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AMP: Girl in a Coma Represent More Than You Know

December 5, 2011

By Kamren Curiel

It’s a known fact that Latinos love Morrissey (okay, not all, but most) so it’s no surprise the first question VL’s development director, Josh Norek, asked Girl in a Coma when they stopped by his public radio show last week was about Moz’s Latino cult following. Shoot, two documentaries have already been made about our obsession with this charming man: Is It Really So Strange? and Passions Just Like Mine.

The San Antonio threesome, named after The Smith’s 1987 single “Girlfriend in a Coma” which Morrissey co-wrote, blame it on the Brit’s passionate persona. When Morrissey asked the equally talented rockeras to open for him in 2007, the same year they dropped their debut Both Before I’m Gone, their prophecy was fulfilled.

But these days, Girl in a Coma has shifted their own passion from one immigrant story (Morrissey was born in England to Irish Catholic parents who immigrated to Manchester) to another: speaking out against unjust immigration laws. The band is sticking to their Arizona boycott of commercial venues by performing at a downtown Tuscon nonprofit called Solar Culture tonight for a Voto Latino benefit.

“We’re still trying to educate ourselves about politics,” Phanie, who’s also a proud lesbian, said. “We’re not a political band. We just like to play rock ‘n’ roll, but [the situation in Arizona] hit home. They’re sending people to Mexico; some of them have never even been to Mexico.”

Comprised of best friends Jenn Alva (bass) and Phanie Diaz (drummer), and Phanie’s little sister Nina Diaz (singer/guitarist), Girl in a Coma is one of over a hundred artists that include M.I.A., Lila Downs, Mos Def and Kanye West to join the Sound Strike movement against Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill SB 1070. Nina even wrote a song about immigration called “Hope,” which is on their latest album Exits & All The Rest.

The band, which signed to legendary rocker Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records in 2006 after she judged a reality show they were on called Jammin, had their own little brush with immigrant phobia this year.

“We were on our way to a hotel room in Mobile, Alabama and got pulled over,” Phanie recalled. “We thought our tour manager was speeding, but the guy identified himself as a border patrol.”

The ladies can laugh now about what happened next—the I.C.E. officer asked for their papers as if everyday people carry their birth certificates around. The ladies were even more weirded out when another officer started looking through their tour van like they had something to hide. The reason for being pulled over? Their van had a lot of stuff in it. Sounds like racial profiling to me. If only the officers knew they were dealing with fourth-generation Mexican Americans who aren’t even fluent in Spanish; something I’m sure they don’t have the mind span to fathom.

Nina recently told NPR she grew up very much like the slain Tejana singer Selena: an English speaker who listened to English-language radio and didn’t pay attention in Spanish classes at school. (Amen, sister. I have the same history.) Singing in Spanish is something Nina spends long hours to master.

“It’s hard enough being an all-girl band, two-thirds gay, all Latinas,” Diaz told NPR. “Whenever they ask us a question in Spanish, all of us are like, ‘Can you repeat it again in English?’ It’s embarrassing. I want to be able to stand up and say, ‘I am Latina and I know what you’re saying and I’m going to answer you back.’”

This never-really-fitting-in-anywhere feeling is something shared by their muse Morrissey, who spent his youth taking medication for depression. It’s also been examined in the film Selena. Latinos continue to be lumped together by ethnocentric people like the officer who pulled the band over. It’s stories like these that drive Voto Latino’s mission of empowering the community to get involved civically in order to create positive change.

Girl in a Coma represent how diverse our history is. Their own inspiration for the band span as wide as Bjork and Patsy Cline; two soulful singers Nina, no doubt, manifests on stage. After their benefit show tonight, which will include registering fans to vote, the band will speak at a local college about their roots and how important it is to stay true to who you are. If you’re in the Tucson area, be sure to check out these empowered ladies.