Immigrant Songs, Covered In Folk
(A non-partisan mixtape for the comfortable and the afflicted)





I’ve often said this is not a political blog, but that’s not really what I mean. Folk music cannot help but be political; it is political at its roots, not just in its branches. Woody Guthrie’s fascist-killing guitar is a means to an end; the ends he shares are more apparent in a broader statement, often attributed to Woody but more likely borrowed from a newspaper writer of his generation, that the purpose of folk music is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. But no matter the origin, it is true, of music and of folk: the tenets of social justice are entwined so deeply in the folkworld, to pretend otherwise would be a failure of coverage.

But I am not just a folkblogger. I am also a practicing Unitarian Universalist, who believes fundamentally that love will prevail. And I am a true descendent of Ellis Island, born of a line of immigrant Jews who came to this country as teenage refugees themselves, the sole members of their families pushed out just in time before the Nazi party rose to power and swallowed the rest of our shared family tree.

I live in Massachusetts, both home of the Salem Witch Trials, and a Commonwealth known for harboring religious persecuted minorities since 1620. I serve my community as a member of the school board, the better to help establish norms and priorities which will best cover the spread of vocational and civic possibility in a community that trends 60/40 towards blue-collar, independent-contractor Republicanism that appreciates the high school musical but doesn’t always recognize the merits of the liberal arts mindset among us, or in our schools. I teach English and Media Literacy in an urban setting not just because it is what serves my soul or pays the bills, but specifically because it serves my sense of patriotic duty to develop the civic, questioning mind in those populations historically underrepresented in the halls of power – not to feed it the pablum of any particular creed or standpoint, but to engender, to the extent I am able, the articulation of thought in service to right dialogue in the generation of my children, and beyond.

And then, in the increasingly rare moments of peace, I turn to this virtual soapbox, and share the joy of communion in music and culture-sampling that is folk coverage. And sometimes, because the songs are speaking, that means harboring the fugitives: in this case, songs crafted – and performances – to afflict the comforted, as Guthrie so wisely yet so probably did not speak, after all.

There are a few of you out there who sent partisan responses to our last post; there are, surely, a few reading this who will willfully misunderstand, and follow suit. But this is not a liberal blog, save that we celebrate the transformation of both song and of culture, as their arc bends towards justice. These attempts to shift the conversation here to partisan discussion will go unshared, and un-responded to, though I am ever regretful that there are those out there who cannot tell the political from the partisan.

For mine is not political work, and this is not a partisan blog. It is, in the end, a folkspace: a patriotic platform, proudly American, where those who sing intimately to power are welcome, regardless of their party affiliation.

Just like in my classroom, all opinions are wanted here, so long as they are offered respectfully. Just like at the school board table, we work in service to the dialogue, and its participants, not to its contents or conclusions. And no matter your beliefs or your actions, if you are doing so peacefully, and proudly, and mindfully, and joyfully, then you are one of us.

All are welcome here, just like in America. You, and you, and you and me. For all of us, everywhere, are native to this world we share. And in a very true way, all of us are descended from immigrants – all of us together, and each one of us alone.


Immigrant Songs, Covered In Folk

Category: Mixtapes 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Immigrant Songs, Covered In Folk
(A non-partisan mixtape for the comfortable and the afflicted)

  1. Billy Lee Myers, Jr.

    A beautiful article, just what we needed. You help us to be aware of beauty and what holds us from it. Keep up the good work!

  2. Emily

    Wow, props for you to be able to *choose* a Richard Shindell song on immigration! “Fishing” is my go-to of his for the topic, but “Deportee” would have also been great.


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