Skip to main content
  • The Inspiration for Quetzal’s “Pillow People”

    If you study migration and the risks men, women, and children take to reach some semblance of safety and opportunity, your heart will ache. If you take into account the kind of desperation that motivates women to leave their children behind in order to be able to provide basic needs, then you will be a life long advocate of the migrant plight today.

    “Pillow People,” a song featured on Quetzal’s new Smithsonian Folkways album The Eternal Getdown, delineates the dangerous trek from the first step out of their home communities, on to a near impossible and treacherous journey. From the bestia, into the hands of coyotes, it is an ode to the sacrifices migrants make on a daily basis.

    The song is meant to push back on the false media and politician rhetoric that migrants come to the United States to take jobs, cultivate crime, and gouge the system. It is an effort to echo the voice of Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire as she states,

     …you have to understand,
    that no one puts their children in a boat
    unless the water is safer than the land
    no one burns their palms
    under trains
    beneath carriages
    no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
    feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
    means something more than journey.
    no one crawls under fences
    no one wants to be beaten
    pitied.

    In the same breath, “Pillow People” is a truthful account of all that migrants have given to this country—how they sweat and lose much more than they gain. It is about the great distances that keeps them from their native lands, home culture, memories, language, and family closeness.

    “Pillow People” is another Quetzal effort to sing truth to power while keeping migrant testimonios alive in the historical archives of this country. It is about our Dreamers—where they lay their sweaty heads after a hard day’s work to dream better days.

    “And if you’ve heard this story, you know more pain than glory!”

    Martha Gonzalez explains further inspiration for the song “Pillow People”

    Martha Gonzalez is a singer and percussionist for the band Quetzal. The band’s latest album, The Eternal Getdown, was released on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in March 2017.


  • Support the Center and our important work, including the Folklife Festival, Folkways Recordings, exhibitions, films, and educational materials.
    Support Folklife. Donate Now.

    .