Music and Immigration

Photo Credit: National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution

Since immigration is a critical part of America’s history, it is no wonder that music today reflects the struggles of a new life in a new country.

Cuban-American artist, Celia Cruz, for example, calls for unity among Hispanic immigrants, recognizes their common endeavors, and encourages national pride in her song “Latinos en Estados Unidos.”  She explains how Latino immigrants should unite so that others can understand, respect, and value their community. In emphasizing that society has no reason to fear or deny a Latin-American identity, she sings about how people should be grateful for the opportunity of a new future in a peaceful land, but they must not tolerate suggestions that devalue the Spanish language or the culture of Latin American countries. As an icon in the Salsa industry, Celia Cruz appeals not only to Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro’s dictatorship, but also to all Latin immigrants who have faced discrimination and show love for their native land, while identifying with American values.

Similarly, the band Los Tigres Del Norte sings of immigrant frustration in the United States in their song, “La Jaula de Oro” with Juanes. This song is about an undocumented Mexican immigrant and reflects the generational conflicts and language barriers many immigrants experience. The man laments that he cannot communicate with his children because they have forgotten their language and he grieves over the fact that they deny their Mexican heritage. Furthermore, explaining how he does not leave his house except to go to work, he shares his fear of police authority and the possibility of deportation. In a much more painful tone than Celia Cruz’s song, the man in the song questions if his economic gain in America is worth the loss of his personal freedom and culture, giving the song its title, “The Cell of Gold.”

The Puerto Rican artist, Calle 13 also writes about the life of the undocumented immigrant or as he refers to them in his song “Pa’l Norte,” of the unidentified migrant. This notion of the “unidentified migrant” depicts a migrant without an identity or an intrusive migrant with the identity of a prisoner. Like “La Jaula de Oro,” the man in the song sings about how he must live under the earth like the squirrels, or how he must live his life underwater so that the guards will not see him and the dogs will not smell him. Although Calle 13 is a Puerto-Rican artist, he alludes to the difficult journey of Mexican immigrants across the desert and in this sense promoting Celia Cruz’ message of uniting the Latin community in the United States.

Even the French artist with Spanish roots, Manu Chao, expresses ideas that relate to the experience of undocumented immigrants in America. The messages in his song, “Clandestino,” which refers to the migrations between Morocco and Spain, also resonate with undocumented immigrants in America. This song also reflects the “ghost-like” and secret lives undocumented immigrants must live in order to survive in America. It expresses the embarrassment and pain of carrying the conviction and label of a criminal for simply not having the right papers.

Whether it is an African, Bolivian, Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto-Rican immigrant in America or another country, music reflects the struggles of the immigrant across different genres and from artists of several nationalities. Pain, confusion, and family conflicts are not unique to the Latin Immigrants in America; in fact, just as this music demonstrates, these immigration issues transcend national boundaries.

3 responses to “Music and Immigration

  1. I am so glad you mentioned Los Tigres Del Norte’s song “La Jaula de Oro.” The song carries a very personal and sentimental meaning to which many immigrant families can relate, including my own. It uses a metaphor to compare this great American nation to a golden cage. But it also states that although the cage is golden, it does not disregard the fact that it is still a prison. I think Los Tigres Del Norte have accurately conveyed the fears and grieves of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States in search of a better life, but unfortunately end up confronting alienation and hostility in this foreign land.

    Here are two other of my favorite songs that relate to the difficulties of immigrating including the lack of sense of belonging and separation from the family, respectively:
    –“Mojado” by Ricardo Arjona
    –“Lágrimas del Corazón” by Grupo Montez de Durango (

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