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CONNECTING ROOTS TO SOCIAL AND POLITICAL JUSTICE

By Norton Gusky 

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ARTIST, MUSICIAN, AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST GINA CHAVEZ.

Art, music, film, or theater have always portrayed social and political injustice. In today’s highly charged world there are artists who are keeping the tradition alive. Gina Chavez is a bilingual, award-winning singer/ songwriter who is using her music to tell stories about social and political injustice. She is a featured guest in the Calliope folk music series with a performance on Saturday, March 7 at 7:30 pm. 

In 2014 she published Up.Rooted as a tribute to her Latin roots. According to Chavez: “It is a bilingual album and that was intentional. I think it allows people to kind of come along with me for the journey instead of going to a concert where they understand nothing of what’s being sung, you know. And so, on some level, your body can get into it and then your mind and your heart can also get into it because of the lyrics. But it also is very much about my own personal roots as a Latina and connecting with those roots.” 

One of the most penetrating songs on the album is called “Maiz.” On the surface it’s the story of a Mexican corn farmer, but Chavez makes the song into a social and political commentary. According to Chavez: “I wrote the song ‘Maiz’ after meeting someone actually whose home had been uprooted because they were Mexican corn farmers. And when the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed in 1994, one of the effects was that North American corn farmers… were able to undersell and undercut Mexican corn farmers. And I guess, you know, that – it just completely – it infuriated me, you know. So the song was born out of that anger. And at the same time, it ended up turning into more of a lament for sure. But ultimately, it’s the song about hope.” 

With the help of Suzanne Powell here’s a translation of the song: 

Corn, sweet corn: for centuries you sustained our lives. 

Then ‘94 arrived and you took off running. 

Root, sweet root: pulled from the ground and left to die, 

You still live on in my veins and in my song. 

Fertilized: that we might cultivate the earth. 

Farmed: that we might regain our strength. 

Dignity, ah my sweet dignity! I left you on the banks of the Rio Bravo, 

And now it is slavery to work here without you. 

Fertilized: that we might cultivate the earth. 

Farmed: that we might regain our strength. 

It wasn’t we who crossed the border to the other side, 

But the border who crossed us, my son. Corn, sweet corn. 

Chavez gained international recognition for a project in El Salvador. While living in El Salvador in 2009, Chavez and her partner Jodi, who also acts as her booking agent, spent eight months educating teenage girls who were surrounded by poverty in gang-dominated barrios. Chavez highly promoted her single Siete-D, which takes a stand against gang violence in Central America. The song went on to win a number of awards, further cementing her image as a storyteller who addresses social issues. 

According to Chavez here’s the meaning behind the song: “The first weekend in El Salvador, the volunteers we were replacing showed us the ropes. One of the volunteers offered to take us to the bus to get to the nice part of town in case we wanted to go see a movie or something. In El Salvador, there are no bus stops. You literally stand on the street and they pick you up. So, the volunteer tells us we’re going to take the Seven D (Siete D) because it’s the best one and it’ll take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. We stand there and wait for the Seven D and it doesn’t come. If you’re waiting for longer than three minutes for a bus in El Salvador, something’s wrong. The next day we read in the newspaper that the owners were so angry at the gangs for killing their bus drivers that they shut the route down for a day. Talk about a reality check. So, I think from that moment, the Seven D route had a special place in my heart. This song is a look at El Salvador, a mini scrapbook of our travels and experiences from a seat on the Siete D bus.” 

Today Chavez often produces benefit concerts to help the young girls in El Salvador that she befriended. Chavez’s music remains rooted to social and political injustice. For tickets and more about the concert at the Carnegie Lecture Hall go to the Calliope website. https://sforce. co/2HUBDQB 

The purchase of a ticket includes a free workshop from the stage starting at 6:30 with Gina Chavez prior to the evening’s concert. Gina will talk about her music and songs. The concert will begin at 7:30. 

Norton Gusky has a mission to to empower kids, educators and communities.

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 2. March, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

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