¡Viva Radio!

El Break proves there's more to Spanish-language radio than ranchero music

On a recent Sunday morning, several twentysomethings in jeans and T-shirts race around the otherwise deserted offices of La Buena Onda 1190-AM, a radio station in central Phoenix. In an hour, El Break will go live for its weekly noon to 2 p.m. broadcast.

It couldn't have been easy for Luis Avila to get out of bed this morning. Last night, he was at Club Rain in Scottsdale, falling in love with singer Ely Guerra (think: a Latina Mazzy Star). Even in jeans and Chuck Taylors, Guerra was breathtaking, and she stole Avila's heart with her guitar and songs about lonely nights. Between each number, as the crowd applauded, Avila swooned, yelling "I love you! Marry me!" loudly enough to make his friends and radio cohosts crack up. They were dancing and downing beers until 2 a.m., when the thought of food and sleep — and work the next day — finally tempted them off the dance floor.

Actually, the members of El Break were at Club Rain on business, doing interviews for the show and spreading the word about an upcoming pro-immigration event. This morning, the mission continues.

Luis Avila
Brad Garner
Luis Avila
The members of El Break: From left, Gabby Arias, Laura Suarez, Diali Avila, Obed Hurtado, Sayra Sandoval, Tony Arias, and their leader, Luis Avila.
Brad Garner
The members of El Break: From left, Gabby Arias, Laura Suarez, Diali Avila, Obed Hurtado, Sayra Sandoval, Tony Arias, and their leader, Luis Avila.

If they're hung over, it doesn't show (though the two underage contributors, who missed last night's festivities, do look more rested). Avila has shed his party shirt for a brown T bearing the show's name. He and Obed Hurtado are editing interviews about Guerra's concert, while the others type last-minute notes and make a few hurried phone calls. Above the editing equipment hangs an autographed photo of Hillary Clinton with Avila.

Five minutes until airtime, and the chaos is calming down slightly, though one contributor, Laura Suarez, is still editing her segment about quinceañeras. Avila enters the main studio and takes his place behind the mic and the control board, where he'll direct the show.

"Chavos," he yells. "Chavos!"

Guys, guys!

Avila pulls his microphone in front of him and gets ready to go live. The others follow his lead and take their places in the two studios.

Avila cues the introductory music for that day, the song "Give Us Some Truth," by Instant Karma.

In rapid Spanish, Avila greets the audience in his best radio announcer voice, "Hola, muy buenos tardes!"

Hello, good afternoon.

"Como esta ustedes?" He asks his co-broadcasters how they are.

"Muy bien," they say in unison. And for the next two hours, this group of young, hopeful immigrants controls the airwaves of a corner of Phoenix.

Bienvenidos a El Break.

Welcome to El Break.

Avila and the other Breakers are members of what sociologists call the "1.5 generation" — caught between first- and second-generation immigrants.

All but two were born in Mexico. Some came here as small children, some as high-schoolers. Even those born in the states have spent substantial time in Mexico. In the unique position of being not quite American but no longer fully Mexican, El Break easily navigates both worlds.

According to ASU sociology professor Cecilia Menjivar, that gives them a power others do not have.

"They are cultural brokers," she says. "They are more versatile, more flexible. They can move easily in two worlds and translate not just the language, but also the culture. It can be alienating, but it can also be empowering."

In a city with more than a million Latinos (almost all of them Mexican), El Break represents the future — a way to fill both a cultural and political void. The old guard has faded somewhat — Chicanos Por La Causa remains a strong organization, but not as galvanizing as it once was. Immigration activists in Arizona are split on just about every policy issue and treat every matter with an almost ridiculous reverence.

Not so El Break. They are activists, true, but as much as they believe in immigration reform, they also believe in having fun.

Marcos Najera, a journalist who covers Latino affairs for local public-radio station KJZZ, says he's attracted to El Break's enthusiasm. Instead of grinding an ax on the air every Sunday, Avila and company know how to laugh. Najera has witnessed Avila's playful attitude firsthand; the two moonlight as actors and have performed together.

