Ceci Bastida was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, in the shadow of the US border. She saw the border fence become a wall and observed the militarization of the area. In the 90s, Bastida played keyboards and sang with the punk rock band Tijuana No! on immigration, travel, the war on drugs and political corruption. The group incorporated Latin rhythms with ska and punk and released six albums including Contra Revolución Avenue in 1998.
Bastida now lives in Los Angeles and she recently narrated the eight-part podcast Punk in Translation, available in English and Spanish on Audible. The series explores the world of Latinx punk rock and pre-punk bands of the mid-70s, including Los Seicos from Peru (1966). Other episodes celebrate Los Angeles bands like The Bags, Los Illegals and The Plugz and feature interviews with musicians like Kid Congo Powers, John Doe and Joan Jett. The Sentinel recently spoke with Ceci Bastida about the revolutionary potential of punk rock.
Q: “Tell me about growing up in the shadow of the border wall between Mexico and the United States and how that inspired you to sing about political issues with Tijuana No!”
A: “There is definitely something that makes people who live near the border different from people who live in the rest of Mexico. Growing up in Tijuana, you constantly see the border. It marks you in some way. When you drive on one of the main roads between where I grew up near the beach and downtown, you basically drive next to the border wall,” Bastida recalls.
“Over the years, we have noticed that the border wall has become more and more militarized. When I was growing up it was a flimsy chain link fence. This changed, notably with Bill Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper (1994). This forced migrants to go to much more dangerous areas, such as the desert. People who crossed over, many of them ended up dead. The boundary is something that’s inside you, because you can’t look away.
“So if you’re curious, you want to know; Why is this fence here and why do people want to cross the border into the United States? You realize that we live in a country – Mexico – that has a very large wealth gap and the population that is rich is small compared to the amount of poverty. So you understand why people have to leave. It’s something I couldn’t not think of. That’s what made me want to keep talking about it over the years.
Q: “Why did you choose punk rock as a way to express your concerns about the war on drugs, anti-immigration policy and gun violence?”
A: “In punk I would hear more political conversations than in pop music. I listened to a lot of new wave and all kinds of different music,” Bastida explains. “But I noticed that punk music seemed be more direct, speaking about these issues in the most powerful way.”
Q: “How important is it to you that bands sing about social and political issues?
A: “When I was a teenager, I thought people in bands should talk about socio-political issues in their music. If they didn’t, I would wonder, “Why don’t you talk about poverty in Mexico and corruption? But people express art in their own way, and it doesn’t have to be political. That’s what’s great about art and music. It offers other ways to get involved in these social issues. I know a lot of people who make music that isn’t political, but they’re active in their personal lives benefiting certain bands or volunteering with organizations that do great work.
“When I was playing with my band Tijuana No! in the early 90s, there was this movement in support of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN),” Bastida continued. “In English, they were called the Zapatista Liberation Army, in southern Mexico. A lot of bands got inspired by them to start playing and being super active. Sometimes activism comes in waves; there are times when people are really passionate and then it dies down. And then something else happens that really makes people want to fight for something. In Mexico now there is this feminist movement because so many women are killed every day; at least 10 women. I see artists talking about these things now, whereas five years ago it wasn’t.
Q: “The Zapatista movement was powerful. I was part of a group of journalists and international observers who joined the Zapatista caravan in Mexico City in 2001. We believed that revolutionary changes would democratize Mexico and spread to other places.
A: “I thought there was definitely this huge change coming. And there isn’t. But I like that people don’t give up. The movement is still doing its job. Yeah, I thought Mexico was going to be in a very different place. And when I look at it right now – I’m not going to say we’re dealing with the same issues – but we’re definitely dealing with a lot of cartel issues, extreme poverty and mad corruption,” Bastida told the Sentinel. “This new president (Obrador) sells himself as some sort of liberal leftist and there’s nothing leftist about him! The opposite I would say; he looks like Trump, to my eyes. 1994 is when the Zapatista movement broke out, and we are now in 2022. A lot of things are still the same.
Punk started in Peru
Q: “You point out that white European culture tends to see things from its own perspective and say, ‘We made it all up. Including punk rock!’ A lot of punk grew up in New York and London, but you mention punk’s Latin roots, especially the Cuban rhythm cha cha cha that was used for the punk anthem “Louie, Louie.” I heard about Peruvian punk band Los Seicos from your podcast. Their song “Demolición” was recorded in 1966 and the raw energy and distorted, angry vocals sound like punk coming soon. »
A: “Los Seicos was about immigration issues, racism and things that we still hear from bands now. Even though Los Seicos recorded ‘Demolición’ in 1966, it sounds contemporary. It’s hyper raw. Los Seicos were creating music that must have sounded crazy to a lot of people at the time! It’s definitely powerful and it makes you feel what they feel,” Bastida offered.
“A lot of the music in the United States has had Latin American influences for a very long time. It’s good for people to know that punk isn’t necessarily something that was created here by a bunch of – not white people – but by themselves. Punk is definitely a mix of things. And that’s how the world is; we’re more connected than we sometimes think. I was surprised to learn of this connection between the Ramones and this Mexican – Arturo Vega – who left Mexico because the radical social movement was under attack. He left Mexico and came to New York and became friends with the Ramones. He was super creative and designed the Ramones logo, basing it in part on the Mexican flag.
Everything will be taken away
Q: “What are you doing now musically?”
A: “I stopped playing with Tijuana No! in the mid 90s. They are still good friends of mine. But musically, I wanted to do something different. I’ve released a few albums and hopefully my last one will be out in the fall. The working title is Everything Will be Taken Away, based on an exhibition I saw by an artist called Adrian Piper. The music is very rhythmic and melodic with lots of electronic elements. It is mainly inspired by issues of displacement, immigration and migration,” Bastida said.
“I also became an advocate for the rights of immigrant children in the United States with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. They put me in contact with a young girl or a boy and I am with them once a week, drawing, talking and telling them if their file is progressing or not. I make sure their needs are met. Ideally, I would go with them to court. I’ve been doing this since 2019.
This work was really important to me because sometimes a lot of our socio-political issues seem so huge that it’s overwhelming, and people just end up doing nothing. I realized that you can make changes even when it seems small. If I talk to a girl for a year, every week, I know there’s an impact and I’m helping a person. It seems very small, but in the end it is very satisfying. I feel like I’m really doing something.
Q: “I love The Clash and their political lyrics. Their Sandinista album was about Chilean musician-activist Victor Jara’s The Battle of the United States against Russia, which unfortunately continues. They sang of resistance to military service, the Sandinista revolution, and the global damage caused by the CIA and American militarism.
A: “The Clash are one of my biggest influences. Musically, they didn’t always sound the same. And it was a band that looked to Latin America and talked about issues that a lot of people don’t talk about. The Clash was very specific, including on one of the things that infuriates me with the United States; this lack of knowledge about the presence of the United States in Latin America in the 1970s and how the United States supported dictators who harmed many countries. They killed and disappeared thousands of people and deepened poverty. Violence everywhere.
Bastida summarizes: “If you live in a place like this, of course you are going to want to leave. They come to the United States and people ask, “Why are they coming here? It’s not our fault that their countries are crap. Well, it kind of is. It drives me crazy when people think Mexicans want to come here to have a big house or to take your job. That’s not why people leave their homes. They leave because they are desperate and there is no way to provide a better life for themselves or their families. We are all connected and the actions of the United States have affected the world for so many years. And there’s a lack of accountability on the part of a lot of people here, it’s just mind blowing.
Listen to this Ceci Bastida Thursday noon interview on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org.