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Glamorizing Mexico’s Drug War For U.S. Profits?

There's a hot, new cultural trend among young Mexican-Americans -- similar to the early development of hip hop. Music is at the core of Movimiento Alterado, but it's also about fashion and language. It's alternative, it's largely underground — and it finds its inspiration in the brutal Mexican drug war. From our Fronteras Desk, Jill Replogle takes us to meet several Southern California Mexican--Americans who are shaping it.


A new cultural movement in the southwest capitalizes on the seduction of narcoculture.

— Eleno Serna recently opened his third clothing shop catering to the young and hip. Some say he is also profiting from the violence of Mexico’s ongoing drug war.

Stylish women’s jackets, guys’ soccer shirts and short-sleeve button-downs line the racks at his store in the city of Chula Vista in southern San Diego County. But the top-selling items at the young entrepreneur’s stores are shirts with flashy depictions of skeletons toting AK-47s and likenesses of Mexican drug lords.

“This one, a lot of people like this one, the flocking,” said Serna, 25, as he pulled down a t-shirt and rubbed his hand over a velvety detail. The shirt features a stencil image of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a.k.a. "El Padrino," considered one of Mexico’s original cartel leaders.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story originally reported that Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo was the image on the t-shirt. We regret the error.

“It gives it a more expensive look,” he said.

The shirt is one of the hottest-selling items in Serna’s Antrax Clothing line, which he designs and also sells online. He started the company just a year ago and now says he has more orders than he can handle.

Many of Serna’s biggest clients are bands — and their followers — who play a new kind of corrido music called Movimiento Alterado, which translates loosely to “altered state.” Corridos are Mexican storytelling ballads.

Like Serna’s clothing designs, Movimiento Alterado bands capitalize on the increasingly ruthless battle among Mexican drug traffickers.

One of the first and biggest hits is a song called “Sanguinarios Del M1.” Translation: “The Bloodthirst Of M1." The abbreviation “M1” is a nickname for a suspected Sinaloan trafficker named Manuel Torres Félix.

The song starts like this:

"With a goat’s horn (that’s slang for an AK-47 rifle) and a bazooka in the crook of the neck.

Taking off the heads of anyone who crosses.

We’re bloodthirsty, crazy, agitated, we like to kill."

The YouTube video of the song has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Movimiento Alterado is the brainchild of Burbank-based music producers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, "Los Twiins." They came to California from Sinaloa, Mexico when they were in high school. Their father was a musician in Sinaloa and warned his sons not to follow him into what has traditionally been a dicey business — playing tunes for drug traffickers at their homes and private parties.

But once in Los Angeles, the brothers’ musical potential was undeniable. They started recording with well-known Mexican musicians and then started their own production company.

Adolfo Valenzuela said they thought up Movimiento Alterado a few years ago while searching for a market for some new bands.

“We made a couple of mixes and started promoting it in the streets and on the Internet. That’s how it started,” he said. Now, there are thousands of bands performing what they call “alterado” music on both sides of the border.

Much of the music is spread online and at private concerts. The violent nature of the lyrics prevents many songs from being played on the radio.

Elijah Wald, a Boston-based musician who wrote a book about so-called narcocorridos, ballads about drug trafficking, likens the movement to gangsta rap - but tailored to the growing population of young Mexican-Americans.

“There are people who are very much proud of being Mexican, but who speak accent-less English and this is the music for them," Wald said. "This is the music for somebody who is equally into hip-hop and corridos.”

In fact, Valenzuela and his brother are in talks with rapper Snoop Dogg about recording songs together.

But as with gangsta rap, some are questioning whether a popular youth culture that glorifies violence associated with the Mexican drug war can stoke that same violence. Narcocorridos have actually been outlawed in several Mexican states.

Valenzuela said he’s just giving the people what they want.

“It’s a market and I’m in the music industry," Valenzuela said matter-of-factly. "If I don’t do it, someone else is doing it.”

Back at the clothing store, Serna said the "El Padrino" image represents power.

“It’s just an image saying how someone, you know, [who] is poor, with hard work and all that stuff can become wealthy and help people and stuff,” Serna said.

At the same time, Serna said the violence across the border pains him.

“I was born in the United States, but I’m also Mexican, and it hurts me to see my country like that," Serna said. "I just think that…it’s just fashion. You give people what they want to buy right now.”

Serna is also planning to design shoes and hats, but he said his next round of designs will be a little tamer.

Video by Katie Euphrat

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