"They get things bubbling, and a lot of politicians can't even do that. When they're on the air, it's like hanging out with your friends, " Najera says. "It's not like preaching, it's like you're hanging out at a bar with your friends and telling them what hurts or worries you or makes you laugh. And then it doesn't end there. There's a way of saying, 'What's next?'"

For most Phoenicians, "Spanish radio" means getting an earful of ranchero music blasting from a car at a stoplight. Many people tend to tune it out — even Najera.

"I tend not to listen at all to Spanish radio. I don't listen to Radio Campesina so much. That's not my world," he says. "But El Break is my world, to a certain degree. I learn about the piece of me that didn't grow up in Mexico. I'm learning about a part of me I never knew about. I grew up in Arizona — my dad was one of the founders of Chicanos Por La Causa — so I've grown up around activism. But when I was growing up, there was a push to assimilate. And in doing so, we turned our backs on who we were. El Break is reclaiming that."

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Awesome!. Great report. I'm amazed and very glad. Altough i can't listen to the radio show as often as I would like. I LIKE IT VERY MUCH. As a latina I thank you for taking a look at us this way.


Otra hipocrita fresa que se cree muy gringa, que no mas anda metida en esto para hacerse publicidad, especialmente en este parrafo cuando dice:Sandoval, 20, was born in Mexico City and came to the States at 2. When she was in middle school, her parents divorced and she moved back to Mexico with her mother. After a year and a half in her home country, she found she just could not adjust to the Mexican way of life, so she moved back to America to live with her dad.

Si te has de haber regresado porque de seguro extranabas tus lentes Versace que te apuesto te costaron mitad de lo que ganas, pinches fresas hipocritas si estan tan preocupados por los mexicanos aqui porque no usan su dinero para ayudar a gente que lo necesita en vez de comprar lentes Versace?


La mera verdad son una bola de puros fresas quejones que estan enojados con Estados Unidos porque quieren venir aqui a crear la separacion que existe en Mexico entre los ricos y pobres, quieren demostrar que ellos si fueron a la universidad y pretenden querer ayudar a los mexicanos que estan aqui infiltrandose en cualquier medio de comunicacion posible, cuando lo que realmente quieren es que los gringos vean que ellos no son jardineros ni carpinteros, quieren los gringos los vean como si fueran Elena Poniatowska o Octavio Paz. Y aparte, estan enojados porque aqui no se les hace tanto borlote como quisieran por ser ninos fresas intelectualones, al contrario, la gente los detesta y los aborrece por ser tan hipocritas y por que se mueren por sus quince minutos de fama cuando ni siquiera tienen talento en ningun campo. Y que mexicano tan mas hipocrita es Luis, especialmente en la parte del articulo cuando dice que despues de regresar a Mexico por estar enojado con la prop 200 y no poder volverse adaptar a la sociedad mexicana, entonces quien chingados crees que eres? Un guero de The OC o que a poco los niveles fresas se te subieron mucho mas alto solo porque aprendiste a hablar ingles y porque sabes pedir un Starbucks? Que bueno que vivas aqui y tengas una identidad perdida, porque Mexico no necesita a hipocritas e idiotas como tu que no saben ni porque estan involucrados en tanto desmadre, hablas por hablar y por hacerte famoso usando causas como la de los ilegales para tu propio beneficio.


I am sorry sir, but we DO pay taxes. In clothes, food..etc!. So please inform your self first.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow

Thanks for the enlightening article. It proves that most illegals have no real loyalty to America, or any interest in becoming a bone fide American. They dance around the topic of why they don't want to stay in Mexico. Why is that? I'd like to hear some more specifics about that subject. If they want to protest something or go on hunger strikes, why don't they start by doing it in Mexico City? That's where it's really needed. If more Mexicans stayed put, and worked for change there, to make things better in their home country, I think we'd all be better off, including them. I personally might have a little more sympathy and respect for them if the majority were to do that.


Dear Protesters:I really do not give a damn about your cause. I came to this country from Poland to work and make a better life for me and my family. You want free education paid with my taxes. If you want to protest do it in your country of origen. You want free education, free healthcare, the whole enchilada...PAY for it!!!

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