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Go Behind the Scenes

Artists: Los Lobos

Essay | Video Transcript

Los Lobos, Mexico Americanos
by Producer John Valadez

Driving to Monterey, California last year to film Los Lobos in concert was a beautiful and strangely profound experience for me. As you wind your way through the coastal mountains and down into the Salinas valley the first thing you notice are the seemingly endless acres of strawberries. If you take the time you can see workers off in the distance, on their knees, harvesting fruit for my table and yours.

Almost twenty-five years ago I was one of those workers. I landed a job at the Bahnmiller Berry Farm up in Washington State as a strawberry picker, but I only lasted a day. I remember being covered in mud; my back and legs were completely destroyed. I could barely walk. In fact, I was in so much pain I never went back, not even to collect my pay. My Grandpa suggested that I switch to raspberries because you can stand up and you don't have to spend the day crawling on your hands and knees. He knew what he was talking about. Long before I was born, he and my Grandma had worked as laborers, picking strawberries in the fields that I was now speeding past. They never could have imagined that, years later, I would be heading down Highway 1 to film perhaps the most influential and far-reaching Chicano rock band in the history of American music.

Filming Los Lobos is both exceedingly easy and oddly perplexing. Easy because they are the nicest, coolest, most sensitive, and openhearted group of rockers you will ever meet. Perplexing because their music is so hard to categorize. They readily cross musical borders and, in so doing, eviscerate ethnic and cultural divides. This is because they are not one band but are the functional equivalent of five or six bands. They play straight ahead roots Rock and Roll, then effortlessly shift into traditional Mexican folk music. They crank out high octane Cumbias, and are equally skilled at crafting soulful avant-garde rock tunes. They play authentic Conjunto music from South Texas, and then almost in the same breath switch into a kind of Zydeco-inflected-Tex-Mex-with-rock-and-country-overtones sound, leaving me breathless at their boundless virtuosity. They sing in English. They sing in Spanish. Sometimes they just play and don't sing at all. They've mastered dozens of instruments you've never even heard of and produce unique sounds you won't hear anywhere else. In true Chicano (American) fashion they have crafted and invented a unique artistic identity from the seemingly disconnected and conflicting cultural influences around them.

For me, the greatest moment while filming the concert was when Los Lobos broke into a tune called Mexico Americano. I watched 1200 fans, mostly Anglo (white), dancing their hearts out, having a hell of a good time. It was a spontaneous outburst of uninhibited freedom and celebration. The melody and lyrics echoed through midnight streets of old Monterey, over the strawberry fields, past the migrant camps below and beyond into the vast starry darkness...

Zacatecas a Minnesota,
De Tijuana a Nueva York,
Dos paises son mi tierra.
Los defiendo con honor.

Dos idiomas y dos paises,
Dos culturas tengo yo.
En mi suerte tengo orgullo,
Porque asi lo mana Dios.

Por me madre yo soy Mexico,
Por destino soy Americano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy Mexico Americano.

Zacatecas to Minnesota,
From Tijuana to New York,
Both places are my homeland,
I defend them both with honor.

Two languages and two places,
Two cultures I do have,
They are my luck and my pride,
Because that is what God commands.

Because of my Mother I am Mexican,
By destiny I am American,
I am of the Golden people,
I am Mexican American!

I wish my Grandma and Grandpa could have been there. They would have torn up that dance floor.

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