Feministing Jamz: What Las Cafeteras’ “This Land” says about land & power

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Last week I wrote about a little yoga studio challenging big things in East LA. People’s Yoga might seem like a simple spot for some fun exercise, but with each class it offers, it challenges deeply entrenched systems of white supremacy and economic inequities.

This week People’s Yoga co-founder Leah Gallego’s band, Las Cafeteras, is doing the same thing with its latest music video, released just in time for Independence Day in the U.S. As profiled in last week’s post, Las Cafeteras is a band “who is looking for love and fighting for justice in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles,” so this video comes as no surprise.

Transcript available in the Youtube description.

“This Land Is My Land” is a new take on the classic Woodie Guthrie folk song with lines about “redwood forests” and “gulf stream waters” replaced with Spanish verses singing, “Everything for all, nothing for us,” or “The earth is yours, the earth is mine.” For a group of brown Chicanos too often painted as “foreign” to stand on top of a mountain that used to be part of Mexico and sing that this land is theirs is exciting. For the two lead women singers to lead the chant is revolutionary.

Humans have not always thought of land as a commodity that could be owned, conquered, or sold. But once they did, you can guess who was doing most of the selling and stealing conquering (hint: not people of color and definitely not women). In fact, women of color were more likely to be considered as objects to be conquered along with the land than they were to be considered landowners. Today, people of color in the U.S. own homes at significantly lower rates (try 46% to 71%) than white people. Add gender to the mix, and women of color own a pretty pitiful percentage of the world’s land. Native Americans — whose land this originally was – still have to fight to hold onto the little left to them.

"Neither the land or women are conquered territory." Image via Latina Rebels

“Neither land nor women are conquered territory.” Image via Latina Rebels

But of course when Las Cafeteras sings that “la tierra es tuya, la tierra es mia” they aren’t speaking only about owning land. The song is also about the right to move freely through public space. Because so long as it is legal to control and criminalize Black people as drug users, Latinxs as undocumented immigrants, or Arab-Americans as “terrorists,” then “public” is only safe for some. Women in many parts of the country cannot walk down the street without being harassed, and trans women of color are killed for existing outside. Border Patrol is apprehending and deporting even children who attempt to do what humans have been doing as long as we have been breathing: migrate.

So who really “owns” public spaces? Whose independence and freedom do we really celebrate on the Fourth of July? Who are most people thinking about when they sing “This Land is Your Land?”

This video is about deconstructing the idea that some people get space, land, safety, and resources, and some have to work to pay the rent for it.

In my opinion, this land wasn’t necessarily made for anyone. But certainly, if those in power can use it, we all can.

This land was made for you and me.

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Juliana can’t wait to go see Las Cafeteras tonight in Oakland!

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