Musicians are debating whether to boycott Arizona because of its controversial new law aimed at illegal immigrants. What a thicket of issues for a bunch of musicians to wander into.
And make no mistake, when musicians make announcements that they are boycotting the state, they are inserting themselves into the story.
My grandfather was an illegal immigrant. And a deserter. These are ugly words to apply to a man who followed his conscience and seized an opportunity. He jumped overboard when his German navy vessel strayed too close to New York harbor (this was well before the actual time of the war). He washed up in Brooklyn without knowing a word of English, and, in a wonderful twist of cosmic karma, found help from a Yiddish-speaking cop.
Of course, my grandfather was white. It makes me wonder whether Arizona would have passed this law if their illegal immigrants were coming from Germany, or Sweden, or Canada. We can give the creators of the bill the benefit of the doubt and say they were trying to act fairly and effectively to combat a problem with serious consequences in their state; but the fact that the law seems to be aimed at people who look or sound Hispanic adds a racial overtone even if it was unintended.
Still, let’s remember that there are many Arizona residents who voted against the bill – a boycott is a broadband weapon and can hurt those people too. So while Arizona’s new immigrant law bothers me, I think engagement is more effective than boycotting. “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” was a neat song with a stellar lineup of 1980s musicians who refused to play in South Africa under the apartheid regime, but Paul Simon’s work with South African musicians on Graceland had a wider and more lasting cultural impact.
Is a musicians boycott ever a good idea? Is it a good idea here? Leave a comment.