Citylife: The Dream Act

September 10, 2010

Aterciopelados "Bandera" came out on 1998's Rio -- - two years ago, a lifetime by music world standards -- so it was a bit of a surprise to see it pop up with a dazzling new video this month.

In the dreamy clip, an animated narrative by Diego Peñuela, a cute and cuddly pre-Colombian figure is on a dark and harrowing road trip through desert, sea, psychedelia and the heavens (with a little nod to Manu Chao thrown in for fun). The soundtrack, already an immigrant anthem, asks questions about borders, race, and nationality.

"We would have liked for it to come out sooner, closer to the record's release date," says Andrea Echeverri, who, with Hector Buitrago, makes up Aterciopelados, something of a dream Latino pop act in many ways:  They're beautiful, smart, prolific and political.

"But what happened with Rio was really interesting," she says. "It had a fun side and a sad side, and most people loved the fun side. But video artists -- independent artists, students, graphic artists -- approached us about making videos for songs on the sad side. And this is simply how long it took. We have never stopped playing that song, and with incredible urgency."

The delay, though, makes the timing of the video sublime. This month, undocumented youths and their supporters have been mobilizing nationwide to get the senate to pass the DREAM Act. They may get their wish: Univision anchor Jorge Ramos tweeted today that senate majority leader Harry Reid's spokesperson confirmed to him that the senator wants to push the legislation when the senate goes back in session Monday.

What is the DREAM Act? It's the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, and affects people who had no say about coming to the U.S. because they were minors when they arrived with their families. They are technically illegal but they are in fact American: They know no other life, and in some cases, no other language but English.

This bill would provide undocumented immigrant graduates from U.S. high schools, who arrived in the U.S. as minors and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency for six years. Within that period, qualified students would have to get "a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge."

If you want to know more about the DREAM act, go here. There are many groups in Chicago working hard on the issue and the website can help you connect if you're interested.

The Aterciopelados song was originally written because of their own troubles, as Colombians, getting into Spain, but the message applies to The DREAM Act and more broadly.

The English lyrics follow the Spanish:

Bandera

quién dice cuál es la bandera que sobre un pedazo de tierra ondea
quién decide quién tiene el poder de limitar mi caminar dime quién

que quién es usted
que dónde nací
entonces no puede venir por aquí
que de qué color es y qué donde naci
entonces no puede venir por aquí

quién dijo que un trozo de tela encierran las puertas y las fronteras
quién me limita este mi planeta si soy tercermundista y empaco mis maletas

que quién es usted
que dónde nací
entonces no puede venir por aquí
que de qué color es y que dónde nací
entonces no puede venir por aquí

cómo te vas a aprovechar de que no tengo papeles de que soy ilegal
mi trabajo humilde y tenaz vale lo mismo que el tuyo o quizá mas

que quien es usted que donde nació entonces no puede entrar a esta nación
es usted conquistado no es conquistador
usted no puede soñar con una vida mejor

* * *

Flag

who gets to say what flag gets to fly over any piece of land
who decides who has the power to limit where I can go tell me

they ask who you are
and where were you born
well then you can’t come here
what color are you and where were you born
well then you can’t come here

who said that a piece of cloth could close doors and borders
who’s going to limit the planet for me
I’m from the Third World and my bags are packed

they ask who you are
and where were you born
well then you can’t come here
what color are you and where were you born
well then you can’t come here

how can you take advantage because I have no papers because I’m illegal
my humble and determined work is as worthy as yours, and perhaps even more

they ask who you are and where you were born you can’t enter this country
you can’t dream of a better life

Translation: Achy Obejas