Countercultural Music Resisting Oppressions on the US-Mexico Border

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This section focuses on several countercultural musicians who attempt to transform cultural, societal, and political situations that oppress the economically disadvantaged and ethnically discriminated population. In this context, counterculture defines a cultural and political opposition. They are the actions, customs, and ideologies that go against what is socially, politically, and culturally acceptable by the powerful in terms of their use and control of mainstream outlets of information. This framework explains how certain musicians counter those elements used by dominant groups, such as their modes of communications and mainstream culture that keeps oppressed classes in control creating cultural hegemony. The musicians examined in this project have provided some degree to the contribution of counter hegemony that strives to eliminate a previous and still current cultural domination by suggesting justice and equality, and modifying social consciousness through Paulo Freire’s term conscientização, which I will refer to conscientization.

To illustrate how countercultural artists can use subaltern knowledge, I examine the atrocities created with the rise of militarization on the U.S.-Mexico border. It has become more apparent with the development of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, so my focus in songs surrounds this date. The music produced regarding this topic has emerged from every genre from banda, punk, ska, reggae, hip-hop, world to fusion amongst others, mainly from the late 1980s until the present.

Some of the criticism of countercultural music being a tool for socio-political resistance has been that it is an illegitimate method for socio-political awareness, that it is subversive, and that employs the use of sensationalism. Very few stress the importance of it, and therefore needs further attention and examination. The rise of militarization on the U.S.-Mexico border does not affect everyone, although it affects the oppressed; the voiceless population with great intensity. The goal is to educate the masses, remap the meaning of cultural production to countercultural production and strive for social, political justice and equality through it. The objective is to view these paradigms and gain awareness of them from an uncommon perspective within art as a form of resistance.

The musicians of focus influenced many other people to become politically active for generations to come. They took active roles in conscientisizing the public by singing about controversial ideas and statements and proclaiming revolution, exposing government corruption and its oppressive behavior. These artists are organic intellectuals, or sociopolitical commentators, who have brought a number of discourses describing events and situations that have not gone by perfectly; events and situations that has caused the disturbance, greater inequalities, disparities, poverty, and deaths of innocent people.

Many times counterculture production is dismissed as subversive, rather than critically being acknowledged as counter-narratives and subaltern discourses. Even though is true that the mainstream media usually sensationalizes information, they disconnect from the situation reported, not purposely, and may not cover essential details. Other reasons they may exaggerate, or omit information are for its aesthetic appeal for public consumptions. A counter representation may be a better one due to the artist’s proximity of the situation or event. Many songs have been censored and many times people refuse to draw conclusions from them. I will examine what these artists are singing about, and as the results, they tend to be unorthodox. What is vital for examination is the relationship between all subjects involved.



The various collected songs that challenge the homogeneity of U.S. nationalism and culture express topics related with immigration and borders. They all share the same points of view that there is an ongoing oppression that the powerful sector imputes on its subordinates. On my songs of focus, I have crossed five themes that are repeated throughout the act of crossing borders, and on one theme I discovered two subthemes. All of these artists I will discuss have a relationship to the U.S.-Mexico border and are from dual sides.


  1. 1. Key Actors. Many of these musicians narrate the key actors who are involved in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. They mention the border patrol, the undocumented crossers, workers on ‘the other side,’ the immigrants’ relatives, and human smugglers. In this section we will gain familiarly in the artists’ viewpoints of each of these characters.
  2. 2. Reasons for migration. The push-pull notion is the most typical one seen in songs. That is due to economical factors. Immigrants flee from hunger, to give more to their children, and to avoid other related struggles.
  3. 3. “The other side.” Militarization is the gatekeeper, the guardian, the soldier against foreign intruders. While undocumented immigrants aim to reach the other side of the border, they face many physical and psychological dangers. To the greatest degree, they reach their deaths.
  4. 4. The crimminal. These immigrants are automatically classified as criminals due to their illegality status in U.S. territory. Because of a cultural manipulation in making immigrants feel like criminals, many of them feel that assimilation is necessary to make them less of a target. It can also be described as deculturalization, or simply loosing their culture. Furthermore, the sense of paranoia is created, hence the need to assimilate, because they fear being captured and deported.
  5. 5. An approach to justice. A final pattern organic intellectuals, or artists, express are challenging the current system and equality for all humanity. Some songs propose consciousness upbringing suggesting we are all one and no need to segregate, while others suggests violence, such as breaking town physical borders as well as mental ones.

