The U.S.-Mexico border (about 50 miles on each side) is a distinct cultural zone for both countries, and the cultural capital of the region is El Paso-Cd. Juarez. The Tigres del Norte band has been the center of gravity of border culture for several decades, and a review of the lyrics of their songs is more instructive and a lot more fun than reading several PhD dissertations on border sociology.
Judging from the Tigres, the topics of immigration and drug trafficking, as well as the more normal subjects of unrequited love and infidelity, have been foremost on the minds of border residents for about a decade. Unlike the official discourse on these subjects Tigres tell it like it is, without mincing words, from the perspective of the ordinary "little person," indeed, so much so that some of their best songs, including the current No. 1 best-seller La Granja, have been banished from radio stations in Mexico. This is strange, since in most songs, like the old westerners, law enforcement always wins.
In one popular song the singer comes to understand the drug lord driving the big golden SUV is actually living in a golden cage from which there is no escape. In another a Mexican American, feeling estranged in his own land, complains, "I didn't cross the border, the border crossed me," referring to the War with Mexico in 1846. In yet another a Salvadoran "mojado" (wetback) complains of the treatment he got in Mexico during the three times he traveled north. In the latest best-seller, La Granja, a chicken farm goes out of control when the dogs are unleashed during troubled times, and the singer asks for all the nearby farmers to help tie the dogs up again--a thinly veiled allegory about contemporary violence in Mexico. The organizers of a concert in Mexico City last October requested Tigres not to perform that song. This, in turn, caused the Tigres to cancel the concert.
I saw the Tigres at the Coliseum in El Paso a couple of years ago. The crowd was as exciting to watch as the musicians. There is a standing section in the center floor that fills up quickly, a lot of people bring flasks with them, and for a couple of hours you are at ground zero in a cultural zone where everybody knows there is a Mexico and a U.S.A (not always portrayed as friendly beings) but for a moment the border identity triumphs.
To hear La Granja click here and then click the You Tube button.