Netflix borderlands: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison

In the past couple of years, Netflix has been periodically releasing documentary one-shots and series on Latinx—and in particular Mexican—migrants. Among many interesting productions, on September 15, 2019 the platform launched Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison, a documentary focused on the norteño band’s performance at the Californian detention facility where exactly 50 years before Johnny Cash also performed for the detainees.

The renowned band was formed in 1968 by then teenage Hernández brothers, migrated from a small town in Sinaloa, Mexico to San José, CA. Throughout the following decades, they have become one of the most loved bands both in Mexico and among the Mexican diasporic population; their lyrics are exclusively in Spanish, the genre is mostly corrido norteño, and the topics often deal—either directly or tangentially—with migration and borderland matters. In the documentary, the organization and footage of the concert at Folsom is alternated with interviews to detainees of Mexican origin, both male and female. The choice of interviewees is very diverse, whereas their individual stories are marked by the necessity to cope with common structural matters; from their narrations, problematic social neglect emerges and relates with barrioization, discrimination, exclusion, and lack of basic welfare support.
Clearly, the aim of the production is to throw light on the reality of illegal and legal migration, contrasting the generalized dehumanization of the migrant inmates in the national public discourse. Nonetheless, the articulation of the underlying message is not overt nor ideologically charged; the interviewees do not hide their guilts nor criminal record, just as they do not hide their distress and subjection to ethnicity-related structural violence. Without yielding to trauma exploitation nor forced dramatic devices, the documentary comes across as an interesting peek into the world of US detention facilities from a specific—and yet not overbearing—perspective; a recommended timely view while the sphere of national political discourse is bursting with preconceived stereotypes on migrant ‘bad hombres’.


Anna Marta Marini

PhD fellow in North American Studies @ Instituto Franklin–UAH. My main research interests are: CDA related to direct/structural/cultural violence; discursive and cultural representation of the US borderlands and Mexican American heritage; identity re/construction and narration through cinema and comics, especially related to minorities as well as otherness in the US–Mexico borderlands.

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