News Column

Lila Downs: Singer Says She Has Noticed More Racism

July 23, 2013

For Lila Downs the rejection toward Latinos remains latent in the United States. In her latest tour throughout different states such as Texas or Arizona, the Mexican artist said she noticed "a bit more racism."

"I think it's the physical appearance we have which makes people uncomfortable at times, that makes them feel attacked by our community. The black hair, the dark skin ... One is sensitive to those things, which are subtle," Downs told The Associated Press over lunch at a cafe near her New York apartment, in the Lower East Side.

"But, obviously, I haven't lived such a drastic case like my mother did, who was from a different generation, when there was a very strong racism against indigenous people in Mexico which I got to see during my childhood," added Downs.

Downs, whose mother is a Mexican Indian and whose father is American, recalled that her mother avoided teaching her their indigenous language, Mixteco. "She feared I would be discriminated," she said

The artist, who was born and raised in the Mexican town of Tlaxiaco, said that she also lived the racism against her father, "for being Yankee."

"It was part of the fuel for what I do; it was very important to deal with that and express it with my music. Fortunately we have been able to work some of those demons onstage," she said.

(Downs herself married an American man, Paul Cohen, her producer, collaborator and a saxophonist in her band, La Misteriosa).

Now her music can be heard in the documentary series "Latino Americans," which tells the story of Latinos in the United States and premieres September 17 on PBS. The episodes will close with a song from Lila Downs from her album about border stories, "Border" (2001), in which she sings "Pastures of Plenty/My Land is Your Land" by American Woody Guthrie, who also experienced personally forced migration and discrimination in his own country, when he had to leave his native Oklahoma for California.

"It's a very important time to expose Latin American migration in a historical context," said Downs about the show, which traces the history of Latinos in the United States for more than 500 years. "Humans tend to erase the memory of our ancestors. It is very important to remember and understand that we will be a majority in this country soon."

Downs, who lives between Mexico and the United States, will perform at SummerStage Festival in Central Park and as part of the tour for her latest album, "Pecados y Milagros."

Source: Copyright. Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL). 2013

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