Chicanos Unidos might be viewed as an act of hip-hop activism in light of Arizona’s recent racial-profiling-friendly immigration law (which, don’t forget, April’s Gallup poll estimates 51 percent of the U.S. population supports), and it is in part, but that isn’t how it started. The idea for this self-described “sociopolitical hip-hop event” featuring performances from such local luminaries as Astex, Lotus Tribe, Mexican Stepgrandfather, and OBX — not to mention the centuries-old racism and injustice addressed in much of the performing artists’ music — predates the Prop 1070 debate by decades.
“I’ve had a vision of doing this since I was about 18,” says event organizer Max “Tha Midax” Edman. “Public Enemy was really big, and I wanted to create a Chicano group back then, and I’ve had this whole dream of a concert of this caliber. Over the past year since I’ve been here I’ve been meeting all these guys out and about, and I felt like each one of them has a unique voice that’s not your average radio hip-hop. They each speak on subjects that need to be heard, whether it be about the plight that people are going through or just everyday things that people can relate to.”
Astex’s Gabriel “Itzcoatl” Luera, who went to Mexican American Youth Organization rallies as a child with his parents (his father once chaired MAYO) says the vocabulary anti-immigration proponents use may have evolved over the years, but the discriminatory attitudes haven’t.
“The issue hasn’t really changed,” Luera says. “It’s more jumped realms. It used to be you knew who was racist and who wasn’t, but now it’s like ... every reason they give for the immigration policy is blanketed in all types of Tea Party rhetoric, but none of the facts are there.”
The supposed link between immigration and increased crime rates, for example, is complete death-panel garbage. A 2005 study by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson found first-generation Mexican immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit crimes than third-generation American citizens. A 2008 study by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that “among men ages 18-40 — the age group most likely to commit crime — the U.S.-born are 10 times more likely than the foreign-born to be in jail or prison.”
But the ignorance continues. Apaso, another artist featured on the bill, says part of Chicanos Unidos’ purpose is to showcase a more positive image than the perpetuated stereotypes.
“That’s what we need right now,” Apaso says. “We need people to know there are intelligent Chicano MCs on some sociopolitical positive-type vibe. ... There are Mexican leaders right here. We’re ready to step up to the plate and set examples.”
The demand for modern-day leaders in the civil-rights movement is particularly great, Luera says, because so many of the leaders of the past have been forgotten.
“Most people don’t even know who MAYO was anymore,” Luera says, “and they were started here in San Antonio. Willie Velásquez, José Gutiérrez, Mario Compean — those names people don’t even recognize anymore, and I think this is a chance to resurrect part of that, but at the same time, let’s keep evolving, because ... we are a different breed.”
Likewise, many great Chicano artists have been lost to history simply because their works weren’t ever recorded, says Marco “Mexican Stepgrandfather” Cervantes, Rammy-winning hip-hop artist and cultural-studies professor at UTSA.
“Without some recognition,” Cervantes says, “I think that these sorts of cultural events will be erased. ... Nobody will ever know they happened. ... So there’s this misconception that there wasn’t that much Chicano art going on except the main things that we know about.”
Now, says Lotus Tribe’s Mark “The Reason” Gonzalez, the biggest threat to San Antonio’s hip-hop scene might be the prejudice against the culture itself.
“Back when we were starting out, you wouldn’t understand the trouble we had getting into some venues,” Gonzalez said. “The problem we face today ... is we like to showcase the whole culture of hip-hop, so we like to invite B-boys and graffiti artists. And it seems like at first it was like, ‘Oh you know rap, that’s a bunch of gangsters and whatnot.’ You finally get over that hurdle and then it’s ‘The B-boys, oh, they just want to fight.’ Then you get over that hurdle, now it’s like, ‘The graffiti artists, oh, they always tag up our bathrooms.’ ... It seems like every time you break through a barrier, there’s another one there, just lurking. ... Because it’s so hard to break those barriers here, so many talented artists leave San Antonio, and it’s so frustrating.”
For these reasons, Edman says, the featured performers all felt it was important to hold the event at a family-friendly venue that admits minors. “When I first started talking to Marco about this, we said, ‘We can’t hold this at a bar, it’s gotta be all-ages.”
Not only is the show, to be held at the Guadalupe Theater, all-ages, but children 12 and under will be admitted for free. Though rap’s often labeled with parental-advisory stickers, and violent, explicit lyrics occupy most of the media’s discussion of the genre, Joaquin Muerte says it’s hip-hop’s real-life relevance that first drew him in.
“Since I was in sixth grade, fifth grade, when I listened to my first underground hip-hop albums,” Muerte says, “as a Chicano, underground hip-hop spoke to me — and I started making hip-hop from that moment. I feel that same vibe from everybody `on the bill`. Everybody’s been young, Chicano, and making hip-hop.”
These days, many of the performers featured at Chicano Unidos have kids of their own: Edman recounts the disappointment he felt listening to his daughter’s Lil Wayne-loaded iPod and the triumph of convincing her to add some Run DMC to her playlist, and Luera sees the current controversy and protests surrounding it as a chance to educate his children about the Chicano civil-rights movement — an opportunity he views with understandably mixed feelings.
“I never really got to see the whole Movimiento, but now that I’m older, and all this stuff is happening in Arizona, it’s like, my kids have a chance to see it, but it’s also bittersweet at the same time because, they shouldn’t have to see it in this day and age. ... It’s 2010. We should be moving past this. We’re all Americans.” •
In addition to the previously named artists, Chicanos Unidos will feature Rawkause, Almas Intocables, Almighty Infinite Supreme, and Itzl. Go to sacurrent.com to watch video footage from this roundtable discussion on hip-hop’s significance to Chicano culture.
$6 (free for children 12 and under)
8pm Sat, Jun 19
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