Kicking Off Migrant Music Mondays: Ave Que Emigra

These are not good times for undocumented folks. President-elect Donald Trump’s (alias el trompas) vitriolic political campaign and the resulting rise of the alt-right movement (read: white supremacy) has some of those targeted by his smear-campaign fearing for their safety, while others are preparing to organize on a scale similar to, if not larger than, the mobilization efforts of pre-DACA days. In tough times like these, it is important to remember the healing and unifying power of music, a medium of protest that gave the U.S government a run for its money during the Vietnam War. That is why we have started Migrant Music Mondays, a segment that highlights the tunes that not only tell our stories, but also serve as a rally-cry against the injustices immigrants face on a daily basis.

 In the fall of 2011, I was a senior in high school. It was college application season, and while many of my classmates were caught up in the madness of dealing with personal statements, letters of recommendation, and scholarships, I was going through the undocumented version of teen angst. Instead of listening to The Smiths and worrying about prom and the trivialities of teen hood, I existed in a soundless void, struggling to come to grips with what I felt was an unfair exclusion from higher education. In hindsight, I could have secured entrance into a university and earned scholarships to pay for it with enough effort, but high school me lack the vigor I later developed as a result of the communal empowerment that comes from organizing with other undocumented folks.

 It was in this dreary, existential depression that I discovered Gaby Moreno, the croon-worthy Guatemalteca with a voice as soothing as your abuela’s bedtime stories, on an episode of NPR’s Tiny Concert Series. Moreno’s song “Ave Que Emigra” is the best thing I ever found in the related music bar on Youtube. When I first heard her wail the lyrics “Como el ave que emigra, / Vengo desde muy lejos,” I felt like I was in a scene straight out of “La Rosa De Guadalupe,” with light shining from the sky, a gust of wind, and all the other drama.

For the rest of 2011, I played that song endlessly on my bus rides to and from home. I played it so much I even lost my aux cord privileges in car rides with friends. I didn’t know it then, but this songs cathartic lyrics healed me and empowered me to define myself beyond my limitations. In other words, I became proud of my immigrant background and rich culture. There will invariably always be some angry loser screaming about immigrants (as-if we’re all the same) stealing some non-existent job, or robbing them of some made-up opportunity.

The adventurous-tone in “Ave Que Emigra” made me feel like an explorer in a foreign land, and I equated these “ignorantes” to an army of Mr. Burns-like characters who could easily be toppled with some effort and of course the occasional judo-chop. I felt like the paisa Indiana Jones and I was ready to take the Crystal Skull by whatever means. Like Moreno said in one of her final lines, we both were “cansados de estar corriendo.” The power of Moreno’s powerful-yet-smooth vocals, reminiscent of Carla Morrison, mixed with her bluesy chords saved me from what I like to call the vortex of undocumented high school depression that I’ve heard many of us feel around graduation time.

Though “Ave Que Emigra” phased out of my life and was replaced by the tumultuous sound of a community college campus (That I am still eternally grateful for because I learned so much and I saved even more), if I ever hear it I smile and am reminded that even when times get tough, life’s an adventure.

About the Author

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Jose Servin is a 23 year old undocumented English and Literary Journalism student at UC Irvine. As an avid hiker and freelance writer he hopes to explore the stories that break the stereotypical immigrant narratives. He’s worked as Editor-in-Chief for El Don Newspaper at Santa Ana College, currently contributes to La Cartita, and is a member of Orange County Immigrant Youth United. Jose came to California at the age of 2 from Mexico City with his mother.
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