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Agustín Lira, a Mexican American activist, has long embraced the values of la causa, the late 1960s movement for farmworkers’ civil rights. Utilizing music, theater, and protest, Lira has brought awareness to la causa for generations. Now, Lira is reigniting the themes that originally drove the Chicano Power Movement throughout the Southwest with ‘Songs of Struggle & Hope,’ out June 24.
‘Songs of Struggle & Hope’ is Agustín Lira’s first full-length album with the Smithsonian Folkways label and is the 44th release in theTradiciones/Traditions Series produced with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center. A 40-page booklet with photos and extensive notes by musician and scholar Russell Rodríguez in both Spanish and English accompanies the 16 songs.
Ironically, Agustín Lira should have been a U.S. citizen, but his U.S.-born mother was illegally deported in the 1930s to Mexico, where Agustín was born. He came to California as a child and became a migrant field worker and then an activist, suffering in poverty and even homelessness for a time. Lira went on to cofound El Teatro Campesino, a farmworker theater group, in 1965. El Teatro Campesino used theater and music to express the frustrations of the oppressed migrant farmworker population. Lira composed songs inclusive of acoustic guitar melodies, and lyrics addressing the Chicano demand for equality. Quickly, his songs became a regular part of many nonviolent political gatherings and protests at the time. Lira’s music “steeled the resilience of these aggrieved communities and provided a means to celebrate culture, promote social and political consciousness, and preserve and instill dignity” (Rodríguez).
Lira expanded his support for la causa by bringing his performances to Mexican American communities and college campuses throughout California. It was at one of these performances that Lira met his future collaborator Patricia Wells. The two formed the duo Alma, and eventually expanded to a trio with the addition of bass player Ravi Knypstra. Throughout the years the trio has continued to perform music that addresses the issues faced by the Chicano community.
‘Songs of Struggle & Hope’ features signature songs of la causa as well as new creations—all composed by Agustín Lira and newly recorded by the trio—that speak to social injustice . The songs boldly discuss Chicano struggles of the past and present. “This album has all these different memories through songs, and they reflect the realities of a lot of people in this country and also people from outside of this country… people need to hear these songs,” says Lira. “It is a real history that has taken place here, and it should not be forgotten.”
“Quihubo, Raza,” the upbeat first track of the album featuring a button accordion, became an anthem for Chicanos during the 1960s. “El inmigrante” discusses the traumatic process of being uprooted from one’s homeland and living in constant fear of deportation: “Women, children, and elderly, they throw us out of this nation,” the trio sings. “Farewell, beloved countrymen, now they will deport us.”
Hugo Morales, former farmworker, Harvard-educated lawyer, and founder and director of nonprofit Radio Bilingüe, said: “Agustín Lira speaks the truth; he tells it like he sees it. He says things that other people are afraid to say.”
Read more in these two Fresno Bee profiles:
‘Songs of Struggle & Hope’ Tracklisting:
- Quihubo, Raza (What’s Happening, People)
- El inmigrante (The Immigrant)
- Juan Cortina
- Alma (Soul/Spirit)
- Gregorio Cortez
- Summer Winds (Vientos de verano)
- Los zapatistas (The Zapatistas)
- The Leaf (La hoja)
- If You’re Homeless (Si eres desamparado)
- El indio (The Indian)
- Taps for Coke (Toque de queda para Coca)
- She Won’t be There (Ella no estará allí)
- I Have Been Here Forever (Yo he estado aquí por siempre)
- The Old Man (El viejo)
- Ser como el aire libre (Be Free Like the Wind)
- When I Die (Cuando yo me muero)