Ceci Bastida Is the Alt-Latina Fighting for Immigration Rights and More Through Music

Ceci Bastida BELatina Latinx
Image courtesy of Twitter.

In the 2000s, while bubblegum stars and boy bands plagued the pop music scene, the underground Latin rock scene grew and made its way into the DIY scene. 

Among these original alternative artists was Tijuana-born singer-songwriter Ceci Bastida.

Bastida was a pioneer in many spheres. She was a longtime collaborator with Julieta Venegas in the ska-punk band Tijuana No!, an advocate for political issues such as immigration and the war on drugs, and a member of the Morrisey and Smiths cover band Mexrrissey.

Currently, Ceci Bastida is working on her fourth solo album, which she combines with her role as a mother, the launch of a new podcast, and her work as a volunteer at a child advocacy center.

With all this on her plate, BELatina is deeply grateful that Bastida took the time to talk to us about her current and future projects. This was our conversation: 

Can you tell us about any challenges you faced as a Latina in the early 2000s?

The biggest challenge was understanding that I was this Mexican artist who wasn’t really making what people thought should be “Mexican music.” So there weren’t any obvious sounds of mariachi or whatever people envisioned somebody from Mexico would do. I’m talking mainly about non-Latino people. I had a manager who was not Latino, and he really loved what I did.

But when he came to have conversations with labels back then, they just didn’t know what to do with me because they said, okay, she doesn’t sound “Mexican,” but she does sing in Spanish, so we don’t really know what we would do with her. And that was the biggest thing. So I wasn’t like, Lila Downs, or do you know what I mean? Like, really kind of embracing this Mexican tradition. So I was doing something different. And I think that was the biggest thing. They can quickly put you in the ” world music ” world when you do something similar to what Lila or other artists do. They can quickly put you in the “world music” world. And they couldn’t really do that with me. So I got a lot of rejections because of it.

Before coming to Los Angeles, you lived in Mexico. How is the culture different now being in L.A.?

The thing about L.A. is that it doesn’t feel that foreign. So I grew up in Tijuana, and so the city closest to us was San Diego. San Diego always felt foreign to me. It felt very different from Mexico, very different from my experience in Tijuana. It felt very conservative, very kind of square in many ways. Even though I did know many musicians and people who were doing interesting things – just the city itself – I couldn’t really connect with it. And when I would come to L.A. before I even moved here – it’s such a Latino city – as we all know, a huge percentage of people are either from Mexico or Mexican American or from other places in Latin America.

You’re doing many things that are in some way or another cementing you even more as an alternative Latina pioneer. What’s important for you to have your audience know about your life in the scene?

So when I first started, I started with a sort of punk-ska band a long, long time ago called Tijuana No! That was a different world. It’s a world where we played with bands that played similar music to us, and it was like our own little world. And then, I started playing with Julieta (Venegas), which was a different experience for me because I was moving into a more pop-oriented world, which was super interesting to me.

And then, when I started doing my own thing, it became something that I did not want to sound like the stuff I did in the past. After so many years, you grow and listen to other things. And in my case, I felt like my influence has changed. I feel like it’s been a journey of learning and hopefully creating things that don’t necessarily sound like everything else that I’ve done.

So I think that’s my biggest thing – that I would love people to see that I’m trying not to repeat myself. I’m just trying to experiment and explore as much as I can.

In collaborating with the “Punk in Translation: Latinx Origins” podcast, was there anything you were surprised to discover in particular?

There were so many stories that it’s hard to really tell you one. I always go to called the ? and the Mysterians, which was this band of Mexican American kids that grew up in Michigan. Their parents were farmworkers, and they were just teenagers. And they started putting together a band, and they created a song called “96 Tears” that became huge in the U.S. – topped the charts. A few of them were, like, 13 or 14. They were, like, really young, and they created the sound that was first described as “punk” in a magazine. That was the first time somebody used the word “punk” to describe a band in print. And that was this band? and the Mysterians. And we’re talking about, I believe, it was like 1964, so we’re talking about way before a lot of us think punk started.

I know you’re also a huge advocate for immigration reform. Tell us how your newest single, “Dale,” came to be.

I started working on this album probably in 2019, but with the pandemic, I think everything in my life at least stopped for a good year. So I started working on the song inspired by the caravans coming to this country through Mexico from Central America.

And so I just wanted to tell a story, something that I imagine people going through when they have to leave the place they’re from. This idea of being so desperate, the situation is so difficult that you cannot stay in your home. And that, to me, is just heartbreaking.

And at the same time, I really respect people’s strength to be able to do something like that. And so I wanted to sort of honor them in some way. I believe that they are incredibly brave, and just the things that people go through to survive and protect their family is an incredible thing.

What can you tell us about the upcoming fourth album? Are there any specific themes that you’re exploring with it?

Yeah, I am definitely touching on a lot of immigration because it’s something that I have focused on for many years – but more so these past three years. I was fortunate enough to train to become a child advocate for immigrant children, and I’ve been doing that since 2020.

Oh wow! Before wrapping it up, can you tell us more about child advocacy?

It’s an organization called the Young Center. What they do is that they provide a lot of services for immigrant children who are either in shelters, homes, or temporary or long-term foster homes. And so what we do as advocates is that we meet with one person. For example, I met with a young woman for a little over a year. So we would meet once a week because of the pandemic. We have to do it through Zoom, ideally. Without it, you would go with them to court. You would do activities with them and tell them about their case, their rights, and what they can ask for at the shelter. It’s just basically supporting them through their process of seeking asylum or through their process of asking to go back to their home country.

And so now I’m with a different young girl. And so I’m just basically trying to be there for her through this whole bizarre process because there’s so much happening when you first leave because of a trauma, whatever it is, violence or whatever that’s happening in your country. Then there is trauma in the journey crossing Mexico, which is one of the most dangerous things to do.

Then the trauma of encountering ICE officials or going through talking to lawyers, telling your story over and over and over again. Once you’re here in this country – a completely different place – it’s overwhelming. So you try to be there for them and sometimes just talk about random things, but just be there and give them support, whatever it is that they need, of course.

How do you balance everything that you do – especially on top of being a mom?

So basically, what I do to help me calm down, is walk every day or run. So every morning, I try to walk or run for two and a half miles or whatever. To be out in nature and just not have to focus on anything other than what I’m doing at the moment.

And I think that sort of centers me a little bit. And also, I have conversations with my daughter about these things. Very basic, not too graphic, but I do talk to her about the needs of these children, and I think one of the most important things that I can teach her is to be empathetic. She’s definitely empathetic, so I like to include her to a certain degree in what I’m doing so that she’s aware.