Going beyond literature to examine applications of expression and representation, music can all teach us something in regards to issues that surround militarization on the U.S.-Mexico border. Music artists, on this matter, become modern intellectuals who do not only sing about certain lyrics regarding the themes of conscientization, however, they can demonstrate to us a new way to see and interpret the the border. The words that are sung regarding these two situations express various points of views. It represents those who had or have relations with the events, and have been of unimportance to the official media to represent these viewpoints. It becomes a form of resistance to the voiceless population. These songs represent the oppressed and marginalized subalterns by carrying sociopolitical messages. Musicians help produce counter-hegemony by challenging the ideological apparatuses through songs and culture, and by informing and strengthening our consciousness.

The role of countercultural musicians is that they provide us with subaltern information about social and political issues that can exceed limitations of legitimate knowledge. Art, music, and culture can show us different ways of delivering knowledge; a much different approach than what official modes of communication perhaps can offer us. In other words, it is simple, easy and entertaining communication to the public. In addition, now that the music conglomerates are not as active and popular as they once were to digitalized free music, this could improve and strengthen with work on music functioning as a legitimate alternative for gaining conscientization by opening a window and examining it in an academic perspective.  When lyrics of countercultural music groups strive for change, they treat it with great clarity to the integral change in life, the world, the cosmos and personal transformation (Urteaga: 2002; 45). Its production serves as a form of subalternity that works to create conventional discourses of a socio-political reality.

  • Work Cited
  • Acteal. (2006). Operativo Guardián. Calaca Sessions. Calaca Press.
  • Brujería. (1993). Cruza la frontera. Matando Güeros. Roadrunner Records. CD.
  • _____. (1995). La migra: cruza la frontera II. Raza Odiada. Roadrunner Records. CD.
  • Cyber Pachukote Sound System. (2008). We’re Breaking Down the Borders.
  • Downs, L. (2001). La Linea: The Border. Narada Productions, Inc. CD.
  • Eek-A-Mouse. (1991). Border Patrol. U-Neek. Island Records. CD..
  • Gramsci, A. (1971). Prison Notebooks. Tr. Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers.
  • Jones, S. (2006). Antonio Gramsci. New York: Routledge.
  • Maldita Vecindad y Los Hijos del Quinto Patio. (1996). Baile de mascaras. BMG. CD.
  • ­­_____. (1991) El Circo. BMG. CD.
  • _____. (1989). Mojado. Maldita Vecindad y Los Hijos del Quinto Patio. BMG Ariola. CD.
  • Nevins, J. (2002). Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Pacini Hernández, D., Fernández L’Hoeste, H., & Zolov, E. (Eds.). (2004). Rockin’ Las Américas: The Global Politics of Rock in Latin/o America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Paredes, A. (1958). With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and its Hero. Texas: University of Texas Press.
  • Revelations, The. (2007). Yo No Soy Ilegal. La Lucha Continua.

  • Saldívar, J. (1997). Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Santana. (1999). Migra. Supernatural. Arista. CD.
  • Taffet, J. (1997). My Guitar is not for the Rich: The New Chilean Song Movement and the Politics of Culture. The Journal of American Culture, 20(2). 91-113
  • Tijuana NO. (1993). NO. Culebra/BMG Ariola. CD.
  • _____. (1998). Contra-Revolución Avenue. RCA Internacional. CD
  •  _____. (1994). Transgresores de la ley. RCA. CD.


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