Voices of hope
Los Tigres del Norte
In April, the long-running Norteño band Los Tigres del Norte performed at Folsom Prison on the 50-year anniversary of Johnny Cash’s legendary concert. The audience was mostly made up of black and Latino inmates, many of whom were serving life sentences. Some were moved to tears by the music.
Jorge Hernández, the band’s vocalist and accordionist, also became emotional.
“You have different feelings when you perform for them,” he said. “We had the opportunity to talk to different inmates, and they told us their stories. It makes you very sad. How you feel when you perform for them, for me, there is a lot of sentiment. At the same time, you have the feeling that you’re doing something for them, for the community—that you’re giving them more hope and life.”
Hernández believes that’s the secret to the band’s remarkable 50-year career. Los Tigres del Norte has become legendary in its own right by acting as a voice for the downtrodden, just like the Man in Black.
“We sing stories about the people, about the real life,” he said. “We perform songs that go directly to our problems.”
And speaking of problems, Hernández discussed President Trump’s blatantly racist rhetoric against our neighbors to the south during a phone interview with the RN&R.
Indeed, Trump’s proposed border wall and the radicalization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is greatly dispiriting for an artist such as Hernández, who has spent much of his career singing about the discrimination and rejection many Mexican-Americans have encountered.
“It hurts our community here in the United States—all Latino communities, but especially the Mexicans,” he said. “Our country is also hurt. To be written off like that, it’s very hard. We have in our minds that [Trump] doesn’t like us. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but all the Mexicans who live here and in Mexico, we don’t feel very welcome in this country.”
As teenagers, Hernández and his brothers and cousins immigrated from Mexico to San Jose in the late 1960s. In the half-century since, Los Tigres del Norte has recorded more than 500 songs, sold more than 30 million albums, won several Grammy Awards and played arenas that seat 100,000 or more.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that this musical family is the Norteño equivalent of Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones. But in a microcosm of the Mexican-American experience, Los Tigres del Norte are grossly overlooked by the U.S. mainstream, despite being one of the most influential Mexican bands of all time.
However, America’s shifting demographics are allowing Los Tigres del Norte to reach new Spanish-speaking audiences in new places. Each member of the family is over 60 years old now, and they’re still telling stories of everyday life in Mexico and about the immigrant experience in a way that resonates with generations of fans on both sides of the border.
“The songs we perform make it easy for us to connect with [audiences],” Hernández said. “We sing stories about our lives and their lives. Those stories, I think, let us connect heart-to-heart.”
Los Tigres del Norte is playing at Silver Legacy Resort Casino on Friday, Aug. 31. Ω