New Mexico artist gets grant to tell story of border life through music

Border Report

Amalia Mondragon shares her experience growing up as a "Transfronterizx" in El Paso-Juarez-New Mexico region

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Like many children of Mexican immigrants, Amalia Mondragon grew up with roots on both sides of the border. That meant speaking English at school and going home to her Spanish-speaking parents. It meant peaceful afternoons in the farming community of La Union, New Mexico, followed by weekend trips to visit relatives in the fast-paced and noisy urban sprawl of Juarez, Mexico.

It also gave her the ability to explain important information in English for her parents and automatically switching to Spanish as soon as she crossed the border into Mexico.

“It is like walking into a mirror and then you become the left side of yourself,” says the Latin Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter. “It’s a type of code-switching and it’s automatic. I take it for granted. I feel it’s a superpower to be a walking bridge, a walking translation.”

The word “transfronterizo” has long been Spanish for cross-border. Nowadays, Transfronterizx opens the door to a more diverse, inclusive description of the border residents who walk back and forth through that geo-cultural mirror.

Amalia Mondragon (Courtesy photo)

Mondragon in the next year will have a chance to tell the world what life is like in this unique corner of the world. She is one of 27 artists or organizations getting grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Association of Latinos Arts and Cultures (NALAC) totaling $1.4 million to change the narrative of the border through personal storytelling.

“Damaging narratives about border communities have for too long dominated the national attitude towards immigrants. We are proud to support these communities to reclaim their truth, speak their stories and craft new anthems for America that ring with the dignity, demands and dreams of border communities,” said Maria Torres-Springer, vice president of U.S. Programs for the Ford Foundation.

Five El Paso-area groups and artists received grants. Winners include La Semilla Food Center of Anthony, N.M., La Mujer Obrera and Rubi Orozco Santos of El Paso, and Ni En More of Juarez, Mexico.

Mondragon said she will use her grant to cut her first solo album. She was the former singer for Las Chamanas, a 2016 Latin Grammy nominee.

“It’s the notion about living as a two-spirited person, who identifies as both male and female,” she said. “The idea is for me to tell the story about my cousin, Tereso Contreras, and myself through genre. Each genre representing an emotion, an individual thing, using the genre that we grew up listening to like rancheras, corridos, cumbias but giving them a flair of our own pochismo or upbringing on the border.”

Mondragon says she is still fundraising.

“It’s been fun,” she said.

To find out more about the artist, visit amaliamondragon.com or look for @amalia_mondragon.

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