Neon Indian: “Toyota Man”

Neon Indian: “Toyota Man”

For many immigrants, the American Dream is a simple one: to become American. You work hard, learn English, keep your head down, and eventually, you’ll share in the prosperity of the richest country in the world. But the reality is that no amount of hard work can erase your skin, your language, your other-ness. To some, where you come from determines what you get to be.

Alan Palomo knows this. He’s achieved considerable acclaim as chillwave standard-bearer Neon Indian while mostly avoiding a political stance in his music. But when he decided to write from a biographical perspective, he realized that in the age of profit-driven detention centers, government-sanctioned human trafficking, and “Build the wall,” his very existence as a Mexican-American is a political act. And so on “Toyota Man”—his first new music since 2015’s VEGA INTL. Night School and first song in Spanish—Palomo tells the story of his journey from Monterrey, Mexico to Austin, Texas. He arrives at his uncle’s apartment door, having crossed the river at Reynosa; his family learns English from watching The Larry Sanders Show; his father finds work washing cars (although this specific detail is fictionalized).

“Toyota Man” captures the duality of the immigrant experience with a deft touch. It’s a somber tale, but one Palomo imbues with levity and humor. The song is at once Mexican and American, with lyrics in Spanish but also in English, exposing harsh truths over a cumbia beat catchy enough to make even the grouchiest curmudgeon bob their head. He name-checks songs by Selena (“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”) and Miley Cyrus (“Party in the U.S.A.”). And in an understated stroke of brilliance, a guitar solo interpolates the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” with “La Cucaracha”—a repurposed anthem of the Mexican Revolution.

The anthemic chorus distills the immigrant ethos: “Venimos a estudiar, queremos trabajar/Y aunque lo quieran negar, todos somos Americanos” (“We came to study, we want to work/And though they want to deny it, we are all Americans”). And while Palomo’s lyrics don’t hide his anger, “Toyota Man” is imbued with hope and pride, firm in its belief that regardless of what los bolillos (“white bread”) think, “todos somos Americanos.” In spite of everything, the song is a celebration of the United States of America; not as it exists, but as immigrants and their children imagine it to be, one day. In that dream, we are all Americans—with no qualifiers.

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