19th July, 1997

The last time we heard from Los Tigres, they were taking on corruption and systemic failure in the Mexican government. Their return engagement to the top of the chart, in contrast, sees the most fearless conjunto in norteño engaging directly with the immigrant experience. "El Mojado Acaudalado" means "The Prosperous Wetback" (the slur is comparable, maybe, to the way country music has reclaimed "redneck"), and the lyrics are as plain and direct as any we've seen:

Me estés esperando Mexico lindo
Por eso mismo me voy a ir
Soy el mojado acaudalado
Pero en mi tierra quiero morir

(Beautiful Mexico, you're waiting for me
That's just where I'm heading to
I'm the prosperous wetback
But I want to die in my own country)

The crisp stomp backing up this bone-dry recitative is beautiful in its spareness, a repeated descending bassline as close as we get to any instrumental flourishes. The fact that the song opens with the chorus sung by a child is perfectly appropriate: it's simple enough for a child (or an uneducated laborer) to sing, as plain as a hymn, as straightforward as a nursery rhyme. Comparisons with country music, especially Johnny Cash's bone-dry rattle or Hank Williams' brusque eloquence, are inevitable; and in the roundup of American placenames to which the narrator is saying goodbye, it echoes the grand old country tradition of a travelin' song. But it also positions him as much American as Mexican -- W. E. B. DuBois' notion of "double consciousness" is as applicable to the immigrant laborer as to the black American.

For the nth time, I'm not rating these out of ten. I suspect, though, that if I was, this would be one a ten.

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