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Latin Grammy Nominated and Sin Papeles: The Story of La Santa Cecilia's Pepe Carlos

Not one more!
Not one more!
La Santa Cecilia's music video for its latest single "El Hielo (ICE)" premieres today, but this writer got a sneak peek two weekends ago! With Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) present in Anaheim for an event in celebration of jornalero Jose Ucelo, he took the occasion to screen the video before an audience of activists.

The Los Angeles-based Latin Grammy-nominated Latin Alternative band powerfully illustrated the anxieties of living in fear of deportation in the effort directed by Sleep Dealer's Alex Rivera. By the music video's end, the undocumented cast members featured in it were highlighted, including the band's very own requinto and accordion player Pepe Carlos.


Having known La Santa Cecilia since 2008, Carlos' immigration status was known to me, but it is with the release of the video for a song the

Weekly

said

could make a Know Nothing's heart melt

, that the musician has decided to go public.

"Over the past few years we've seen an increase in deportations," he tells me. "It's a way to come out and not be scared anymore."

The fear that grips the real-life protagonists in "El Hielo (ICE)" is something Carlos has experienced first hand. "In one situation, I was pulled over in Lynwood driving without a license around 1 a.m. coming back from a gig with a friend," he recounts. "Our car was searched for an hour. The sheriff deputies treated us as if we were criminals. They handcuffed me and I was taken to jail." Going through such harrowing ordeals helped influence him to take an 'undocumented and unafraid' stance.

As La Santa Cecilia started gaining attention for their superb musicality, the sensitive status of their accordionist and requinto player became an issue of concern. "We drive to Texas, but we take the longer route to avoid the border patrol," Carlos says. "We haven't even played in Arizona for the same reason." The band was always fearful of putting him in a precarious situation.



 

When there wasn't a safer, alternative route, Carlos stayed behind. He has had to miss a scheduled performance in Marfa, Texas and could not accompany the band as they traveled through Mexico. "It's beautiful to see the project grow, but when the band has to travel, it's not easy to see them go," Carlos says pondering future opportunities in South America and Europe. "It's killing my dream. That's one of the hardest things that I've had to deal with being undocumented in this country."

The talented musician with a commanding stage presence is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. His parents immigrated to the United States when he was just six. Now as a 30 year-old man, Carlos was almost ineligible for President Barack Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum which offers work visa opportunities and a two-year deportation buffer.

"I barely got approved through deferred action," Carlos says. "It takes a weight off your shoulders, but we're looking for more. An immigration reform towards U.S citizenship would be much better. It's time to take a stand."

In that spirit, La Santa Cecilia, fresh off performances in Austin, Texas, is going into campaign mode. They will be appearing at immigration reform events in Tucson, Arizona and in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. over the next two days as the legislative debate is expected to heat up sometime this month.

"El Hielo (ICE)" offers up its humanizing and harmonizing take on the issue. The video comes as part of a collaboration between NDLON and the Americas Business Council. (For the back story on the undocumented cast members featured in the music video, be sure to check out immigrant rights reporter Aura Bogado's write-up in The Nation). In holding up the #Not1More banner, La Santa Cecilia enlists itself in a collaborative initiative between artists and organizations to confront the realities of unjust immigration laws.

The single itself is the first off the band's major label full-length debut album "Treinta Dias" (Thirty Days) due out on April 30. For Pepe Carlos, what prospects for immigration reform there will be at that time is just as eagerly anticipated as his musical accomplishment.

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