Will the Wolf Survive, Los Lobos

Curator's Note

This video reminds me of my own process of discovery about Latino culture. I grew up in a small farming town in rural Southwest Idaho with several families of Latino migrant workers. One Latino friend was really smart, but he seemed to be losing traction in school. I found out that he kept getting pulled out of school to help work in the fields with the family. My father got the same treatment, which kept him from graduating from high school. I worked in the fields, too, sometimes with migrant workers, but it was back-breaking, and I knew already that I wanted to get out of there and go to college, so I remember feeling sad for this guy, who wasn’t going to be able to do that. How was he going to get ahead? I felt a little guilty that in my family, the decision had been made a generation earlier by my father, who deliberately gave me the chance he hadn’t had to succeed in school. I wonder, did the wolf survive? This specific video kicked off a debate in YouTube comments about whether the main character was, horrors, an “illegal immigrant.” Some who liked the video really did not want the lead character to be a wetback making his way in the North. One of the strengths of Los Lobos is that they have a hybrid music that speaks across cultural barriers of Anglo and Latino, but it is interesting that some users of YouTube have a hard time accepting them as Latinos speaking about real issues that face real immigrants in the U.S. It also reflects that video is often much more explicit than lyrics, which in this case treat the theme more metaphorically and polysemically.


I could not help my self on thinking about the particular aesthetics that were displayed in the television screen in the early 1980s with the rise of the video clips. I can see a process of containing and sanitizing the representations of these “illegal” immigrants to make them less threaten to the U.S. society and more acceptable for Anglo tastes. Both the boy and the girl somehow fit the standards of beauty that Arlene Davila describes as a “Mediterranean Look” obeying a process of the commodification of Latino representations that makes them suitable for mass consumption. I wonder to what extend this process of commodification produces an image that is too ethnic for Anglos, where at the same time too American looking for Mexicans, basically as an in between space where Mexican-Americaness is commercially imagined.

Both of you bring up excellent points about aesthetics in this particular video. While the video challenges the viewer to think more broadly about the lyrics, how do the images narrow the possibility of thinking outside the box. This is a real tension that is not easily explained or insignificant, especially for artists who are still limited in their access to mainstream audiences, and thus want to reach those potential fans while also attempting to challenge the status quo.

Discussion of debates that surrounded whether the protagonist in the video was an undocumented immigrant also underscores for me how little information about Mexican and Mexican American history and realities is typically taught in U.S. schools. Instead, misinformed mythology often can cloud the view of many Americans on what it means to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, such that to be "illegal" is associated with many negative things rather than survival and providing for one's family.

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