“It’s an incredible feeling, I woke up right now and I was like, ‘Yeah! We did win,’” said Carlos, 31, an undocumented immigrant and recipient of President Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals, which gave deportation relief to young immigrants brought to the country as children. When La Santa Cecilia went up to receive their Grammy, they spoke for immigrants in front of an influential audience.
“We dedicate this award to the more than 11 million undocumented people that live and work really hard in this country, and that still need to live a more dignified life in this country!” lead singer Marisol Hernandez said from the stage as the crowd cheered.
Carlos talked to BuzzFeed about the idea that his band has emerged as a voice for traditionally voiceless and faceless immigrants.
“These are stories that we have to tell,” he said. “As musicians, songwriters, we have an obligation to present the story of our people. Of the situations we have lived in ourselves.”
Through Carlos, the band is constantly reminded of the reality for undocumented immigrants in the country.
“The band has been very supportive of my situation. Many times we have to travel to Texas and take the longer route so we don’t drive next to the border,” he said.
He said that, in some way, the group’s other members including the lead singer Hernandez, are also immigrants. Hernandez’s mother was undocumented when she came to the United States and worked in house cleaning.
Carlos also sought to contrast the reality of winning a prestigious award with the renewed push for immigration reform, which he says would mean a lot to him and his family.
“It would help out so much if there was immigration reform, not only for my family, but for a lot of people that come to the U.S. with dreams,” he said.
“Living the American life, the American dream, my parents worked extremely hard in the dry cleaning business, which is a tough job; it’s not easy. It would mean a lot to me if they can have their situation fixed, if I can have my situation fixed. Winning a Grammy is just an example of the hard work immigrants contribute to this country. We come here to work, we come here to have a better life.”
La Santa Cecilia embedded themselves in the immigration debate through the song “El Hielo,” which means “the ice” in English and is a play on the government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The video for the song featured an entire cast whose members have lived the realities of immigration-related hardship.
High-profile DREAMer Erika Andiola and her mother, who was nearly deported in 2013, take part in the video along with Juan Romero, a day laborer who looks for work outside a Los Angeles Home Depot. Isaac Barrera, an organizer with the Immigrant Youth Coalition in Los Angeles, spent two and a half weeks in detention after being purposefully arrested by border patrol in Alabama to expose what detention is like for immigrants. Katherine Figueroa was 9 when she came home from school, turned on the television, and witnessed the arrest of her parents by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies in Arizona.
When the band played “El Hielo” in April 2013, during last year’s push for immigration reform, 25,000 people were supposed to come to Capitol Hill. Instead 100,000 showed up.
Carlos dedicated the band’s Grammy win to the nation’s undocumented immigrants.
“Winning is not just for us, but for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country,” he said. “They don’t want to say they’re undocumented because of fear of being deported, so this is a great avenue for us to reach a bigger audience.”
So what’s next for the man who has had to stay behind when his band travels abroad to perform and go on tour? On Monday, Carlos was set to speak with his lawyer about a parole that allows immigrants to travel outside the country for work. He has to submit two letters. If the waiver is successful he will live another dream in what is shaping up to be a big year for his band and undocumented immigrants across the country.
“I haven’t been to Mexico in 26 years,” he said. “I would really love to go to Mexico.”
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