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DENVER – The trials of young people brought to the U.S. before they are old enough to know what it means to be illegal are the themes of an album being released Thursday featuring Shawn King of the Denver-based group DeVotchKa.
The music was first created for Antonio Mercado's play "Dreaming sin Fronteras," or Dreaming without Borders, which has been performed in Los Angeles and Denver. He recruited percussionist, trumpeter and composer King, who brought in lyricist and singer Raul Pacheco of the Los Angeles band Ozomatli. Their independently released album, titled "Los Dreamers" and available nationwide, is rapped and sung in English and Spanish by U.S. and Latin musicians.
Their tracks are inspired by the stories of young people who were children when they came to the U.S. illegally and are known as dreamers. The music of King's DeVotchka is gypsy folk, while Pacheco's Ozomatli performs a multicultural mix that includes salsa and hip hop. Their album is a melting pot of styles and moods.
Millions of dreamers were made eligible to work legally and were exempted from deportation under an order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. A second Obama order expanded those protections to a larger group of dreamers, immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. But that action is on hold while two dozen states pursue a federal lawsuit to block the order.
"These are people who are trying to survive," Pacheco said. "To be healthy, to have food, to support yourself and your children, people do drastic things. We can all understand that."
On a "Los Dreamers" track called "La Bestia," or "The Beast," percussionists beat out a train's driving rhythm under the vocals of Ceci Bastida, whose first solo album, "Veo La Marea," was nominated for a Latin Grammy. Immigrants interviewed by Mercado for his stage show recounted a perilous journey riding atop a train from Central America into northern Mexico on their way to the United States. They described those who fell off as being eaten by "the beast."
"Alejandra" was inspired by Alejandra Cardona, a Zacatecas, Mexico native who came to the U.S. illegally as a child and was granted a special visa after she was injured in the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. Cardona has spoken of being afraid that reporters covering shooting would discover her illegal status and she and her family would be deported.
The song speaks of ideas, fate, chance and "what you do with the cards you are dealt," King said. Cardona, who recovered from her injuries and now is studying social work and criminal justice at Colorado State University, said she was humbled to have her story included. She praised Mercado, King and Pacheco for taking the time to get to know the dreamers.
Mercado plans to stage his play in Arizona and Texas. He casts young actors in the cities where the play is performed and hopes to spark conversations about immigrant experience and policy.
"What's important to me is how different the immigrant experiences are and how incredibly powerful the human spirit is," Mercado said.