TIJUANA—The accordion-laced Mexican ranchera bounces along with the kind of bravado that has chronicled the exploits of revolutionaries, cowboys and outlaws.
This song spotlights a young immigrant stumbling through the desert in the U.S. He gets thirsty, watches people die and reaches an epiphany: It’s OK to return to Mexico.
“Since I was a kid, I was told a man never gives up,” the man sings. “Now that I’m on the other side [in the U.S.], I realize they were wrong.”
The tune is part of a unique U.S. Border Patrol Spanish-language media campaign aimed at channeling the agency’s safe borders message through the language and culture of Mexican border crossers.
Employing the tradition of Mexican corridos, narrative songs, the campaign invokes themes of death, religion and machismo to discourage people from braving the dangerous journey north. Two songs tell of young immigrants whose dreams of crossing into the U.S. are crushed. Two 30-second television spots depict the aftermath of failed journeys: a funeral procession through a Mexican pueblo and a haunted graveyard with voices of dead migrants.
“I get chills just listening,” said Arturo Hernandez, one of a group of migrants who heard and watched the campaign spots during an interview at a migrant shelter in Tijuana.
Hernandez, 22, said he got lost and almost died in the Arizona desert. Recently deported from the U.S., Hernandez said the campaign could work.
The Border Patrol has had other outreach efforts since the late 1990s, when there was a sharp increase in deaths near the border. But those in-house videos were shown only in detention facilities.
Seeking a more innovative approach, the agency contracted with Elevacion Ltd., an advertising agency whose clients include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Before creating the ads, the agency sent researchers to Mexican villages to study migrants’ motives. “It was interesting . . . A lot of it was rite of passage. It was almost like ‘learn to drive, lose my virginity, now I’ll cross the border,’ “ said Jim Learned, the firm’s managing director.
The songs the agency produced tell of young men whose journeys turn into harrowing ordeals. Many immigrants in such cases tough it out and continue, but turning back is also an option. The message: “Chickening out is also a manly thing to do,” according to the agency’s translation.