Cheech Marin’s 1987 music video, “Born In East LA,” was based on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” The song and video were novelties in the Weird Al Yankovic tradition. Cheech played it for laughs, even though there was no question that his heart lay with the persecuted immigrants.
Houston rapper Chingo Bling (aka Pedro Herrera III) started out in much the same vein, achieving notoriety with a video for “Taco Shop,” a spoof of 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop.”
“A lot of people tried to categorize me as ‘The Mexican Weird Al’,” he told Agustin Gurza of the LA Times. “But novelty songs don’t last long… I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong.”
Chingo Bling offers emphatic proof with his new CD, They Can’t Deport Us All. The video for the first single, “Like This and Like That,” has this to say: “They’ll never catch us all, it’ll never stop / Anytime, any corner baby, I’mma set up shop / The border got a fence, but we got underground tunnels…Right now, they got us cleaning up Katrina / Yo Kanye! Bush don’t like Mexicans either.”
“The video,” Gurza writes, “reenacts scenes from a day in the life of an illegal immigrant: Sneaking across the border, getting shortchanged after a day’s labor, running from a raid on a laundromat. It dramatizes real events in the life of Chingo Bling’s father, a Mexican immigrant who fled one of those laundromat raids with his wife and daughter, too afraid to go back for the family’s clothing.”
“My goal with the video was to make the illegal immigrant the hero for once,” Herrera says. His album unfolds from there, taking its cue from the massive 2006 marches for immigrant rights across the United States: We’re proud of our homelands but we live and work here and we claim America as our own. We apologize for nothing. We speak English how we speak it if we speak it all. We aren’t begging. We demand to be allowed to live in peace.
Chingo Bling also fills up the album with shout outs to prisoners and fuck yous to the police while he skewers liberals (skit newscaster Bob O’Riley) and rhymes “citizen” with “visitin.’” But this is no Public Enemy record, except perhaps in its polished sonic sheen and the way that it crams details into every corner of almost every track.
They Can’t Deport Us All glories in its obsessions with sex, drugs, food, and street corner hustling. It’s generally hilarious, as in its exposition of the subtleties of “Wetbonix” and “Chinglish.” The music is filled with that good time Texas keyboard sound, only with loopy synthesizers instead of Augie Meyers/Doug Sahm-styled organ. Herrera is a good rapper and there is plenty of crisp, punchy scratching. The best tunes are “Show That Chit,” an affecting strip club ballad and “Hangin’ On (My Song),” a scary number about suicide and the INS that sounds something like Run DMC if their guitarist played only chords.
The album concludes with the plaintive cry “I can’t go on / Without singing my song.” Who will listen? This is the crucial question, especially in light of the fact that a few who have listened have sent Herrera death threats. One thug even shot up his van.
There is a very different and potentially vast audience out there. The immigration marches of the past eighteen months have mobilized not only Mexicans, but Latinos from many countries as well as large contingents whose homelands are in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
What about American blacks? On Deport’s title track, Chingo raps about how his dad learned English from “black folks.” The CD’s producer is Salih Williams, the “Dr. Dre of Texas.” Many black hip-hop artists from Houston collaborate on the album, not to mention Mistah F.A.B., one of Oakland’s most popular and politically engaged rappers. None of this should be surprising since 72% of California blacks endorse full legalization for immigrants.
What about whites? Chingo Bling depicts them, especially Border Patrol agents, as ignorant rednecks. This ignores the fact that thousands of Border Patrol agents are Mexican-American. But Chingo, who probably knows the true demographics of the immigration police, seems to answer that on “Reppin’ Da Soufside,” which proudly claims “We’re takin’ over the South / Now take down your Confederate flag.” In other words, redneck stereotypes serve as symbols for the real enemy, a white-dominated system.
Consider that Poles and Irish have been prominent participants in many immigration marches. And it’s interesting to note that the Chingo Bling bobblehead doll hawked aggressively in the CD insert looks almost exactly like a Hank Williams, Jr. bobblehead doll (I see one of those every time I visit Amoeba Records in Hollywood). Even cowboy culture may contain pathways toward unity.
The spirit of this messy stumble forward is reflected in Chingo Bling’s music. Yet the hypocritical members of Congress who convened an anti-hip hop witch-hunt on September 25 want to make it impossible to record such albums, supposedly because the music isn’t polite enough. Buy a copy of They Can’t Deport Us All before it too becomes an illegal.
Rock & Rap Confidential / 2007