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Alt.Latino: Immigrant Songs

Who are Latinos? We come from North and South America, from the frigid tip of Argentina to the dry lands of Northern Mexico. We are the same yet also different, distinct in our culture and heritage.

There are indigenous, Semitic, white, black and Asian Latinos. We eat different foods: churrascos, arepas, chimichanga, habichuela con dulce or dulce de membrillo. And we speak Spanish and Portuguese in many different dialects.

So what, aside from geography and language, is the glue that bonds us together? For many Latinos, it's the shared immigration experience, either their own or that of their family. This experience is not unique to Latinos in the U.S. We emigrate within Latin America and to Europe, too.

In addition to the sense of struggle that we share within our Latino communities, we also share music. Latin music gives us common grounds, in part because it often tells a universal story.

In this episode of Alt.Latino, we review some of our favorite songs about the immigration experience. We only had room for six songs, so please add your thoughts on being Latino and your favorite songs about immigration in the comment section below.

Also, listen to Felix and Jasmine interview two musicians who have boycotted Arizona over the recent immigration law: Juanes and Los Tigres del Norte.

Today's theme song is "White Stripes" by the Instituto Mexicano del Sonido. To hear more songs by IMS, visit the band's MySpace page.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Pal Norte

"Pal Norte," or "Heading North," is a song by the Puerto Rican reggaeton artists Calle 13, accompanied by Cuban group Orishas. Amidst Andean music mixed with traditional beats, the song talks about the trials and tribulations encountered by those who immigrate.

Hear the "Pal Norte" on YouTube.


In "Clandestino" ("Clandestine"), the French-Spanish artist sings about being an undocumented immigrant and a life of hiding in the place he's come to call home. The lyrics are melancholy. He sings: "Alone I go with my sorrows / alone with my burden, to run is my destiny / to outfox the law."Hear the "Clandestino" on YouTube.


Rapper La Mala Rodriguez confronts people's fears about immigrants in "Miedo," meaning "fear." She sings: "Are you scared of people who know how to live without luxuries / are you scared that I could one day hold office?" She's accompanied by her husband, Afro-Cuban rapper Mahoma.

Hear "Miedo" on YouTube.

Ali El Maghrebi

In "Ali El Maghrebi" ("Ali from Maghreb"), Spanish band Ska-P sings about a Muslim man named Ali who emigrates to a European country, the difficulties he faces and the distrust he encounters. The pace of this song mimics the frantic whirlwind life that many immigrant communities experience.

Hear "Ali El Maghrebi" on YouTube.

La Jaula de Oro

This song talks about immigrants missing their homeland. Mexican singer Julieta Venegas does an electronica-infused cover of the legendary ranchera band Los Tigres del Norte's "La Jaula de Oro," which translates as "The Golden Cage." Even though it's a modern update, Venegas pays homage to the original ranchera song.

Hear "La Jaula de Oro" on YouTube.

Venezuelan in New York (Englishman in New York)

"Venezuelan in New York" is a remake of Sting's "Englishman in New York." King Chango is based in New York City, and this is is actually part of a collection of Latin Artists doing a tribute to The Police. In the original song Sting sang "I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien." They sing it both in English and Spanish, and they reflect a slightly different immigrant status.

Hear "Venezuelan in New York (Englishman in New York)" on YouTube.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.