Recently we at Xica Nation had the pleasure of catching up with Amalia for a quick interview:
What is your name? Where are you at / from? How do you identify?
My name is Amalia Ortiz. I am from La Feria, TX in the lower Rio Grande Valley! I’m living in San Antonio. I identify as Xicanx, but if you spell it with a C, I don’t trip.
Who are you speaking to in “La Frontera Te Llama?” Why did you write this song? (I corrected the name of the song.)
The lyrics came to me like the yelp of a wounded animal, so I guess I am speaking to anyone in earshot. Whether anyone cares about my pain or not, I’m letting it out.
I grew up on the border from ages 3 through 18. Then, I left for college and only visited for over 2 decades. I no longer lived there. The home I grew up in was literally no longer there. Without realizing it, I viewed my borderland home through the lens of nostalgia at a distance, like a fond, favorite sweater I had outgrown. Life brought me back to the border to live there once again in 2011. By the time I began graduate school in 2012, I was feeling overwhelmed by the reality of the world as it intersected with my experience as a Xicana feminist living, once again, so close to the border. I heard “London Calling” by The Clash, and I had heard it countless times before, but this time, the line, “I live by the river.” resonated with me in a new and terrifyingly visceral way. I was a teen in the 80s, so I remembered British punk’s skewering of Thatcherism and the general paranoia, angst, and righteous anger pointed at a chaotic state. Similar righteous anger filled me those many years later, and I decided to use punk -specifically that song – to express it.
What is the vision behind this multidimensional, multimedia album?
I am a performer, so I knew I wanted to write a theatrical collection. After (re) writing the first song, “La Frontera Te Llama,” I decided I wanted to write a whole collection of “repurposed” songs. I wasn’t sure how they would fit together to tell a larger story. But as I researched, I began to see how the lyrics of folk songs change slowly over time to experience new life and sometimes new meaning. You can see this happening on the border with songs which are translated from English to Spanish and sometimes back and the lyrics change with every translation along the way. (See “Open Up My Heart” by Buck Owens translated into Spanish and back.) Later in the process, I decided that my songs would be the folk songs of the future in a post-apocalyptic world. So, I crafted prose poems around the songs which tell the story of a future feminist revolutionary leader who uses “the old folk songs” to galvanize and educate in the tradition of griots and bards. My book can be read as a collection of poems, but it is performed as a punk musical about future soldaderxs who roam the wasteland recruiting more allies for change.
What is one piece of advice that you give to the younger generation who seeks to resist through the arts?
Creating art can be a solitary act at times, but the ultimate goal is to connect with and build communities for change. Don’t be petty with your allies. Take care of each other.