Short Documentary: Big Mountain - Deportation Nation
12/23/2018 by Reggaeville
Big Mountain’s recent single “Deportation Nation” reinvigorates the band’s roots in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and its commitment to using art as a tool for social justice. It’s a dark and fierce roots reggae rebuke to the Trump administration’s immigration and border enforcement policy and a broader history of border militarization. The accompanied video, which was released end of October, was filmed by the border wall that separates Mexico from the United States.
The song features the spoken word performance of Dr. John D. Mrquez, an acclaimed author and professor of Ethnic Studies and Latinx Studies at Northwestern University. Mrquez is a veteran activist against border militarization, police brutality, mass incarceration, and other injustices. He and Big Mountain frontman, Quino McWhinney, met in the mid 1990s as members of a grassroots organization that was addressing human rights abuses at the border. They have been artistic interlocutors ever since. As Quino explains, “We wanted to demonstrate to our undocumented immigrant sisters and brothers that the band Big Mountain stands in solidarity with their plight. We believe that all people have a right to travel far and wide to fulfill their dreams, especially when it comes to bettering their lives and the lives of their families”.
With recent performances on CNN, LATV bilingual format television, Univision, and Telemundo’s Accesso Total, the music industry is finally becoming aware that Big Mountain vocalists, brothers Quino and James McWhinney, are Americans of Mexican heritage with strong ties to the histories, peoples, and cultures of Latin America. Their maternal grandfather, Onesimo Arias, immigrated to the United States and settled in the Coachella Valley in 1918. Onesimo was a migrant farm worker whose hard work led him to become a commercial farming leader. He also happened to be a skilled violinist and leader of many conjuntos, folkloric groups of northern Mexico. Accompanied by brothers Palemon on tololoche (stand-up bass) and Gabriel on Bajo Sexto (guitar), Onesimo’s conjuntos played corridos and standards that entertained, educated, and inspired Mexican farmworker communities. Quino and James are proud to further the Arias family’s legacy as artists and builders of community.
Growing up in San Diego and considering their family’s history, Quino and James were inherently attuned to the plight of Mexican immigrants. They witnessed, first hand, the steady militarization of the U.S. and Mexico border which had a profound effect on how they envisioned their role and work as musicians. Immigration, identity, and racial harmony are thus central themes across Big Mountain’s catalog. Deportation Nation is their latest addition to this body of work.
The bands breakout album Unity , which featured the platinum single Baby I Love Your Way, also contained the roots rocker Border Town with its defiant chorus, “Stolen Land, a nation built on slavery. A poor example of democracy”. The song is a favorite among fans worldwide and is a testament to Big Mountain’s sincere commitment to cross border issues everywhere. As James simply explains "the political system is so stuck on oppressing and Big Mountain is all about fighting against that".
Watch the brand new Deportation Nation Short Documentary, directed by award-winning Colombian filmmaker Juan Zapata: