Although the U.S. government claims to have met a court-ordered deadline to reunite families separated at the border, hundreds of children still remain apart from their parents, some of whom have already been deported or can’t be located. The family separations are the result of President Donald Trump’s administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” regarding illegal immigration, officially implemented in April, that calls for the prosecution of as many border-crossing offenses by adults as possible.
While some of music’s biggest stars have decried the practice, the issue strikes particularly close to home for Latin artists, already buffeted by Trump’s dismissive actions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and his comments deriding many Mexican and Latin American immigrants as “rapists,” criminals and drug dealers during his campaign. With the policy still sparking protests and marches around the country, Billboard brought together a group of young Latin artists for a candid conversation on immigration, their roles as spokespeople for their communities and what they’re doing to help those in need.
1. Victoria La Mala: Born in Mexico City, has lived in the U.S. for 12 years and is a U.S. citizen.
2. Nacho, 35: In the U.S. for eight years, is not allowed in his native Venezuela because he’s a vocal critic of the country’s regime.
3/4. Hanna Pérez Mosa: Bilingual sisters and members of pop duoHa*Ash, born in Louisiana, lived most of their lives In Mexico City.
5. Erick Brian Colón, 18: Member of CNCO. Moved from Cuba to the U.S. with his mother and sister in 2012.
6. Christopher Velez, 23: Member of CNCO. Born in New Jersey, grew up in Ecuador.
Many artists and entertainers have been very critical of the policy separating families at the border. But Latin artists have not been as vocal, and very few participated in the protest marches. Why do you think that is?
NACHO: I believe some Latin artists in the U.S. are still not convinced of the power our voices wield. And because we’re not convinced, we stay quiet. We’ll do a few things but we don’t feel we have the same impact as an American artist, or at least not the same impact on the American public.
LA MALA: Many Latins are also afraid to speak, to tell their stories, because it’s such a controversial matter and they don’t want to be scrutinized, to expose themselves to someone saying, “Let me see how you got here and what you do.”
ASHLEY PÉREZ MOSA: Hanna and I, as U.S. citizens and with an American family, have spoken out about it and are very firm in our posture because our fans are Latin. We have their backs 100 percent.
HANNA PÉREZ MOSA: And we are speaking for them. It all starts adding up. [The order to reunify families] happened because we all did our part.
Many of you flew to Miami specifically to be part of this roundtable. Why was it important for you to be here?
LA MALA: As public figures, we owe [it] to the community.
COLÓN: My father fled Cuba for the United States when I was very little and left me and my mom behind. I remember he said, “I’ll be right back,” and he never came back. He was able to claim us five years later. We came to this country for a better future that simply didn’t exist in Cuba.
VELEZ: When I was two years old, we went back to Ecuador because my grandparents got very sick. I grew up there, and I was happy; Ecuador is where I have my family, my friends, my first kiss. But when I turned 18, I went back to New Jersey by myself because my family was in a bad situation and I needed to help them. You start a new life from scratch and loneliness can eat you up. The only thing that gives you that impetus is the memory of your family.
NACHO: As a child I lived in a very prosperous country; so prosperous, the U.S. would give us indefinite visas to come here. But all that changed after the arrival of this pseudo-socialism… People are so desperate that, to come to the U.S., they’ll go to Panama and from there to Central America and to Mexico to cross the border. There is no need to treat them as criminals, because their only crime is to want a better reality, a better quality of life.
Immigrating to the U.S. was not easy during the Obama administration, either. What is the difference between now and then?
NACHO: When [Trump] became president, the first thing he did was sow xenophobia. When you mark a difference between one person and another, that’s where conflict begins, because we also feel segregated and don’t feel we have the power, even if we do.
ASHLEY PÉREZ MOSA: Negative attention is in the news every night and you have a president that says, “Latins are bad, Mexicans are bad.” What do you expect people to feed off of that? No. 1, that’s not true. No. 2, it’s offensive. No. 3, you have to be ignorant to be saying all those things.
HANNA PÉREZ MOSA: What if that dialogue changes? What if it’s, “People are coming in and this country will become more prosperous?” People need to know that someone who speaks a different language than you or someone who has a different culture is not bad. On the contrary, it’s gonna enrich us all.
Victoria, you marched in Los Angeles. Tell us about that.
LA MALA: I was so surprised to see the amount of different people from all walks of life, who weren’t Latinos. But I must say, I expected a little more from the Latino artistic community. I know that not all of us could have gone to march because everybody has a busy schedule. But, I didn’t see a lot of posts about it, I didn’t see a lot of awareness about it.
NACHO: Many of us weren’t even aware. And that also speaks to the need to be informed. And to be informed, you need to be involved in the country’s politics, and many times that’s not the case.
All of you are directly involved in causes affecting immigration. What are they?
NACHO: When protests started in Venezuela I went there to see for myself if the army was really repressing the people. Now, as a successful artist, I want that Venezuelan government I don’t agree with to allow me to send food and medicine from the United States, a country that’s allowing me to help my country. And if someone thinks I’m a rapist, or a criminal, they’re being very unfair to someone who came here legally, who pays taxes, and employs more than 30 people from the United States.
LA MALA: The day after they announced [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA] would be revoked, I wrote “Corazon Valiente [Brave Heart]” and just released it along with a campaign highlighting immigrants that have come to this country without a legal status and made a big contribution. I’m also doing a fundraiser for RAICES, an organization that helps families at the border with lawyers and legal fees.
HANNA PÉREZ MOSA: We’ve been working with Save the Children for the past 10-12 years. They’re at the border right now helping all these children and we’ll be posting on our social media ways that people can continue to contribute to actually make a difference.
Do you feel it’s your artistic responsibility to speak out?
ASHLEY PÉREZ MOSA: I think like Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And at the end of the day we’re humans, we’re here thanks to the people.
NACHO: Everyone is free to do as they wish. But beyond the law, there are moral issues, and there is nothing compassionate in thinking that separating children from their mothers will benefit them.
VELEZ: This is something that affects all of us as humans. We all should have the same rights, the same opportunities to grow.
COLÓN: To all those young people, I want to say, live your dreams. Don’t let anyone stop you. If we can live our dreams, so can you. And stay positive.