12/02/2011 01:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2012

Manu Chao: A Heartfelt Song in Arizona

Most people didn't believe the rumors when we announced that the global pop star, Manu Chao, would be ending his U.S. tour to support the local movement with a free "Alto Arizona" concert in Phoenix last September.

But when the singer gave space on stage to community organizers in Georgia as they resisted their 1070 replica, they realized the rumors were true. And when the artist got to Phoenix and took the stage in front of thousands with local day laborers helping out as stage security, people realized this artist was cut from a different cloth.

I met Manu Chao in a receiving line after a concert in Los Angeles last year. When we shook hands and I asked if we could speak about the grave situation facing migrants and Latinos in Arizona, he left behind the long line of celebrity admirers and ushered me into a side room where we spoke for the next hour. We shared stories about the scapegoating of immigrants in the U.S. and Europe, and we discussed our shared inspiration working with migrants whose courage make life better for us all. When we parted, Manu promised to visit Arizona the next time he came to the U.S. to bare witness and to lend his support.

With many people, such a promise would have been left in the air, buried in an inbox, and forgotten. But with Manu, and with so many other artists, the crisis in Arizona, which has now spread across the country, has called us to a higher duty.

As the son of parents who fled Franco's Spain, Manu Chao can personally relate to the discrimination and displacement experienced when public officials become public terrors. In announcing the free show, Manu said, "For the past year, we've carried the people of Arizona in our hearts as we witnessed them suffer under such ignorant laws."

In times when globalization has invented corporate personhood but dehumanized migrants, and when immigrant-bashing is reaching unchecked heights, artists can help put the brakes on the slippery slope and reframe the terms of debate. As presidential candidates posture about electrifying border fences, Manu Chao positioned himself in front of the fence surrounding the jail that Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio once called a concentration camp for immigrants. There, with migrants jailed on one side, and with surprised sheriffs' deputies circling us on the other, filmmaker Alex Rivera recorded Manu singing an emotional rendition of his famous "Clandestino." As he finished the famous migrant rights anthem, Manu changed the lyrics. Migrants maybe criminalized for now, but it is Maricopa County that is illegal.

Fans can enter to win a signed poster from Manu Chao and learn more about the work in Arizona at

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