Migrants, advocates and other participants at a rally in Playas de Tijuana sang and chanted along to Jimmy Golden’s caravan song at the end of April. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Migrants, advocates and other participants at a rally in Playas de Tijuana sang and chanted along to Jimmy Golden’s caravan song at the end of April. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Jimmy Golden first left Honduras in 2017.

Golden, whose legal name is Jimmy Banegas, decided to leave Honduras after he and members of his family were threatened by gang members. He’s hardly been able to see or speak with his daughter and other family members who remain in Honduras and are still being threatened.

He joined up with a caravan of Central Americans migrants traveling together across Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border, crossed and asked for asylum. His request was denied.

That’s not an unusual outcome. In 2017, about 62 percent of asylum cases heard were denied, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research center at Syracuse University. But the number is  lower for Central Americans. About 78 percent of asylum claims from Honduras were denied in 2017.

Golden, 30, was deported and sent back to Honduras. Not long after, he heard of another caravan leaving. He once again decided to make the journey north, away from the dangers and threats he and his family faced in Honduras.

Jimmy Golden, who traveled with the 2017 and 2018 migrant caravans, has been writing music about the plight of migrants. / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

One day in Honduras, during the month he spent there between his deportation and making the journey north with the 2018 caravan, Golden said he woke up inspired by what he and other migrants and activists had chanted as they made the journey.

He turned the chant into the chorus of a song about why Central Americans were fleeing from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The song asks why they were being treated so poorly in their own countries and in those where they sought refuge.

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¿Por que nos matan? ¿Por que nos asesinan? ¿Si somos la esperanza de América Latina?

Why do you kill us? Why do you murder us? If we’re the hope of Latin America?

Manchada de rojo está la frontera

The border is stained with blood

Porque allí se matan a la clase obrera

Because there they kill the working class

“The idea came to me from the chant,” Golden said. “I just wrote the chorus. That’s how it happened.”

The song has become a rallying cry for members of the caravan and their advocates. It’s been chanted during marches and gatherings, and used in solicitations of support for migrants.

On the last weekend in April, as migrants rallied before marching to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum, the group chanted the chorus and danced and sang along to the song on the beach at Playas de Tijuana. With the border fence as a backdrop, the song played as migrants gave testimonies about their experiences and advocates demanded the U.S. government allow caravan members the right to seek asylum.

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“The chorus was a chant that we would repeat along the journey,” Golden said. “We would march and shout with Pueblo Sin Fronteras. And the chorus, it’s a dream, a dream that all we Central Americans have. We suffer a lot during the journey.”

The song has become a soundtrack for the movement the caravan has been building.

“By the end of the 2018 refugee caravan everyone knew Jimmy’s song,” said Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an advocacy group that helped organize the caravan. “We play his music at meetings, at events, during marches and vigils, all the time. It really motivates people and has become a part of our collective identity as members of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras family.”

When I asked Golden if he considered himself a reggaeton artist in Honduras, he laughed.

“You could say that,” he said. “I had my moment.”

Reggaeton is a genre of music that originated in Panama and Puerto Rico in the 1990s. It’s influenced by hip-hop, Caribbean and Latin American music and generally includes a mix of rapping and singing. The lyrical structure tends to resemble hip-hop, but reggaeton is often marked by a “dembow riddim,” a particular drum beat rhythm influenced by dancehall and other Caribbean music.

Honduras had “reggaeton fever” back in 2005. Back then Golden was part of a group of reggaetoneros from his neighborhood. They would compete against other neighborhood groups, have small shows, that sort of thing, he said.

When he first started, he was inspired by the artist Hector El Father, one of the Puerto Rican reggaeton artists who helped popularize the musical style in the ‘90s. Now Golden is a fan of Puerto Rican reggaeton and Latin trap singer Ozuna.

In Honduras, Golden said writing songs, performing or recording them was more of a hobby than a career aspiration.

But amid the problems that led him to flee Honduras and the obstacles he faced as a migrant, making music has become an important emotional outlet – and a contribution to a broader social justice movement drawing attention to the plight of Central American migrants.

In September, some caravan members in Tijuana had a run-in with the police. Two people were beaten and detained. The incident spurred marches, vigils, forums and calls for an end to police abuse of migrants in the city.

Three days before the first planned march, Golden wrote another song. This time it was about the police.

That track, too, has caught on within the movement. It’s been played at vigils and other events as caravan members who stayed in Tijuana have organized to call attention issues involving the local police.

El abuso de la police está incrementando y inmigrantes lo siguen denunciando …

The police abuse is mounting and immigrants continue denouncing it …

Quiero caminar tranquilo y vivir sin miedo, sin miedo que nos vayan a detener …

I want to walk around calmly and live without fear, without fear that they’re going to detain us …

Basta, basta ya con el abuso de poder

Enough is enough with the abuse of power

Golden has written other songs about social issues, like one about domestic violence. And he’s working on another, about his daughter in Honduras who he hasn’t been able to see.

Golden decided to stay in Tijuana when he reached the border the second time around. He’s been there since the end of April and is currently working in construction.

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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