By Josette Madonia
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
In 2010 Robert Neustadt, Professor of Latin American literature, culture and politics and Director of Latin American Studies at Northern Arizona University, took his students on a field trip to the Arizona/Mexico border near Nogales. It was there that he witnessed first-hand accounts of migrants crossing the border. As Robert stated, he was awakened to the human tragedy that was taking place there. The tragedy taking place near the border is a combination of harsh border policy and extreme temperatures in the desert. The humanitarian organization No Más Muertes/No More Deaths provided this description,
U.S. policies that militarized urban border areas in the 1990s funneled migrants into the life-endangering remote areas of the desert. Further extension of border walls, expansion of Border Patrol troops, and harsher border enforcement has worsened this “funnel effect.” Migrants are often lost for days in 100+ degree temperatures, with no food or water. The least fortunate perish, while the merely unfortunate are caught by Border Patrol, and often subjected to abuses prior to their repatriation. No More Deaths responds to these fundamentally inhumane practices and policies with an around-the-clock, non-violent, humanitarian presence in the Arizona desert and at repatriation sites in northern Mexico.”
Since that time in 2010, Robert Neustadt has taken his class on a field trip to the border every year. The trip inspired him to write the song, “Voluntary Return”. He played this song for his friend, Chuck Cheesman, and it was this meeting that spurred the idea to create a benefit CD titled Border Songs, for No Más Muertes/No More Deaths. From the website of No Más Muertes/No More Deaths,
No More Deaths is an organization whose mission is to end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border through civil initiative: the conviction that people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. Our work embraces the Faith-Based Principles for Immigration Reform and focuses on the following themes:
• Direct aid that extends the right to provide humanitarian assistance
• Witnessing and responding
• Consciousness raising
• Global movement building
• Encouraging humane immigration policy.”
The benefit CD includes songs and spoken word performances in both Spanish and English. Some pieces were recorded for the CD and others were previous work provided by the artists that aligned with the concept of the CD. Some of the artists included on the CD are Pete Seeger, Calexico, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Amos Lee.
Margaret Randall, a feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist, appears on the CD reading one of her poems about a trip to the border wall. The poem is set against Glenn Weyant’s electronic recording of the wall. Glenn created the piece by using a contact microphone, cello bow, laptop computer, and touching or tapping the wall. Ambient noise from the environment is also included with the sound from the wall.
Raúl Zurita, recipient of the Chilean National Prize for Literature, included a poem about the “dead of the desert”. The poem was originally set in Chile, yet it resonates with the situation at the Arizona/Mexico border. Los Romanticos included a traditional Mexican song about a cat-and-mouse game at the border. The song takes a satirical look at a situation at the border. Pepe Villarino of Los Romanticos is a Golden Alum of Northern Arizona University and has marched with Cesar Chavez. The young rap group from Flagstaff, Pachuco and Classik, contribute a rap song in Spanish called “Somos Mexicanos”.
Previous benefit shows have been held in Flagstaff, Sedona, and Tucson. The concert on June 8th takes place at the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix at 7 p.m. Some of the artists who will be performing that night are Robert Neustadt, Chuck Cheesman, Pachuco and Classik, Cyril Barrett with Tom Moore, Peter Ragan (a No More Deaths volunteer who lives in Arivaca -near the No More Deaths base camp. He plays washtub bass.) and others. A five-dollar donation is suggested at the door or purchase of the Border Songs CD for $20. All of the proceeds from the sale of the CD go to No Más Muertes/No More Deaths. The sale of one CD provides the equivalent of 29 gallons of water or the equivalent of food, blankets, or medical supplies to those in need. So far twenty-six thousand dollars has been raised for the organization. For those who cannot attend the benefit concert, the CD can be purchased online at Amazon or CD baby. A donation to No Más Muertes/No More Deaths can be made at their website.
**The concert takes place Saturday, June 8th at 1026 North 9th Street in Phoenix at 7 p.m. The facebook event page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/events/667492489944107/