Activist Rockers "Outernational" Talk About Their New Political Album "We Are All Illegals"
Earlier this year, the Brooklyn-based rock ensemble Outernational released Todos Somos Ilegales (We Are All Illegals) as a political treatise on US-Mexican border politics and how they harm individuals on both sides of the line. Told in narrative form about an immigrant from the Southernmost tip of Central America as well as including reimaginings of Juarez tragedy and good, rabble-rousing fight songs, the album combines rock and radical politics, with Latino styles like banda, mariachi and Norteno. Midway through Outernational's tour along the US-Mexico border, to audiences that were largely immigrants and Mexican Americans as well as indigenous Reservations, AlterNet spoke with bandleader Miles Solay about theorizing borders, SB1070, playing rock on the Rez, and what we can do next.
You just performed at the University of Arizona. How was that?
That was cool. So, there’s sort of like this graduate program, graduate students who are getting degrees in social justice, if you can believe it. And they sort of this symposium on border issues. Through word of mouth or the internet or what have you, they have this record that we put out not too long ago when we were all illegal, so they invited us. It was kind of like class. It was cozy. We sort of rocked the fuck out at this college at 1PM for 20 graduate students.
What's the tenor in Arizona right now. Are you getting a sense of how people are feeling?
Our first stop was the Tohono O’odham, a reservation down in Southern Arizona which is actually split in half by the border. It’s the nation that I was not as familiar with their whole history when I had studied the stuff when I was younger but that was our first stop. We just went down there and talked to them. They had these youngsters and a garden in the main town and we played half the songs from our We Are All Illegals record, we played them acoustic. I would say, for example, because I gave you some of the sense of the response we’ve been getting across the board, like in Texas, for example. The people were very, I don’t know, it’s kind of a trip when a bunch of revolutionary rock ‘n rollers from New York kind of roll up on your reservation.
Not a lot of non-Native American musicians do a tour of the rez.
Yeah. I think people kind of found that intriguing. They were very welcoming. They invited us down there. That was a cool scene. Then we went up to Arizona State. Arizona State was a little bit different because it was graduate students, so it’s like a mix of people. But when you’re dealing with stuff that’s not law school or medical school, not sports, it’s all women, which is cool. It was a class of 15 women. Maybe one or two men were there. I would say Arizona, well, the SB-1070 is the law that put that stuff on the map years ago.
That’s what I meant. Obviously with that and with the ban on ethnic studies, especially now, when it's getting more charged.
It is getting pretty charged. It’s malicious. They killed these migrants down in the desert not too far from where we were, two nights ago. Kind of like KKK shit, really. [Ed. note: he means this. They shot up like 30 of them. Two of them died. They were dressed in camouflage. Arizona, as you’re familiar, is kind of the frontier of some of the more ominous, odious of these laws but in many ways, Arizona, historically has kind of been a testing ground for a lot of sort of really racist shit. Public Enemy wrote that song “By the Time I Get to Arizona” about Arizona refusing to recognize Martin Luther King Day. In terms of our response, we’re just kind of getting back to Arizona. It’s really charged. It’s just going in front of the Supreme Court on April 20 in a few weeks. And the ethnic studies ban.