Remembering Luis Güereña: Voice of Tijuana No!

by Nicolai Garcia

Revolutionary Worker #1230, February 22, 2004, posted at

Whenever I make somebody a mix-tape I always try to include a couple of Tijuana No! songs on it. Although they disbanded over a year ago (I was at their last L.A. show), Tijuana No! has never stopped being one of my favorite bands.

Recently, however, I was saddened when I heard the news that Luis Güereña, founder and songwriter of Tijuana No!, had died in Tijuana, Mexico at the young age of 44 of an apparent heart attack.

I first found out about them through an uncle when I was still in high school. Their album, Contra-Revolución Avenue , had been recently released when I went over to visit and he played some of his favorite songs. I soon was hooked on their blend of punk and ska with indigenous Peruvian instruments.

To my uncle, who spent a good part of his life in Mexico, and other Mexican youth who hated the corrupt Mexican government, Luis and Tijuana No! were speaking the truth about everyday injustices. The band also represented a new generation who were fed up with the system and believed it could be destroyed and replaced with something better.

In the early days, Luis played a key role in Tijuana's punk scene. He helped put together the first punk shows in Tijuana in the '80s and is credited with bringing influential punk bands from California, like the "Dead Kennedys" and "Black Flag," to rebel Tijuana youth who otherwise would not have seen them because of lack of money and visas. For Luis and his first band, "Solución Mortal," not having visas or legal papers meant they had to smuggle the bassist across the border to the U.S. from T.J. in order to play gigs in San Diego or L.A. (the rest of the band was able to get across because they had legal papers).

Luis always saw the injustice and inequalities caused by U.S. domination on the Mexican border. He hated the anti-immigrant laws like 187--the law passed in California in 1994 (later deemed unconstitutional) that planned to deny undocumented people health care, education, and other basic services. Luis knew the truth about the people who cross the border. He knew and he wanted others to know through his music that the U.S. domination of Mexico forces people to cross its highly militarized U.S./Mexico border in an attempt to find a way to survive and make a living.

In "Travel Trouble" he sings about the hypocrisy of capitalism, of money and pollution having free reign while human beings get limited access to where they can go if they don't have the proper papers. "Travel, travel like money does/ Travel, travel, like narcotics do/ Travel, travel like pollution does/ Travel, travel corporations do . . . Know the countries, know the world/ Cross the oceans, cross the roads/ Jump the fences, break the gates .."

Because Luis and Tijuana No! appreciated different cultures, they were able to approach music differently. He is quoted by Frontera Magazine as saying, "We have always been versatile, always experimenting and not necessarily with Mexican music alone, but also employing all the cultures of the world."

Politically Luis was basically an anarchist--sometimes dissing the vanguard party and "ideology" in his lyrics--but he supported resistance and rebellion against imperialism everywhere. In the early '80s he was drawn to the pro-Soviet insurgencies in Central America, and in his early days as a punk promoter, he helped organize benefit shows for the FMLN in El Salvador and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Later, as a member of Tijuana No! he played fundraisers for Mexico's Zapatistas.

But at the same time, Luis expressed respect and interest in the Maoists. One of his longtime friends told the RW that Luis was inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement in the mid '80s and respected the Maoists because they were "undeterred by the collapse of the Soviet Union."

Luis hated the system, and when he spoke out against it he often did it through humorous and sometimes controversial ways wherever Tijuana No! toured--Mexico, Europe, the U.S., or anywhere around the world. Luis made his audience aware of injustices, racism, and the imperialist domination of Mexico by the U.S. and he challenged the audience to rebel against it.

One of my favorite moments in the Tijuana No! stage show was when Luis would ridicule fascists and right-wingers by dressing up in (what can only be described as) an Uncle Sam-Hitler costume.

He would get up in front of the stage, throw his right hand in the air (Nazi style) and tell a largely Chicano/Latino audience that he thought Mexicans were ugly and didn't want any illegal immigrants in his country. The audience would respond angrily (as Luis knew they would), and begin to throw obscenities and anything they could pick up at him.

Luis didn't provoke people just to entertain. His antics on stage got people to release their anger, but they also made people think: Where was all this racism and discrimination coming from? Why were people forced to cross the border?

Luis was an internationalist who proceeded from his desire to see an end to the injustices against the people at the bottom. He told Frontera Magazine , "Until the quality of life of the underclass improves around the world, we will always sing about political awareness." He went on to say, "As long as those who cause misery to the underprivileged don't change their ways, we can't stop trying to spread our message."

Rebellious punk youth from both sides of the border (and throughout the world) loved Luis for bringing them music that they enjoyed releasing their anger to while also speaking to important political questions. I saw in him someone who knew the importance of crafting music with humanity and a different future in mind. And although I didn't always agree on his statements regarding what it would take for a different future I respected his honesty and the fact that he always said what was on his mind.

A member of the San Diego chapter of La Resistencia, an organization fighting all attacks committed against immigrants, who knew Luis for 20 years described him as "a person who took to heart the people's struggle and whose intensity challenged people." Living in Tijuana and traveling throughout Mexico (and throughout the world), Luis witnessed the poverty and destitution of the masses. He expressed deep hatred for U.S. imperialism. One of his favorite songs to perform on stage was "Transgresores de La Ley"--a song about the just uprising of the campesinos and indigenous people in Chiapas in January of 1994, the same day NAFTA went into effect.

Although he could have lived somewhere else, he lived for almost 20 years in a family-owned house in La Coahuila, one of Tijuana's toughest neighborhoods. In the true punk spirit, some might say that Luis didn't have the best voice in the band. But his rebelliousness and passion won many over, and he was considered the favorite band member of many. Some may have considered him a clown on stage, but many saw the importance of his political views and regard him as the Joe Strummer of Mexico.

I never knew Luis, not personally. But I know that his music will live on through his fans and many more mix-tapes that will provide--along with groups like "The Clash," "Public Enemy," "Rage Against the Machine," and "Ozomatli"--a soundtrack to resistance.