Culture Change and Free Speech


Los Tigres del Norte, one of my favorite (and one of the world’s most popular) bands, was banned yesterday from playing in the city of Chihuahua. They were banned because they played a very popular narco-corrido based on a soap opera and book, La Reina del Sur. The ban occurred not in some foreign place that might be unfamiliar with the band’s norteña music, but rather in a city that is steeped in norteña culture. The Mexican press, and most Mexican people, are upset about and vocal in objecting to this cavalier censorship.

A bit of background is in order. As has been well publicized worldwide, Mexico has been a sad battle route in the drug buying and the arms selling of its northern neighbor. Locally and similar to criminals worldwide, drug lords take over and strong arm mountain pueblos, also sometimes building schools or hospitals and taking care of people, thereby building loyalty and security for themselves.

Around this drug trade has grown a culture, which has closely mixed with the pre-existing norteña culture. That cultural mix includes a style of dress (one extreme is those tippy-toed guarachero boots), a unique vocabulary and style of speech, songs (narco-corridos are songs that glorify the life of the outlaw), and even a patron saint whose image, likeness and altars can be found in most any colonía (Jesús Malverde, so-called patron saint of the drug lords and lost causes).

Mexico is a large country, as is northern Mexico, and norteña culture as influenced by narco culture has a diversity within it. There is also spillover; many people who have nothing to do with the drug trade may build an altar to Malverde (unwed mothers may pray to him, for example, as might people who have lost their jobs) or have his face emblazoned on the window of their pickup truck. And, MANY of them listen to what can be called narco-corridos. The particular song for which my Tigres were banned, ironically, ends with the outlaw (a woman) being punished for her crimes.

I believe that most Cultural Detectives value free speech, and do not believe in censorship. It is interesting, though, that this ban occurred because Chihuahua city is trying to change its culture. It is trying to take the narco out of norteña, to stop the glamorization of criminal activity, to restore responsibility and good citizenship to its citizens.

It is personally ironic to me because last year, I posted on the Facebook page of another favorite band of mine, la Banda El Recodo, sharing with them my disappointment that they had released a song so far below the respect and esteem with which they are held by the public (the song talks about guns, arms, bulletproof vests; it encourages people to get drunk and shoot bullets into the air; the official video involves non-stop drinking, high-priced cars and watches, and ends with the lead singer pretending to shoot the viewer). In hindsight, was I censoring? I know my motivations were the same as those of the city of Chihuahua: El Recodo is at the top of their craft; people respect them. I love them, and I love Mexico. I wanted them to stand for and promote what is good about Mexico, help make it a better place, not glorify and feed the worst of our local culture.

What do you all think? We interculturalists work with culture change on a daily basis. Have you advocated censorship in your role? Have the opinions you’ve expressed served to censor another? What are your strategies for culture change?

2 thoughts on “Culture Change and Free Speech

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