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Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Rocha on Immigration and the Need for Powerful Protest

Zack de la Rocha, lead singer for Rage Against The Machine, performs at the 2007 Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha is no stranger to combatting injustice and oppression. Using his massive platform and colossal success, he has created a culture of acceptance for immigrants of all backgrounds through powerful protest.

De La Rocha’s origins

The son of Mexican-American parents with African, Sephardi Jewish, German and Irish heritage and the grandson of a Mexican revolutionary, De La Rocha rose to stardom through the furnace of cultural and political fusion.

Influenced by the world around him, De La Rocha merged the spheres of hip-hop and alternative rock to form the electric, furious, revolutionary sound revered by punk, metal and rap enthusiasts worldwide.

Powerful protest - Zack de la Rocha, lead singer for Rage Against The Machine, performs at the 2007 Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Zack De La Rocha performing. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Indignant above all else, De La Rocha’s sound also represents the racism he faced as a Chicano Domestic Third Culture Kid (TCK). After being forced out of his home of Lincoln Heights in East Los Angeles, Calif., he was pushed to the city of Irvine.

East Los Angeles represented Latino support, as the area was mostly populated by Mexican-Americans. Irvine, however, was predominantly white, and, in De La Rocha’s words, extremely racist.

In a 1999 “Rolling Stone” article, David Fricke interviewed De La Rocha and Rage Against The Machine. In response to a racist comment made by a teacher as a child:

“I remember sitting there, about to explode,” De La Rocha said. “I realized that I was not of these people. They were not my friends. And I remember internalizing it, how silent I was. I remember how afraid I was to say anything.”

De La Rocha’s formative bouts with prejudice and discrimination are especially prominent in his later works. “Killing in the Name” and “Wake Up,” for example, are key in understanding De La Rocha’s relationship with the injustice he faced as a child.

I realized that I was not of these people. They were not my friends. And I remember internalizing it, how silent I was. I remember how afraid I was to say anything.

Speaking on immigration

Immigration is one of the most notable topics De La Rocha covers, both in his music and in his personal activism, but most recently in his 2010 opposition to Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” otherwise known as SB 1070.

This act has been heavily criticized as an “egregious anti-migratory law,” as its main caveat allows Arizona law enforcement to demand documentation and immigration status if they simply suspect that a person is undocumented.

The ACLU released a statement explaining the bill in 2010, noting: “Discriminatory laws like SB 1070 invite racial profiling of Latinos and others who may look or sound ‘foreign,’ including many U.S. citizens who have lived in America their entire lives.”

Powerful protest

In response to the act, De La Rocha, alongside an assembly of top-tier artists and bands, created the SoundStrike. This powerful protest declared that the bands would not play until the bill was cast out.

Discriminatory laws like SB 1070 invite racial profiling of Latinos and others who may look or sound ‘foreign,’ including many U.S. citizens who have lived in America their entire lives.

In a press release through Alto Arizona, De La Rocha called the bill a “battle of basic human dignity.”

“Toxic ideas have led to a chain of events culminating in the passage of a law that says that we are not all equal,” De La Rocha said. “That it is OK to racially profile. Yet still, this is not a Latino issue or an immigrant issue. This is a battle of basic human dignity. A battle that Rage Against the Machine, and the artists of SoundStrike are fully committed to win. We thank our fans, especially those in Arizona, who understand that we are also fighting for them.”

A legacy of storytelling

De La Rocha’s powerful protest of SB 1070 is not an outlier. In fact, listeners can trace this attitude back to his early musical career and his childhood before that.

As far back as 1991, listeners can hear resistance towards anti-immigration sentiment. The song “Without a Face,” for instance, details the struggle of an undocumented immigrant facing hostility in the United States. Another song, “Maria,” represents the plight of Mexican women who emigrate to the United States only to find violence and fear.

De La Rocha is unique in that he is more vocal toward injustice than almost any other artist alive today. Decades of revolutionary thought and hatred for discrimination allow him to seek out and strike down harmful, unethical policies.

Cultural prejudice, racism and anti-immigratory thought are all within bounds of criticism for De La Rocha; the role he plays in supporting the oppressed is perhaps the most important part of his legacy.

At heart, De La Rocha is a Niño Chicano with revolutionary blood: He wields in his left hand an olive branch for the values of justice and peace, and a hammer in his right for those would dare oppose them.

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