por Tania Unzueta Carrasco
On June 11, I found myself listening to Mexico City rock and roll legend Alex Lora from El Tri in his visit to Chicago make constant jokes about 'jotos' ( faggots ) as he congratulated all the families who brought their children, because they are the next generation of 'rockeros' ( rockers ) .
He and his group were here as part of 'ChidoFest,' a Mexican rock concert that took place in Little Village's Plaza Garibaldi, playing along with other well-known icons such as Alejandra Guzman, Maldita Vecindad and Liran Roll.
A little background on Lora and El Tri: Previously known as 'Three Souls in My Mind' they have been called the Mexican equivalent of the Rolling Stones, and date back to the late 1960s. Their fans claim that they reflect the history of the poor and the workers in their songs, expressing their discontent for government and their allegiance with the people. With songs like 'El Sueño Americano' ( The American Dream ) —about the experience of many undocumented immigrants—on their latest CD, they continue to appeal to generations of unsatisfied Chicanos and Mexicans in the United States.
That Sunday night, their continued popularity was evident.
Every single fan seemed to know their songs by heart.
Lora is the kind of person who refuses to be a part of anything. He hates all three Mexican political parties, made fun of one of the night's co-performers, cursed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's mother and only made his allegiance clear to the people, the poor and the immigrants.
However, during one of these interjections he dedicated a song to all the women rockeras, saying it was from the heart of all the rockeros. He stopped and said, 'There are two or three up here who are not clapping. I wonder why that is?' A crowd of about 12,000 clapped harder.
There were some people who looked uncomfortable to me, both men and women, and Lora must have noticed as well, because he insisted, pointing out people individually.
'We are going to give them one more chance. And remember this here is being recorded for my mother to see,' he said as part of a running joke. And it was being recorded. I saw at least two cameras: one from Univision and the other one was manned by El Tri's camera girl, who I overheard promise the video was to be on the band's Web site. ( In addition, there were another dozen or so photographers. ) Talk about intimidation and the antonym of 'safe space.'
'Whoever doesn't clap is a faggot,' he said, at least two times more and made people chant it. I kept looking at the faces of the audience. Most men clapped, some having to unwillingly take their arms off the girl they were with, but preferring this to being called a faggot. I also saw a couple of uncomfortable faces, including at least one woman who refused to clap and whose expression was serious, almost angry.
'You are like a dream, and I am simply a dreamer,' were the next words from his mouth as he began that song for the rockeras, and continued with his act.
Listening to his lyrics, it is not hard to understand why people love him. He makes fun of a government who has failed a majority of the people who are here in the United States. Also, he sings about loneliness, hopes, and love, themes that are familiar to most of us, but that really resonate with young immigrants who leave their homes to look for work.
'Voy buscando encontrar mi camino, voy buscando encontrar una oportunidad ( I go looking for my path, I go looking for opportunity ) ', sings Lora to a public that is hungry for a voice and representation.
And the truth is that it gets to me, too. I, too, want to be able to sing songs that reflect my experience as an immigrant—except I am not just an immigrant; I am also queer. Lora completely loses me when he feels the need to degrade a group of people in order to get laughs and show he is still cool. And apparently it is still cool to use gay people—in particular gay men—as a joke.
Toward the end of the concert he had these little rhymes prepared about each political party. 'On my way here I saw some people on the corner with these signs that said 'one, two, three'' and continued to curse the PRI ( which if read as one word 'pre', it rhymes ) . He had a similar one for the PAN and for the PRD, but the latter was preceded by a variation of the story. [ Note: PRI, PAN and PRD are Mexican political parties. ]
'On my way here I saw these guys with really short shorts,' he said, 'I wasn't sure if they were boycotts or if they were faggots.' He talked about something else, and then returned with 'I'm pretty sure they were all fags.' Laughter roared.
Personally I think this is bad enough—to be the source of hate upon others. But the comment mentioned at the beginning of the article about the families and the next generation was true. All around me and in the crowds were kids as young as three. From backstage, where I was standing, I could see this kid in the front row who could not have been older than six, who was just enthralled and so into the songs of El Tri, singing along and raising his fist, and I couldn't help but cringe at the thought that this is the way that hate, homophobia and violence are taught—right from the mouth of 'heroes.'
And so what do we do? I imagine a small group of people with rainbow flags protesting the concert, and they do not compare with the masses who adore him. There have been cases where artists with homophobic lyrics have been denied visas, like Jamaican reggae singer Sizzla was in the UK, but I can also imagine the thousands of Mexicanos saying that El Tri is simply saying the truth, that that is the reason why their government dislikes him—that is, if the U.S. government pays attention to things that happen in the Spanish-speaking community at all.
But I digress. I do believe that artists have responsibility over their music, but what about the responsibility of those who pay $40 to see them perform?
Tania Unzueta is the managing producer of Homofrecuencia, a radio show in Spanish for LGBT youth produced by WRTE Radio Arte 90.5 FM in Chicago. www.wrte.org/homofrecuencia. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .