Sharing Music Across the U.S.-Mexico Border’s Metal Fence

5/29/2016 The New York Times

3482542774_f2826c6655_mSAN DIEGO — A locked security zone resembling a prison is not the most obvious location for a musical gathering. But on Saturday, as they have every year since 2008, musicians assembled on either side of the border between the United States and Mexico, carrying traditional Mexican string instruments and dance shoes with clickety-clack wooden heels. Through the thick metal weave of the fence, the grids so tight that a pinkie could barely squeeze through, they struggled to make out the faces of their friends and musical colleagues who were gathered and facing them on the Tijuana side.

On Saturday, some 60 musicians traveled to the heavily patrolled enforcement zone oddly named Friendship Park for an annual musical event known as the Fandango Fronterizo. A heady mix of joyful fiesta and sober political statement, the Fandango is a gritty affirmation of son jarocho — a centuries-old string music tradition from rural Veracruz, a southern Mexican state along the Gulf of Mexico, that has strong Spanish, African and indigenous roots.

The fandango at the border did not start out as an overtly political act. But through the years, as the national debate over immigration has become ever more divisive and as violence in Mexico has continued, the event’s symbolism has deepened and grown more bittersweet. The fandango itself is a communal custom involving musicians gathered in a circle, from which son jarocho grew.

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