Futuro Media and Sonoros’ latest podcast series Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez reminds me how important it is to honor the truths of our ancestors. The podcast dives into the legacy of Mexican singer/songwriter Chalino Sánchez, a founding father of the folk-music genre “narcocorridos,” in which a singer’s lyrics tell the stories of drug smugglers and cartel bosses.
Sánchez wasn’t only a singer who told narcocorrido stories, he was also a cartel member who took his life stories to stage. His transparency and legacy as an artist were cut short after his execution-style murder thirty years ago. To this day, the murder is unsolved. The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez explores Sánchez’s mysterious murder and the legacy he left behind.
Growing up as a Chicago native, drill music was my narcocorridos. Artists like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and G Herbo are my Chalinos. I’m from the west side of the city, where a majority of Chicago’s Latinx and Black population reside. Due to systems of oppression that are out of control like environmental racism, redlining segregation, and lack of funding to our public schools – a bulk of us end up in sticky situations to make due.
While listening to the episodes, I thought of legends in my hood and honestly, my ancestors.
In 2019, a Chicago Police Department report found that 95% of the at least 134,242 Chicagoans listed as gang members are Latino or Black. It’s a sad truth, but to me, it’s no surprise. Growing up, my Puerto Rican father was incarcerated for nearly a decade and my Black step-father did time too. The same goes for almost every kid I grew up with. If it wasn’t our fathers, it was our uncles, cousins, friends, or us that had to decide to turn to the streets to provide for our families.
The podcast’s English language host, Erick Galindo, shares a similar background to mine. Throughout the narration of the show, Galindo focused on the fact that gang activity, whether it be as large as a cartel or not, was worthy of honor. “Someone who was brave enough to break the law to earn a living for their family got a certain level of respect in my hood,” Galindo said.
As the episodes went on, Galindo breaks down that Sánchez’s life is honored because he kept it real. His story was relatable to so many Latinx people in American inner-cities and across the border. Sánchez’s “outlaw vibe is what resonated for many people in my community who feel like the law does nothing to protect them. Most of us grew up much more afraid of the police than of criminals,” Galindo said.
No gang violence or criminal activity is inherently “good.” But when we think of the external factors that lead people into these decisions, does it mean that they’re not worth remembering after they die? Absolutely not.
There isn’t one generation in my family that hasn’t fallen victim to poverty and gang violence. While their gang activity surpassed them in death, their legacies as fearless providers and protectors lived on through family stories.
This theme of respect and remembrance in The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez resonated heavily with me. While listening to the episodes, I thought of legends in my hood and honestly, my ancestors. There isn’t one generation in my family that hasn’t fallen victim to poverty and gang violence. While their gang activity surpassed them in death, their legacies as fearless providers and protectors lived on through family stories.
One standout line in the podcast was “[Chalino] lived a life without care. Not being scared of anyone or anything. He was a ‘bad guy’ trying to be a signer.”
Gang life like Chalino’s is my ancestral truth. For a long time as a first-generation college student and academic person, I felt ashamed to live in that truth. That shame made me undermine the legacy of ‘bad guys’ that lives within me. But my drive and hustler mentality are nothing without my ancestors who bestowed them upon me. That’s my truth, even if some people view them as ‘the bad guys.’
My ancestors may not have been singers with millions of streams of sales, but they’re worth remembering and their truth is worth being told. Listening to The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez affirmed that truth for me and reminded me that I can honor my ancestors publicly, without shame. This podcast still made me feel seen.