While the majority of country artists have remained silent as President Trump and his administration enact policies that many consider divisive, discriminatory and even unconstitutional, the Mavericks’ Raul Malo has repeatedly raised his voice. The singer’s Twitter feed is a steady stream of criticism of the Trump White House and its decisions, and he hasn’t backed down even when confronted by fans who prefer he stick to art than politics. “Unfollow me, it’s easy,” he replied to one.
Malo – the son of Cubans who fled their native country for the United States – has particularly strong feelings about Trump’s recently enacted immigration policy that prohibits citizens of seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S. We asked Malo, whose band will release the new album Brand New Day in March, to share his thoughts on immigrants, America’s preoccupation with fear and why it’s important for artists to use their platform.
With all this talk about immigrants, I have to say: I’ve never in my life known an immigrant that has come to this country to do anything but work hard and provide for their families. And I’ve known a lot of them. My parents had to flee Cuba and they came here to pursue the American dream – the promise that here in this country, you won’t be persecuted for your religious beliefs, skin color or ethnicity. That is the country they came to. And if you could go back in time and listen how my parents spoke about this country when I was a kid, it would make you cry and rethink this fear of immigrants that a particular president and administration has.
We are in a dangerous time. This is beyond politics, beyond liberal versus conservative. This is down to right and wrong, and this administration is proving to be wrong on everything so far. Its travel ban has proven to be wrong and chaotic. It is a Muslim ban and it’s mired in racism. The number of Muslims that have gone rogue or joined ISIS compared to the number of Muslims in the world is so small, but now they’re all being lumped into a pile. And it’s not right.
In the Eighties, with the Mariel boatlift, they said the same thing about Cubans coming into Miami. That Castro had emptied the jails and sent nothing but gangsters and criminals. Yes, there were some, but they weren’t the majority. Tony Montana was a made-up character. Scarface wasn’t true. And I remember the same things they’re saying about Muslims now being said about Cubans. And it was heartbreaking to hear because I knew a lot of them. They came here to work, not to rob people. Do you know that in all my years of traveling, I have never ever had anything stolen from my room? And I’ve stayed in a lot of hotel rooms. Do you know who cleans your rooms? It’s not white young people; it’s immigrants, many of of them ladies, coming in on their second or third job. So what is this fear of immigrants that we have?
How many Americans have been around Muslims? How many have traveled to Muslim nations? How many have even been to Mexico? Americans don’t travel like other people travel because we live in a big country and, if you’re in the middle, it’s hard to get out. I get that. But then you get a leader up there like Trump who knows better, because he has been around the world and seen it, and yet he promotes this discord and fear. Fear is a very compelling argument, because it wins. And it won this time.
These are racist policies, but it’s not anything that Trump didn’t say in the campaign – this is all stuff that he said he was going to do. So now it’s up to the artists, the writers, the reporters, the journalists, the poets, the painters. People tell artists all the time, “Oh, shut up and sing” or “don’t get involved in that.” No, I am getting involved in that. This is my country, are you kidding me? I will not go quietly. I will not ride off into the sunset with my guitar and my song. I will go kicking and screaming when there is something that I see that is wrong. And a lot of people have seen things they believe are wrong. They are taking it to the streets and showing up at Capitol Hill and at airports. This is not the time to keep quiet. This is not the time to say, “Oh, let’s give Trump a chance.” He has had a chance, and he and the administration are dangerous. [Trump’s Chief Strategist Stephen] Bannon is the most dangerous man in America.
Till the day I die, I will be a proponent of speaking your mind. My family fled a place where if you spoke up, anything could happen to you: detained, tortured, imprisoned or killed. So I will forever speak, and now more than ever, artists, and especially Republicans, need to. We can’t go down this path. This is America – the beacon of all beacons.
(As told to Joseph Hudak)