As an English as a Second Language teacher, Scottsdale singer/songwriter Eric Holland confronts our country’s hotbutton issue — immigration — every time he walks into the classroom.
“I do not consider myself a border scholar,” Holland says. “However, I have been (teaching) in the public school system for nine years, and I have seen many nationalities come and go. Many stay for a year, then go back to their countries, and many stay and go off to college. This makes me proud.”
Holland has made the issue his life’s work, recording two CDs, “Without Borders (Sin Fronteras)” and the newly released “American Inmigrante (Sin Fronteras II),” filled with poetic story songs exploring the plight of the Mexican people who are trying to better their lives in this country.
The characters in Holland’s tunes, which he often sings in first-person narrative, are portrayed as people who are trying to offer a better life to their families.
“My heartfelt opinion is that the immigrants, and all of us, have the innate desire to have a dignified life,” Holland says. “Perhaps they have not achieved this from the country they are from. America has that to offer — the dignity of having a job and not looking at your daughter’s empty plate is a given here.”
In his song “Manifest Destiny,” Holland sings, “Pretty soon the tide will turn, like watchin’ the Alamo burn/so we’ll all be singing the same songs/President Polk bought the Western states, he gave 10 million then he closed the gate.”
“As a songwriter and musician of border ballads, it is very important to insert integrity and fact into the songs,” Holland explains. “In my song ‘Juan Doe’ there is a narrative chorus, ‘Immigration has political, religious and economic issues. In this debate, what gets lost are the human issues at stake. Last year, 288 died in the Sonoran sun.’ ”
Holland is just one of several Arizona songwriters whose music often deals with themes such as Mexico and the border.
Rich Hopkins, 48, a Tucson music legend who has played with The Sidewinders and The Sand Rubies, now fronts his own band, The Luminarios, which plays often in the Valley. He volunteers regularly at the Casa Maria soup kitchen in Tucson and has played benefits for No More Deaths, an organization dedicated to improving conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Cinco de Mayo, Hopkins participated at a rally for Pima County Interfaith, part of the Arizona Interfaith Network, an organization that seeks to “strengthen family and community in solidarity with others across lines of race, class and religion.”
Hopkins is proud of the numerous marches that have taken place across the country.
“I think it is wonderful that so many people marched,” he says. “To me it shows that the Latinos, whether they are legal citizens or not, are a force to be reckoned with, especially in the future of politics. It also showed me that the people really care about themselves and want changes in the political system that will better their lives.”
Holland, who donates proceeds from the sales of his records to Humaneborders in Tucson, doesn’t believe current proposals — such as a border wall — will stop immigrants from coming to the U.S.
“There will be no winners in this game of crossing the common borderline,” Holland says. “There is no way, at this moment, to prevent this migration.”
Roger Clyne, a Tempe singer/songwriter who fronts Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, has always looked to Mexico for inspiration. He often takes lengthy sabbaticals south of the border, spending time with the Mexican people while writing songs. Like Holland, he doesn’t believe building fences along the border is a viable solution to the issue.
“I am believer in human rights,” Clyne, 38, says. “I think a world citizenship is what we should be looking at. I don’t think we should be looking at separation — I don’t know when building walls was ever a long-term solution to anything.”
CONFRONTING THE ISSUE
So what do these Arizona musicians see as a solution?
“In 1986, amnesty was tried and there was not a workable guest program to accommodate it, so it did not work,” Holland says. “At this time, in this heat, 1,200 undocumented (immigrants) are passing daily across the line. A fraction are caught — hands slapped, they try again.
“In this game I do not feel there is a winner, loser (or) solution on either side of the border. There are human issues at stake, especially the dignity of all of us. I can use 100 humane clichés to stress that we should have open borders.”
Hopkins has a slightly different philosophy.
“One thing I feel is that Mexico needs to take more responsibility for the people who are leaving there to come here to work and live and risking their lives,” he says. “I suppose that the work visa seems like the best solution. That way the immigrant can work and pay taxes here in the U.S., and that money can be sent back home to Mexico or wherever.
“As for the ‘open borders,’ I am not really sure why we have borders. It was probably set up to tax imports/ exports, but with the threat of terrorism, I am not sure what is ‘right.’ ”