If you haven’t looked at a map of Central America recently, you really should. We should all have some idea of the vast distances, if not the horrors, people are facing in order to arrive on our teeming shore.
Our government recently hired a New York advertising agency to create a catchy pop song called “La Bestia.” The song warns Hondurans, Nicaraguans and other potential migrants to the United States about something I’m afraid they probably already know: Riding 1,000 miles through the Mexican desert on top of a rickety, swerving freight train called “The Beast” is very dangerous for adults and unaccompanied children!
The song is a hit. We have been paying Central American radio stations to play it, payola style. The upbeat, marimba-heavy migra corrida features cool train sound effects and a pleasant, fuzzed-out electric guitar solo.
They call her the Beast from the South, this wretched train of death. With the devil in the boiler, whistles, roars, twists and turns.
This is my favorite bit of tax-funded musical propaganda since Marlene Dietrich’s heart-rending “Lili Marleen” wafted across the front lines in WWII. Dietrich’s hypnotic voice reminded homesick Axis soldiers that someone else was most likely hanging out under the street lamp with their dream girl. It was illegal for Germans to listen to American pirate radio, but even Nazis had to get their Glenn Miller on. When they did, they also got news about the imminent collapse of the Third Reich. This was all part of the MUZAK Project run by the Office of Strategic Services or OSS — today’s CIA.
I’m not sure how well negative propaganda songs, or songs intended to convey a specific warning, actually work. When Hank Williams tells me not to go down that “Lost Highway,” I just can’t think of anything I would rather do. I know all the words to “Banks of the Ohio,” but it’s never stopped me from wandering around down by the river.
“La Bestia” may be a radio hit, but it’s no “Mystery Train.” Even if it was, adults and children who are risking their lives to ride “The Train of Death” are doing so because they have no options left. Is it wise for this country to turn away 5-year-olds who are capable of walking (or riding on top of a freight train) for more than 1,000 miles with almost no food or water? Jesus Christ! Don’t we want them in our gene pool? Shit yes. Let’s trade up.
Who in the fuck are those people standing by the side of the road all day, waiting to wave American flags and scream at buses full of frightened children? Do they self-identify as Christians? Would they violently defend the rights of a zygote while denying any basic human rights to an actual, air-breathing, human child? Smart money says yes.
Ugly things happen in this country every day. Still, the inhumanity that shines from those crazy-ass people’s eyes, even in grainy newspaper photos, is breathtaking and also familiar.
They have the same twisted faces, contorted penmanship and dreadful spelling as bigoted white people in mid-’70s Louisville who screamed, waved their ignorant homemade “Stop Forced Busing” signs and threw rocks at school buses full of children. Some buses were required to have armed guards on board to protect students from these concerned citizens. I just saw a 1975 photo of the KKK’s Grand Cyclops marching around on Broadway in front of the Brown School. Truly.
Take 50 or 75 pounds off each of those folks standing by the highway in California or Arizona, and they’re the same scrawny 1960 Louisiana crackers who tried to stop 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from entering first grade. In the crowd of terrifying, shrieking adults, a small white girl held an elaborate sign with a black baby doll inside a cardboard coffin. Ms. Bridges later said that sign frightened her more than anything else. When she and her U.S. marshal escorts first arrived at her New Orleans elementary school, she thought it was Mardi Gras because of the crowd of people screaming and throwing things.
Who are these fucking people?
Catherine Irwin lives in Louisville.