Comic rapper's CD stirs serious reaction
By Agustin Gurza, LA Times Staff Writer
May 26, 2007
Chingo Bling, the Tex-Mex rapper known for his cultural parodies, wasn't ready for the sobering response he got to his new album, "They Can't Deport Us All," a defiant retort to opponents of illegal immigration.
The title — emblazoned on T-shirts, bumper stickers and Chingo Bling's promotional van — triggered death threats, dirty looks and vandalism.
The van got the worst of it during a series of incidents earlier this year in Houston, where he lives. Somebody scrawled "Go Home" on the side and erased the letter "t" in "can't," thus reversing the slogan to say "They Can Deport Us All." At another point, the vehicle's front windshield was shattered by what appears to be gunshots. Then one day, the van was inexplicably towed from its legal parking spot at a roadside flea market, where it was visible to passing motorists. Earlier this month it vanished again. It was reported stolen, but hasn't been seen since.
The satirist, whose real name is Pedro Herrera III, had always been good at attracting attention to his act. But nothing like this.
"I was surprised to see it really upset people," Herrera told me this week. "It just brings to light, I guess, the feelings at the core of this debate: the fear, xenophobia, ethnocentrism and all kinds of good stuff."
I once dismissed the flamboyant rapper as a crass self-promoter who exploited Mexican cultural symbols — taco trucks, cockfights, ostrich cowboy boots — to promote himself as the Ghetto Vaquero and Tamale Kingpin.
Not that I was wrong about that. Herrera acknowledges that he invented his comedic barrio character as a way to grab the spotlight. That he did, with his "bideo" of the song "Taco Shop," a spoof of 50 Cent's hit "Candy Shop."
But Chingo Bling can no longer be dismissed as a buffoon.
The rapper boldly steps into the immigration debate on his first single off the new album, "Like This and Like That." If people were upset by the CD title-turned-battle-cry, they'll be livid when they hear the rest:
"They'll never catch us all. It'll never stop, Anytime, any corner, baby, I'mma set up shop…. The border got a fence but we got underground tunnels…. Right now, they got us cleaning up Katrina. Yo Kanye! Bush don't like Mexicans either!"
The video, viewable with some difficulty at his clunky MySpace page, reenacts scenes from a day in the life of an illegal immigrant: Sneaking across the border, getting shortchanged after a day's labor, running from a raid on a Laundromat. It dramatizes real events in the life of his father, a Mexican immigrant who fled one of those Laundromat raids with his wife and daughter, too afraid to go back for the family's clothing.
"My goal with the video was to make the illegal immigrant a hero for once," Herrera says. "We're villainized in the mainstream media as the rapist, the guy that didn't pay taxes, the guy that ran over some people drunk. Those are the stories they highlight, and it really just perpetuates all this tension."
Chingo Bling is a most unlikely martyr. Even Herrera doubted whether such a serious subject suited his clownish character. But he was inspired when he heard the vaguely ominous instrumental track offered by the new album's producer, Salih Williams, whom he calls the "Dr. Dre of Texas."
The hip-hop arrangement at first seemed too serious. "But … I thought, 'I have to address this [immigration] issue, and I guess this is the beat I'm going to do it on,' " Herrera says.
His association with Williams is one sign of Herrera's ties to Houston's black hip-hop scene. It's startling to see some of those black artists make cameo appearances on a video that is pro-immigrant, an issue that usually divides the black and Latino communities.
Herrera is taking a step forward with his new work, to be distributed under a new deal with Warner's Asylum label. And he's ready to be taken seriously.
"A lot of people tried to categorize me as 'The Mexican Weird Al,' " Herrera says. "But novelty things don't last long…. I'm going to catch a lot of people off guard. And I'm going to prove a lot of people wrong."
Chingo Bling's new album, "They Can't Deport Us All," is set for release July 3 on his Big Chile label, distributed by Asylum.