Covers of classic songs 101: It’s not about delivering a flawless facsimile. Instead, it’s about building on the original essence, augmenting a feeling that was already there or uncovering a new truth. With their take of Woody Guthrie’s iconic “This Land is Your Land,” Chicano Batman has ticked all those boxes, honoring the lyrical message by reworking it with a Spanish-language verse:
“No existe nadie
Que pueda pararme
Por el camino
No existe nadie
Que pueda hacerme volver
Esta tierra es para ti y para mi”
In the accompanying clip – sponsored by Johnnie Walker – the LA band treks through a recording studio, traverses city streets, and dances down a narrow bar top. They swing by a shop where mariachi and folklórico dress hang prominently; they breeze through a stark white art gallery boutique accented by colorful sugar skulls and papel picado. But it’s when frontperson Bardo Martínez sings the band’s addition that the cover truly transcends from a white everyman’s anthem to a heartening message of resilience and resistance for Latinx people. While singing the second line, albeit briefly, Martinez puts up his fists.
Chicano Batman doesn’t need to be told to “wake up and fight,” like Guthrie self-exhorted on his now-famous New Year’s resolution list in his early 40s diary. They’re already doing it, and their forthcoming third album Freedom is Free will no doubt permanently cement that.
There’s another layer here, though — one that makes it all the more fitting a song in fiery opposition to the country’s hate-fueled new president. Last year, it was revealed that Guthrie lived for two years in public housing developed by Trump’s father, Fred. It wasn’t until after signing that the traveling troubadour realized Trump was employing a Federal Housing Authority guideline to prevent “inharmonious uses of housing” as a basis for excluding black people from renting. In that period, Guthrie — who, years before becoming a social justice spokesman, was ignorant of his own racist tendencies until a fan enlightened him — ultimately wrote some of his most potent condemnations of society.
“This Land is Your Land” has always belonged in protest, and it’s been used as a pro-immigrant song before. But Chicano Batman’s update speaks expressly to immigrants and undocumented people. Now, the song more wholly and explicitly urges those communities that Trump works so diligently to dehumanize to wake up and fight — and never give up.