Outside the Anaheim home of Michael Tebb two years ago, an oppressive sun beat down on protesters but not their spirits. The contractor hired Guatemalan day laborer José Ucelo back in May 2012 outside a nearby Home Depot. At the end of 10 hours of toil, Ucelo didn't receive a dime from Tebb. Instead, he ended up in the clutches of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the contractor called Garden Grove police claiming that Ucelo robbed him!
Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborers of the North) kept the music going at the protest where lawyers tried serving Tebb with a wage theft lawsuit. “Ese güey no paga” (That Dude Doesn't Pay) became an improvised slogan and jam session with members of Son del Centro joining in.
Now the slogan returns as a full-fledged song courtesy of Los Jornaleros del Norte.
“Be careful day laborer women and men / don't let them trick you!” accordionist and vocalist Omar León warns in the catchy cumbia telling the story of a day laborer hopping into a truck outside Home Depot only to be done wrong by a cheapskate wage thief.
“The day laborer band is composed of day laborers and organizers,” León tells the Weekly. “As people approached us at the protest we explained 'este güey no paga!' I started playing the accordion and coming up with some of the lyrics and that's how that song was born.”
The tune caught the attention of onlookers from Brito's Taquería across the street. Soon, “Ese güey no paga” took on a life of its own after the protest finished becoming a hit at other rallies and marches.
“As a day laborer and organizer, I've had a lot of conversations with my fellow day laborers,” León says. “After awhile of doing workshops on wage theft, I never expected a song to be as impactful as this song.” It's easy to see why. The cumbia rhythm is inescapably danceable and is coupled with a humorous lyrical slant. People quickly began asking where they could find “Ese güey no paga” online.
To address the growing demand, Los Jornaleros del Norte decided to build their own studio inside the corner office of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). They bought equipment to record the song fittingly calling their setup “La Esquina Records!” In addition to León, “Ese güey no paga” features Manuel Ortiz on drums, Benny Colop playing various wind instruments, Ervin C. Mancilla tapping the congas, Loyda Alvarado scraping the güiro and NDLON director Pablo Alvardo on bass.
“Even though this guy [Tebb] refused to pay, Jose came out of jail, got community support and fought back,” León says.
Not only that, but he won, too! La Migra granted Ucelo prosecutorial discretion ending fears of family separation. Better yet, the lawsuit also reached a conditional $10,000 settlement in Ucelo's favor by late 2012.
'El güey' ending up having to pay…big time!
Download “Ese güey no paga” HERE!
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!