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Fw: Boston Globe - 3/23/03: Radio network bonds farmworker community

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  • Norma J. F. Harrison
    ... From: Jocelyn Sherman, UFW Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 4:02 AM Subject: Boston Globe - 3/23/03: Radio network bonds farmworker
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2003
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Jocelyn Sherman, UFW" <ufwofamer@...>
      Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 4:02 AM
      Subject: Boston Globe - 3/23/03: Radio network bonds farmworker community

      United Farm Workers


      Boston Globe

      Radio network bonds farmworker community
      Union founder's dream is realized

      By Dave Wagner, Globe Correspondent, 3/23/2003

      PHOENIX - Before he died a decade ago, legendary United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez laid plans for a radio network that would tie together the immigrant farmworker community spread across the remotest ranches and farms in the Southwest.

      He lived long enough to see the first piece put into place; the first UFW-owned, nonprofit station went on the air in Visalia, Calif., in 1983. But it was tough to get anyone to listen to the rather dry political messages it broadcast.

      Since then, the sons of the legendary Cesar, Paul and Anthony Chavez, have realized their father's dream by building a network of nine union-owned stations across the Southwest, with its crown jewel in Phoenix.

      Radio Campesina's estimated half-million listeners have made it the highest-rated Spanish-language station in the Arizona capital. Each broadcast day still opens with a Spanish prayer written by the elder Chavez during the farmworker union's darkest days: ''Lord, give me honesty and patience ... so that we will never tire of the struggle.'' But the solemn political talk has been replaced with jumpy norte no and banda music and an announcer who punches the reverb button hard on the tagline: '' Buenas tardes, Fenix! Es Campesina, y no maaasssss!'' (Roughly translated: ''Good afternoon, Phoenix. It's Campesina and nothing else.'')

      The shift in programming reflects big changes in the culture of the Hispanic Southwest over the last decade. Around the time his father died in 1993, Paul Chavez said, the network amounted to just two stations. ''They were both very NPR [National Public Radio], very FM-y - quiet and a little boring. So we sat down and took stock.''

      The problem was the music. ''We were playing South American protest music for older Chicanos rather than music for immigrants,'' Chavez said. ''It wasn't resonating.''

      By the early 1990s, they determined, most Chicanos (Mexican-Americans born in the United States) had moved on to better jobs in light manufacturing and tourism and had been replaced by immigrants, nearly all of them young men from the farm villages of northern Mexico. No fewer than 95 percent of the new fieldworkers were these young nortenos, and their music was named after them.

      The Campesina network promptly tossed out the Chilean folk songs with their Incan pan pipes and cranked up the music of the new immigrants in the fields - songs from Sonora about lost love, the cruelty of borders, drinking to forget, and the importance of immigrant labor. The other music was called banda, an instrumental heavily influenced by the bands of Mazatlan that features trumpets and clarinets in tight harmonies and a heavy vibrato.

      Campesina's new programming was a hit. The young men who had followed the ancient dollar trail to the north started tuning in, and the veterans of the Chicano movement kept listening, too. In Phoenix, many bilingual families, even those who spoke more English than Spanish, became regular listeners.

      In gringolandia, a country that to many Mexicans feels indifferent and solitary, Radio Campesina provided the warmth of the ancestral village and the extended family. The network was a source not only of music, but of badly needed advice on immigration, health care, and housing. Listeners could sign up as members for more personalized information and hands-on legal help from professionals who volunteer. (Phoenix's KNAI-FM has 2,000 members).

      The listeners might even find a place to live: Proceeds from on-air advertising are invested in building low-income apartments, and in the past decade the UFW has built 2,500 units in three states, with plans for 17,000 more.

      Still, success was hardly automatic. Few among the listeners who were born and raised in Mexico, for example, recognized the name of the union leader whose March 31st birthday is a state holiday in Arizona and California. They confused him with ''the lion of Culiacan,'' Julio Cesar Chavez, who was one of Mexico's finest boxers. So the network ordered that at least two minutes of programming every hour be devoted to the voice of the man who changed this part of the world. It worked; now everyone seems to know who ''Cesar'' is.

      If the young men who came north in the '90s have been changed by Radio Campesina, they are changing it in turn through their music. One of the norteno bands closely associated with the network may be the biggest musical group in North America that Anglos never heard of. ''Los Tigres del Norte'' comprises four brothers and a cousin from Sinaloa who moved to San Jose as young musicians (and took their name from a US immigration officer who kept referring to them as ''little tigers''). The Grammy-winners have dominated norteno music since 1972, making so much money that they were able to donate a half-million dollars for the recovery and scholarly study of Latino music recorded in the United States during the first half of the 20th century.

      ''The Tigers'' are champions not only of lost love and the dignity of people with low-paying jobs, they have emerged as spokesmen for the resentments stirred up in the immigrant community by nativist groups in California who want the international border militarized. Anyone driving through the streets of Phoenix this spring can hear their provocative songs on Juan Olivas's show.

      The Tigers's latest song is Somos Mas Americanos(''We Are More American''), and it irked a few Anglos who understand just enough Spanish to take the lyrics at face value:

      ''A thousand times they have shouted at me,/`Go home, you don't belong here'/Let me remind the gringo/That I didn't cross the border, the border crossed me./ America was born free - Man divided her.'' Then the chorus: ''We are more American/Than any son of the Anglo-Saxon.''

      ''This is a response to the border patrol folks,'' Paul Chavez said, referring to the nativist groups. ''The song talks about the border, but you have to understand that our people were here long before the border was.'' (In 1848, after invading Mexico, the United States forced it to cede most of what is now the Southwest.)

      ''The song even strikes a chord with Chicanos, because even they feel they are watched with suspicious eyes,'' Chavez said.

      April 23 is the 10th anniversary of Cesar Chavez's death. Paul Chavez said he and his five siblings will be scattered across the country that day to make appearances on the release of a new postage stamp commemorating the life of a man who made a difference not only in the fields, but on the airwaves.

      This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 3/23/2003.
      Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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