Which Flag?

An American band misses Mexico but struts to El Norte's promise

When the Minutemen muster at the U.S.-Mexico border again this spring for another round of T-shirt-slogan patriotism, Los Tigres del Norte should be there at the fence.

"Who gathers the harvest?" Tigres frontman Jorge Hernandez asked the several thousand strong packed into the cavernous Marcy Armory on an icy Saturday night. "Who cleans the hotels and restaurants? Who kills themselves working construction?"

He raised one hand in almost preacherly supplication, letting the accordion hang slack against his sequined coat. "If only my song could tear down the walls, so that the world could live under one flag, as one nation!"

Ah, but which flag? This gringo fan is damned proud to call the magnificent Tigres an American band, one founded by the Sinaloa-born Hernandez brothers in their adopted hometown of San Jose, California, over 30 years ago now. But that's Minuteman rock crit, I suppose—drawing the line in the sand instead of strutting merrily back and forth across it, as the Tigres did throughout their spirited set of 37, count 'em, 37 songs. Under the terrific crash and roll of Oscar Lara's mammoth tiger-striped drum kit, snap-tight with the bounce from Hernan Hernandez's tiger-striped bass, Jorge and brother Eduardo swapped accordions and sang of Mexico: of leaving her, of wanting to return, of wanting to die in her arms. "Soy el mojado acaudalado/Pero en mi tierra quiero morir," Jorge worried (literally, "I'm a rich illegal, but I want to die in my own land").

Most of the Armory crowd was too young to start making such plans. The girls in painted-on jeans and the boys in bent-brim Tejanos grew up in a world strung between the Mexican eagles stitched on the back of the band's jackets and the giant inflatable Bud Light can over by the Porta-Johns; in the Tigres' anthems they heard both the Mexico they miss and the promise of El Norte they came for.

"For what good to me is money, if I am like a prisoner in this great nation?" Jorge cried in "La Jaula de Oro" ("The Golden Cage"), before asking his son to return with him to Mexico. His youngest brother, Luis, grinned and finished the verse in English: "No way, Dad."

 
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