand pesos to pay for a studio. But then I met Judith from Border Line Crisis and she took care of all the expenses for me to record one of my migrant songs.”

Mexican migrant Miguel Salas is one of many migrants currently stuck in the border city of Tijuana, while hoping to seek asylum. With hopes of immigrating to the U.S. to reunite with his family, Salas writes and sings corridos as a way to capture and educate others on the Latino migrant experience. Photo: Luis Gutierrez

“My dream is to be heard by the Biden government and get my pardon, then sing my songs there [in the United States]. In fact, I want to make a record of my songs.” – Miguel Salas

Miguel thinks that corridos like his could be very popular among the migrant population, not only Mexicans in California, but among all those who have had to go through a difficult path to reach the United States, given that music is a universal language and its lyrics evoke similar experiences within this community. 

He is currently trying to survive in Tijuana as a construction worker and doing some other part-time jobs, but he clings to the idea of ​​reuniting with his family on the other side and being able to provide a decent life through the composition of their corridos.

Although his lyrics are now inspired by this problem, he does not rule out composing songs about the beautiful things in life when he can finally reunite with his family and is no longer considered an illegal human being in the US.

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