………From the desk of Leo J Mintek. Todos Tour Journal number four……
We had spent 4 weeks in a van on the border, from Brownsville to Tijuana. We went up into occupied Arizona and into the darkness of Reno and into the central farm valley of California. The final leg of the Todos Somos Ilegales tour would take us back across the continent from LA to NYC.
“May Day” – Los Angeles, CA May 1st is ‘International Workers Day’ and has been celebrated around the world since 1890. For decades it has been known as an immigrant rights holiday in Los Angeles, marked by annual marches downtown celebrating Latino/Indigenous culture and defiance to capitalism.
1) We kicked off May Day at the American Reclamation garbage/recycling facility. There, the mostly immigrant workforce picks through and processes recyclables from city garbage. They have been penalized and harassed for trying to unionize, in a situation where they are treated themselves like disposable garbage by the company and the industry. We sang fighting songs from the stage. Dolores Huerta and the Teamsters were there. I met workers from Mexico and El Salvador, some of whom were musicians; they asked me where they could record a demo.
2) We raced downtown and quickly set up on another stage as the first waves of the LA May Day marches fed into Pershing Square. We sang as the march entered the plaza: a wild scene of workers, unions, #occupiers, punks, hippies, youth, communists, anarchists, leftists, humanists, all very fired up!! It was powerful.
3) We drove the van to Echo Park to set up our big concert that night, our final California show. It was fast and intense, with a nervous energy different than other nights. Ceci Bastida joined us on stage. She sang Canta El Rio and during Que Queremos played the vox continental organ as I shouted out the chord changes on stage. G minor!!!! During the final encore I thought a blood vessel would burst in my face as Miles cranked every knob on my amp and the band sounded like something between a wild animal and an earthquake. Afterwards I gave a fired up interview with Remezlca and we drove out that night, East out of LA towards the other coast.
May 2 – 4 Marathon to Houston. Los Skarnales, Houston underground legends for nearly 20 years, had invited us to play Cinco De Mayo with them in their hometown. So we drove across the southwest in 3 days from LA. The drives were long and dry and we stayed close to the border. In New Mexico we heard old west stories of Pancho Villa crossing north to fight Federal troops and heard about the waves of migrants who move in the night. Migra SUVs lurked in the highway hills and we saw beautiful, sad memorials to fallen immigrants. This one was for a 47 year old woman who crossed but did not make it.
In El Paso I began to notice the deep effect of the drug trade. People said that when the coke dealers start showing up at shows it ruins the scene. At 9am in an El Paso parking lot I spoke to two day laborers on their 2nd job of the day. They were painting the lines in the parking lot, and joked about “big texas sized lines” and pretended to snort. I realized so much cocaine is coming across the border through El Paso. And so much of it stays right here in El Chuco. Meth is made in labs. Marijuana is grown all over. But cocaine only comes from Central and South America. And unless it’s on a boat it comes across La Frontera. The cocaine trade fuels so much gangsterism, addiction, police militarization, and an overall insane climate of violence.
May 5, Houston, TX– Cinco de Mayo was a double bill: Los Skarnales & Outernational at the Continental Club. Los Skarnales played ska, pachuco boogie, cumbias, jump blues, and even invited us on stage to sign a few Clash covers. After the show we stayed up all night and learned real Tejas music history with Felipe from the band. Felipe’s father was the drummer for a group called Los Johnny Jets from Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen in the southern Rio Grande valley. Los Johnny Jets had a wild rock and roll style that could not be matched by the Mexican rock and rollers from Mexico City. The border music and rock and roll was a deep influence. Los Johnny Jets even once backed up Chuck Berry, since Chuck always played with local musicians and never toured with a band.
Felipe also had LPs from Chelo Silva, great-aunt of engineer Jordon Silva who recorded and mixed several tunes on our album Todos Somos Ilegales. Chelo Silva recorded in McAllen and sang songs for the girls of Reynosa, the women of the brothels, young girls trapped in the twisted border economy.
May 9-13 Texas Finales We played with Calle 13 at House of Blues Houston and at Pachanga Festival in Austin TX. Residente Calle 13 is on the title track of our album Todos Somos Ilegales. Their live show is undeniable. Everyone knows Residente is a tremendous frontman, lyricist and rapper, and that Visitante is a musical maestro… but PG-13, their younger sister, is the secret weapon of the Calle 13 live show.
Pachanga Fest is a great festival with a very forward thinking lineup and artistic concept under the umbrella of ‘Latin Music’. We played two featured sets and did a lot of interviews. “Who is the band? Why did you make this album about the border? Why do you talk about Revolution and what do you mean?” On our stages we met Ana Tijoux and Chico Trujillo from Chile, Chingo Bling from Houston, our buddies Forro in the Dark from NYC/Brasil, the undeniable crunk cumbia DJ squadron Peligrosa, and the up and comers La Divison del Norte who were making their US debut at Pachanga Fest. La Divison Del Norte had worked hard and won a contest to appear at the festival, driving up from Mexico to make their first show across the border. Afterwards we invited them to come with us the final Texas date of our tour, in San Antonio.
