Better than journalists or anthropologists, Los Tigres del Norte—made up of four Hernández brothers (Jorge, Hernán, Eduardo and Luis) and their cousin (Oscar Lara)—have chronicled the epic tale of the arrival of Mexicans in the United States.
Immigrants themselves who left their native Sinaloa and headed north to San Jose, Calif., some 40 years ago, Los Tigres spoke to (and often for) a Mexican audience in America through songs that recognize the labor and longings of those immigrants, often voiceless in both countries. Here’s a list of the top 10 songs about mexicanos in the United States by the legendary norteño band of brothers.
“Jaula de Oro” from the album of the same name
By the time this song came out, the omnipresent character in all of Los Tigres’ songs, the immigrant, had outwitted la migra, only to find he feels out of place in the country he tried so hard to enter. The feeling of being trapped inspired this classic’s title, which translated means “Gold Cage.” El inmigrante aches to return home, but can’t leave his house for fear he’ll be deported. Even worse, his own children speak to him in a foreign language. “I don’t want to go back to Mexico—no way, Dad,” says his son, in English.
“Pedro y Pablo” from Jaula de Oro
A brother goes north to work and support his sibling’s studies back home. Los Tigres’ poignant storytelling, as in many of their tunes, contrasts starkly with the cheerful accordion and bouncy bass.
“Los Hijos de Hernández” from Gracias América . . . Sin Fronteras
A tribute to the many immigrants and their children who have “put their heart on the battlefield” on behalf of the U.S. armed forces, this song rhetorically asks, “Maybe my sons took the place that the sons of an Anglo-Saxon didn’t fill?”
“Tres Veces Mojado” from Ídolos del Pueblo
Civil war brought hundreds of thousands of Central Americans to the United States during the ’80s. Los Tigres’ all-embracing americanismo prompted this tale of a Salvadorean who crosses three borders to come to the United States. Because of the song, Los Tigres del Norte regularly play Central America to sold-out stadiums.
“Vivan los Mojados” from the album of the same name
This anthem, which shone a light on the importance of immigrant labor, posed the question, “When the wetback goes on strike, who will pick the onions, lettuce and beets?”
“El Otro México” from the album of the same name
Mexico’s ruling party, the PRI, began to paint immigrants to the States as traitors to the mother country—people who lost their mexicanidad in the belly of the gringo. Truth was, many immigrants longed for their life back home and sought to stay connected by listening to acts like Los Tigres. But the antagonistic attitude in Mexico prompted the band to defend their people by singing: “While the rich [Mexicans] go abroad to hide their money and travel Europe, the campesinos who came here illegally send almost all their money to those back home.”
“El Mojado Acaudalado,” “Mis Dos Patrias” and “Ni Aquí Ni Allá” all from Jefe de Jefes
In “El Mojado Acaudalado,” an immigrant with money returns to Mexico to spend his last days. “Mis Dos Patrias” is about a Mexican naturalizing as an American. And “Ni Aquí Ni Allá” is doused in an uncharacteristic pessimism, doubting the immigrant’s chances of finding justice on either side of the border.
“El Muro” from Detalles y Emociones
A decade later, the band returned to a more optimistic feel—despite the headlines from which this song is drawn—with an anthem to both immigrant dreams and world unity. The song features choruses in German, French, even Arabic, and decries the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico almost 20 years after the collapse of another wall in Berlin.