Ask a Mexican on Ska Music, Mexico's Poverty, and Dealing with the Government
Lately, I've noticed a few bands, como Voodoo Glow Skulls, have embraced ska music in both at home and in Mexico. I was curious what the appeal is for Mexicans to ska music? Also, if you had to turn people to Mexican ska, what would be your top five recommendations?
You just noticed Voodoo Glow Skulls? While cool, they're so 1990s. In fact, the ska tendencies in Mexico go back to the early days of ska itself — like the Cuban mambo, danzón, and cha-cha-cha, Jamaican music has always had a vibrant home in Mexico due to our shared Afro-Caribbean influences. Like all popular Mexican music forms, ska is endlessly danceable, upbeat even in its darkest moments, perpetually customizable, and a DJ's dream — sonidero is really just cumbia mixed through a Studio One dub sound system. But Mexican ska's greatest contribution to the form is the mixing of punk attitude and political commentary, à la 2 Tone ska, making it a genre that never gets tiresome. As for my top five Mexican ska groups: the late Tijuana No! is sorely missed, Maldita Vecindad still blasts their chilango stew, and Los Angeles' own Viernes 13 are chingones with horns. I'll also give a shout-out to Inspector, although their ska is a bit too clean for my tastes. But the supreme masters are Panteón Rococo — their jittery, angry, anti-globalization "La Carencia" could be the anthem of the Occupy movement, if only those occupiers ever bothered to reach out to Mexicans.
I lived in San Diego for about three years but got down to Tijuana only once. The thing that struck me the most was that it seemed all the women who were begging were Indian (I'm not going to try any Spanish spelling, since I spoke español with a terrible New Zealand Korean accent when I first arrived — don't ask). Why is this?
Linda en Fuego
Because the poverty rates of the indigenous in Mexico are atrocious: A 2010 study by Coneval (the acronym for Mexico's National Social Development Policy Evaluation Council — quick aside for gabachos: the Mexican government loves to assign acronyms to its agencies) found nearly 80 percent of Mexicans who spoke an indigenous language lived in poverty. Until the Mexican government improves the lives of its indigenous, they have about as much right to complain about U.S. treatment of Mexicans as America has to complain about San Francisco Giants star Sergio Romo wearing a "I Just Look Illegal" T-shirt during his team's World Series victory parade — eres chingón, güey!
I work at the welfare office, and I've noticed that all my Mexican clients are much more organized than gabacho clients. They always bring all the necessary documentation and never whine about how much of a pain in the ass the system is. Is that because they're used to dealing with incredibly inept and inefficient bureaucracies that inevitably lose paperwork, files, etc. (at least they're not bribed in order to get state-funded assistance), or is there something else going on?
To paraphrase Grandpa Simpson, when asked if he was stalling for time or senile when insisting he was the Lindbergh baby, a poquito from column A, a little de columna B. Unlike Tea Party pendejos or welfare leeches, Mexicans — but especially viejitos — understand that trips to the DMV, Social Security, or the welfare office aren't necessary evils but rather moments of seriousness — you don't fuck around with the government, unless you're jumping over the border or using your cousin's Social Security number. Besides, Mexicans know that government workers are the Mexicans of government — constantly shat upon, ridiculed by conservatives, and hardly paid enough for all the ridicule and bureaucracy they must endure. Gotta treat your brother from another madre with respect, you know?
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