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They're an American band

Los Tigres del Norte
Saturday, June 9, Alliant Energy Center, 7 pm

While Congress debates federal immigration policy this week, Los Tigres del Norte will do what they've done for the past 40 years. They'll sing about the real-world feelings and experiences of Mexican American immigrants.

Along the way, Los Tigres del Norte have won a few Grammys and sold 32 million records. They're not only the godfathers of Norteño music; they're arguably the most socially significant American band around today.

The lyrical intensity embedded in their accordion riffs and polka beats is lost on anyone who doesn't understand Spanish. Consider the single "El Muro" (The Wall) from their new album, Detalles y Emociones (Details and Emotions). It's critical of President Bush's proposal to build a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico.

"Bush! Bush!/Don't Push! Don't Push/Listen Mr. President, you know you need us/On your team as well as in the kitchen."

Los Tigres del Norte are a band of brothers who crossed the border as youngsters (Jorge Hernandez, the oldest, was 14) in 1968. They tried to find American jobs to help support their family back in Mexico. An immigration official nicknamed them "little tigers," and that became the inspiration for their name, which translates "The Tigers of the North."

They settled in San Jose, Calif., where they were discovered in the early '70s by a music promoter named Art Walker. Walker signed the band to his new label, Fama Records, which became the leading Spanish-language recording company on the West Coast.

Their earliest songs were vivid tales about Mexicans earning a living by working in the contraband drug trade (like 1971's "Contrabando y Tracion"). The songs never glorified the lifestyle. They simply acknowledged the reality of Mexican American experience.

As Los Tigres del Norte have grown older, they've taken up generational themes. "The Gilded Cage" considers an internal conflict common to many immigrant lives - financial gains that are offset by cultural alienation. "My children don't talk to me/They think like Americans/They deny that they're Mexican/Even though they're the same color as me."

Jorge Hernandez is an American citizen today. Despite his affection for this country, he has mixed feelings. As he sings in "Mis Dos Patrias" (My Two Countries):

"Don't call me a traitor/because I love my two countries."

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