May 14-17 From San Antes we drove North through Austin, Dallas, Arkansas and St Louis to Chicago, backtracking the route we took two months earlier.
May 18-20 We arrived in Chicago for the anti-NATO protests. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is basically a US-led military alliance and they are responsible for war crimes, massacres, and occupations from Afghanistan to Libya and beyond. NATO are war criminals breaking international law with no regard for human life, national sovereignty, culture, peace, or a livable future for the world.
Chicago was filled with activists from all over as well as tremendous police and military response. The city was on lock down and tensions were high! We sang at a World Can’t Wait event, followed by an Afghani Poet, an Iraqi poet, and a Chilean man who lived survived state torture in the 1970’s by the US-supported Pinochet dictatorship.
In Chicago I heard stories of border crossings. A friend tells me how 15 years ago he crossed over at El Paso and came to Chicago. He recently visited Mexico to see his family and hired a coyote to return through the Arizona Desert. Ever since 9/11 the traditional crossing points in Texas and California have been militarized and highly guarded. These days most people cross in the Arizona desert: occupied Tohono O’odham land, and a very difficult journey. I heard stories about the Coyotes, guides who rob, rape, and abuse the people paying to come to the US. It’s a full on illegal economy, a functioning part of this system. A system which lives off the labor of immigrants in the US, most of who must hire a gangster and risk death and rape to cross north to work in the shadows. That night I met a half Salvadoran, Chicago born and raised, ex-gang banger who had just left prison for the 2nd time. His only hope for a job and getting out of slanging was to travel to West Virginia and work in a coal mine. But his mother had died and he lost the opportunity. So he was back in his hood in Chicago, selling weed at a swingset at 1am.
The next night we special guested with Tom Morello at a night of music dedicated to Woody Guthrie (he would be 100 years old this year). We made friends with Son Del Viento, local Son Jarocho musicians who also performed, giving a crucial immigrant perspective to Woody Guthrie’s songs of class struggle in the fields. We jumped up to sing Deportees with Tom Morello and every other musician from the night. It was a beautiful chaotic scene.
The next morning we were in downtown Chicago, surround by uniformed Iraq Vets Against The War. They were kicking off a day of protests climaxing in a ceremony of throwing back their medals. Watch the Democracy Now video so you can hear what the vets had to say, it is incredible! We were singing in the middle of a huge crowd with Tom Morello, Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), Rebel Diaz, Son de Viento and Amy Goodman (Democracy now). The soundstystem on stage had malfunctioned so we marched out into the crowd, escorted by IVAW troops in formation. Tom and Tim both led songs and then it was Outernational’s turn. We played Sir No Sir. It was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had as a performer. Dr Blum said afterward he was in tears when the IVAW guys sang along to Sir No Sir. We love the soldiers who resist these wars of conquest and imperialist plunder, they are deeply inspiring and a crucial part of the future we need to manifest.
May 21-22 We left Chicago for New York. And we felt it proper to cross the border into Canada on the way. It’s always good to visit Canada. As similar it is to the USA (and fundamentally the same system), I always get a good perspective by leaving the country. Canada’s cities are international and culturally rich and even the mainstream white Canadian culture is more open minded and less paranoid than American culture.
May 24-26 NY Finally we made it back to NYC. We nearly lost our voices and our marbles along the way. We had to cancel a night in a favorite city of ours: Buffalo, NY. The sheer physical strain and mental challenge of the tour was taking its toll. We rolled into NYC and played our homecoming show at Dominion NY. Chad Smith was in town and jumped behind the drum kit with no preparation. I seem to remember the last time I saw him was the same circumstance. We set off the next day for Dr Blum’s home of Staten Island and closed out the tour with a very weird show in the Hamptons of Long Island.
I WANT TO THANK EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THE TOUR AND ALL THE FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FELLOW DREAMERS FROM BROWNSVILLE TO SAN ANTONIO, HOUSTON, LAREDO, MCALLEN, MARFA, AUSTIN, DENTON, EL PASO, TOHONO O’ODHAM, FLAGSTAFF, TUSCON, PHOENIX, LOS ANGELES, SAN DIEGO, TIJUANA, LYNWOOD, CARSON, SANTA MARIA, FRESNO, SACRAMENTO, BERKELEY, SAN FRANCISCO, RENO, MEXICO, EL SALVADOR, HONDURAS, GUATEMALA, ARKANSAS, ST LOUIS, CHICAGO, ONTARIO, BUFFALO and NEW YORK… WE ARE ALL ILLEGALS!