Loud, Proud, Punk and Brown

Martin Sorrondeguy helps push punk past its borders

What's happening now is a reaction by a culture too long submerged that's been building for centuries, something brought to fruition over the past decade in a formidable underground music movement. Maybe you haven't heard about it; though Latino Punk spans two hemispheres, it flies under the radar of the dominant media. It stays off marketing surveys, thanks to its disdain for the corporate music establishment. It's quiet until you get up close. And then it's mad about almost everything—from state-sponsored terrorism at the hands of soldiers and cops to the risk of deportation for getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You'll know them when you hear them: kids who sing in the languages they speak in their homes, not in their schools; who celebrate rather than ignore their heritage; who rail against racism/sexism/classism/imperialism and a host of other social ills; who tear down borders both literal and metaphorical and push for a realization of punk's graying promise—to tip the social and musical establishment upside-down.

This is something old and something new, and just because someone is singing in Spanish doesn't mean you can call it rock en español.

"There's always gonna be rockers, but the rock scene wasn't talking about the things that were really pertinent to us," says Sorrondeguy. "We're punks—there's a huge difference. Punks are the ones who are supposed to stand up and kick things over. Some people call it a subculture; some people call it a counterculture. And when you become part of a counterculture, that's dangerous."

You could say it started, like so many other important things, with boredom. Brain-numbing, heart-rupturing, soul-sucking boredom—the kind of boredom that blankets much of the world, from Buenos Aires to Buena Park, the kind of boredom that comes from not fitting in, from having nowhere to go and nothing to do in a society that sees you—a kid, a teenager, a Latino—as a ticking time bomb, a nuisance at best, and maybe a serious threat.

And you could say it started with alienation, with anger, with the realization that the political mechanisms that define the place you live in are something like a gun at your back, but you need some boredom in there, too. Because that kind of boredom demands a reaction. For Sorrondeguy, the reaction was punk.

This was in the early '90s, when being Latino or immigrant (terms that were interchangeable in the popular imagination) was something like an existential criminal act—at least in California, with propositions like 21, 209, 227 and the notorious 187 gnawing away at the rights of nonwhites. Not coincidentally, this is when the Latino punk scene came into its own. And this is when Sorrondeguy put together Los Crudos, somewhere in the basement of a home in Pilsen, the Chicago barrio where he grew up. Los Crudos were very much a product of their environment—an artist friend once told Sorrondeguy she could hear the El trains in Crudos' chugging drumbeats. But somehow, they'd tapped into something global. And the first step was the language they sang in.

"All our lives we were told, 'Don't speak Spanish; speak English,' 'Do this; don't do that'—just these really strict rules," Sorrondeguy reflects. "But we wanted to communicate with other kids and with people in our neighborhood about things that were affecting us because there was a lot of crazy shit going on. I thought, 'Okay, I have pen pals through punk. I'll just send out a tape.'"

His band put a match to ample generations of fuel: when Sorrondeguy describes the reaction, the metaphor he chooses is a bomb. "It just kind of blew up unexpectedly," he says with a smile. "'Boom!'"

You can still hear the echoes: Crudos roared through a lattice of borders to play ferocious shows for roiling crowds of kids in Europe and South America. Some of those kids sang along with words they could only have learned through diligent study of lyrics sheets and a Spanish-to-everything dictionary. So what if they'd grown up Polish, German, Czech or even generic American? Crudos made a connection. "We were speaking a language that a lot of people understood," Sorrondeguy says.

And then they started getting letters—from border towns, from barrios, from Mexico, from Brazil and beyond—from kids who'd lived the lyrics Sorrondeguy wrote half a hemisphere away, who'd started punk bands all on their own and now jumped at the opportunity to make a connection. They drew inspiration from the way Crudos connected so intimately both to their own community and to an audience who knew them only from scratchy vinyl singles, an audience that wanted to transcend borders the same way this band from Chicago had. They'd say, "'We want to do what you guys are doing,'" Sorrondeguy remembers, "'and we want to play with you.'

"For once, a band was coming from the U.S. that was aware that people existed on the other side," he says. "We were finding a common ground, saying fuck all that society bullshit that separates people for different reasons.

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