Chicago's mayoral challenger gets the hero treatment in a Mexican ballad

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[Excerpt from song]


Marco Werman: “Let me tell you a story.” So goes the opening line of this corrido. Corridos are Mexican ballads and that once upon a time vibe is pretty typical. What’s not typical about this corrido is the man at the center of it. To help me explain, I’m joined by Catalina Maria Johnson. She’s the host of Beat Latino at Chicago Public Media. Good to have you back on The World Catalina. So, I’ll kind of fill in the front end and you can fill in the back end. I know the song is about Jesús "Chuy" Garcia, he’s running for mayor of Chicago. Tomorrow, in fact, will be a runoff election between Garcia and Rahm Emanuel, the two top vote getters in the first round back in February. So, Garcia’s got this corrido campaign song. I’m curious, you’re Mexican-American, you know the typical tone of campaign songs in the US. What did you think when you heard a corrido outside the context of Latin music show here in the US but in the context of the mayoral race?


Catalina Maria Johnson: Oh, I thought it was absolutely perfect. I mean, the corrido is an epic ballad form and it’s a genre that’s been around since at least the Mexican independence, and it’s always been the perfect political storytelling campaign tool. It was always classically the way to tell a story of heroes--tell it in a simple form, tell the story from beginning to end, kind of give a chronology, give a history. The stories aren’t always happy, sometimes they’re tragic, but the whole purpose of it was to share, to communicate, to make better known the story of a hero. The minute I heard it, I was like “Wow, that was absolutely perfect.”


[Excerpt from song]


Werman: So, what are the broad strokes of the Chuy Garcia story that we learn about in the song?


Johnson: Well, that he was born in Durango, that he came over when he was very young, that he worked in Pilsen--Pilsen is the classic Mexican community in Chicago--that he worked towards better housing. But I think that one of the main points that is told that people may not know is how closely side by side, in the song it says “Shoulder to shoulder,” he stood with Don Harold Washington.


Werman: The former mayor of Chicago.


Johnson: Exactly. And I think that is to bring together how hard he’s worked for unity of all people in Chicago.


Werman: So, what have you heard from the non-Spanish speaking community in Chicago? Are they kind of feeling what this guy is all about?


Johnson: I think a lot of people are trying to figure out where he stands. There’s a story there to share of him bringing people together. Certainly he’s got the best campaign song, I would say.


Werman: Yeah, hard to imagine anybody coming up with a better one. The fact though that this runoff is between Rahm Emanuel, the quintessential political insider, and Jesús "Chuy" Garcia, what does it suggest about the face of Chicago today?


Johnson: Wow. I think in many ways it suggests a change. Whether or not it comes about, and I know change is a big word and change is a word that’s overused, but I think we’re beginning to see that the powers at be may not be the powers at be forever. And even the fact that it’s gotten this far, which I think for many of us was a surprise even, shows that there’s hope for much bigger change in the future.


Werman: That was Catalina Maria Johnson, host of Beat Latino. It airs on Vocalo, an initiative of Chicago Public Media.


[Excerpt from song]