Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

April 16, 2020

Kelsey Freeman's Playlist for Her Book "No Option But North"

No Option But North

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Kelsey Freeman's No Option But North is a powerful and important examination of Central American and Mexican immigration into the United States.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"This respectful, carefully documented account succeeds in humanizing an issue that often gets obscured by political rhetoric."

In her own words, here is Kelsey Freeman's Book Notes music playlist for her book No Option But North:

Ni Aqui Ni Allá, by Los Tigres del Norte

Los Tigres del Norte have so many great songs that point to the paradoxes in U.S. immigration, but this one in particular relates to No Option but North in highlighting that “ni aqui ni allá,” (neither here nor there) is truly home. Neither country is fully a space for migrants to build prosperous lives. The people in No Option but North migrated despite the rampant discrimination, exploitative labor practices, and constant threat of deportation they knew they would face in the States. The majority did not have some rosy colored vision of the American Dream. Rather, they saw living undocumented in the U.S. as a slightly better alternative than gang violence or a complete lack of economic opportunity back home.

This song digs into that perpetual in between space that is not being wanted in America and being unable to go home, summed up by this sorrowful line: “Así pasaré la vida, hasta que llegue el final, quitándome las espinas, para alcanzar el rosal” (Like this I’ll spend my life, until the end comes, pulling the spines off of me, just to reach that rose). There’s something tragic about the ceaseless quest for prosperity in inhospitable spaces.

Far Away by Jessie Reyez

In “Far Away,” Jessie Reyez gets at the feeling of powerlessness when your love is separated by an invented force, by an arbitrary border. This was of course a reoccurring theme with almost all the migrants interviewed in No Option but North, who were either leaving loved ones behind or heading north to get back to their family. The video that accompanies this song is equally heart wrenching, as we see Reyez dancing with her partner—fathers, daughters, and lovers dancing around them—only to then be invaded by ICE. The violence of these moments, paired with the anguish of families ripped apart, shed light on the pain underlying immigration policy.

F Delano by Kishi Bashi

This beautiful song has complex undertones, not just in the music but also in the lyrics that explore the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This song speaks to the themes in No Option but North because we forget how frequently our national narrative lumps entire populations together as a threat and uses the guise of national security to blatantly undermine human rights. This pattern—which materializes today towards Mexican and Central American migrants (as well as Muslims)—is not just history. It filters down through generations in the families affected by the internment and it lives in its current iterations today.

Follow Me by Moxie Raia and Wyclef Jean

“Mama said there’s a war outside.” This song reminds me of how difficult it is to make sense of the world outside–things like war and migration—when you’re a child. You feel the emotions these situations stir up, but you lack the tools to understand them. I write about these themes specifically when I interviewed Ernesto and Jacqui, a Salvadorian couple traveling north with their three and six year-old daughters. What would these girls carry with them from this experience? What would become the unwritten notes in their unconscious? Toward the end of the song, Wyclef Jean sings, “You tell me that it’s part of the plan, then why am I sinking like quick sand?” in a line that captures the emotional toll of the journey north as a child.

Good Enough by Molly Tuttle

This song speaks to my own writing process. I am certainly my biggest critic, and I sometimes become stuck kneading over the same words over and over to the point where it becomes detrimental to myself and to the work. This song is about letting go. “There comes a time to say that’s good enough. I’m finally learning how to let some doors stay shut.” I am learning where this point is and learning how to let myself be good enough as well.

Cleaning Out My Closet by Angel Haze

In No Option but North, there’s a section that focuses on the staggering number of migrant women and girls that are raped or sexually assaulted on the journey north, which took me a long time to write. And the day I finally sat down to write it—and to accept the roiling feeling in my gut that comes with it—a stranger beside me at the coffee shop happened to be telling her story to a friend. She was a 12-year-old invited to a boy's house, only to be locked in a room and raped while two boys filmed. She had clearly told the story many times before, owned the healing, but her voice still cracked in all the hard places. How proliferous sexual violence remains in the shadows of the Me Too Movement.

This song radiates through me with so many lines that cut to the heart. I have to breathe and re-center myself after every time I listen to it, bringing myself back to present. But that, to me, is the point. We are meant to feel the corroding forces of trauma as we listen (“let that feeling ring through your gut”). Haze gets at the core of being powerless, “They ain’t do shit but fuckin’ blame it on you,” and of the self-destruction that ensues, “I tried to kill, I tried to hide, I tried to run from myself,” and “I never got to be a kid so that’s as far as I grow.” These are the traumas that so many migrant women and girls carry as well. As Haze describes, “There’s a fucking reason behind every scar that I show.”

Formation by Beyoncé

I love the power and strength of this song. I watched the music video too often while living in Celaya, Guanajuato and spent a class period discussing its imagery with the students in my advanced English course at the university where I taught. Many of the Mexican students in this class were preparing to study in the States the following year, and this conversation was part of a larger unit on race relations in America. I wanted to focus on how communities of color showcase resilience and challenge existing power structures. Beyoncé is a perfect example of this theme.

I find so much power in the ways Beyoncé both reminds and reframes in this song—from the images of New Orleans after Katrina, to the newspaper with the words “The Truth—More than a Dreamer” above Martin Luther King, to potent pride for black features and beauty. Beyoncé is also of course unapologetic in stirring things up (“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation”). For students who were about to study abroad in a country whose president was openly degrading Mexicans, I wanted them to gain confidence in advocating for themselves.

Highwomen by The Highwomen

This song speaks to the stories that ring through history, that may be forgotten but that still haunt us. There’s a feminist power in this song as well, in the undue burden that women have carried over generations, and continue to carry. I imagine the stories of migrants, particularly migrant women, will reverberate into the future as well–a reminder of this chapter and those buried in its name. “We are the daughters of the silent generations/You sent our hearts to die alone in foreign nations/It may return to us as tiny drops of rain/ But we will still remain.” These women remind us that their voices and contributions to history live on.

As a writer and educator, Kelsey Freeman focuses on immigration policy, Indigenous rights, social justice, and public policy. After graduating from Bowdoin College, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English and study migration in central Mexico. She currently runs a college-readiness program for Native American high school students through Central Oregon Community College.

also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2018 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2015 - 2017) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Flash Dancers (authors pair original flash fiction with a song
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists