Immigration is a complicated experience. It is always challenging. That is particularly true when people move somewhere strange to them. However, they wouldn’t immigrate if they didn’t think it was worth doing so, though the exact reason can see enormous variation from case to case. As a result, immigration is good fodder for music-making because of its complexities.
10. “Immigrant Song” – Led Zeppelin
“Immigrant Song” isn’t quite what most people think of when they think of immigration. After all, it is a song about the Scandinavians of the Viking Age, who acted as opportunistic raiders turned conquerors rather than peaceful immigrants. For that matter, “Immigrant Song” doesn’t paint the most accurate picture of those people. To name an example, it is clear that its Vikings hail from Iceland, which makes sense because Led Zeppelin took inspiration from an Icelandic trip. The issue is that Scandinavians colonized Iceland during the Viking Age. Traditionally, the process started in 1874. By that point, the Great Heathen Army had already been in England for several years.
9. “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – Ed Sheeran
“Poor Wayfaring Stranger” is an American folk song. The idea of the wanderer without a home being an unfortunate soul isn’t new. However, the way that cultures respond to it says much about them. For instance, the ancient Greeks concluded this was a reason to fight more fervently for their polis because they would be beggars without it. After all, the ancient Greeks didn’t give out citizenship in most cases, so the survivors of a destroyed polis would be perpetual strangers even if they managed to find another one to take them in. Meanwhile, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” reflects Christian belief. It says everyone is wandering through the earthly world because their real home is the heavenly one still to come. Still, its sympathetic lyrics are very easy to apply to immigrants of every kind.
8. “Alien” – Coldplay
This Coldplay song describes the plight of a family of extraterrestrial aliens. Despite that, it isn’t hard to see the song talks about people fleeing to Europe over the sea. Indeed, Coldplay donated the proceeds from the song to Migrant Offshore Aid Station, an NGO that assists refugees and other migrants.
7. “Prayer of the Refugee” – Rise Against
Rise Against is both very political and very progressive. Unsurprisingly, they have material about refugees and the like. “Prayer of the Refugee” concerns itself with various issues experienced by refugees. The music video focused on their economic exploitation by conventional businesses, though that is but one aspect of what the song is talking about.
6. “Americano” – Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga has a sizable LGBT+ fan base. Famously, “Born This Way” is something of an anthem for those communities. With that said, it isn’t the only Lady Gaga song about LGBT+ issues. Another one would be “Americano” from the same studio album, which covers not just immigration but also same-sex marriage.
5. “The Land That I Love” – Scott Ainslee
“The Land That I Love” is dedicated to a woman who died in the Sonoran Desert. The title doesn’t refer to the United States. Instead, it refers to the other side of the border. That sounds strange until one understands the song’s argument. Essentially, these people love their home country. Unfortunately, they cannot survive as small farmers in a world in which agricultural mega-corporations are free to export to the same markets, meaning they need to seek economic opportunities over the border for themselves and their loved ones.
4. “Many Rivers to Cross” – Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff immigrated from Jamaica to the United Kingdom in search of opportunities. He wrote this song because of his struggles in finding those things. A situation that wasn’t helped by his frustrations from crossing the English Channel to the European mainland and back once more. One can read the song as representative of the barriers many immigrants have to overcome to establish themselves in a new country where they can’t call on their previous connections, qualifications, and other resources for help.
3. “America” – Neil Diamond
This is one of the more positive songs on this list. It presents the United States as a dreamed-of destination for immigrants. There is truth in both kinds of songs. On the one hand, immigrants face serious challenges in their new countries, with the United States being no exception to this rule. On the other hand, they wouldn’t go through such an upheaval if they didn’t believe their new countries can offer them something their home countries cannot.
2. “Coming to America” – K’naan
Speaking of which, “Coming to America” offers a personal perspective on the refugee experience. For context, K’naan came to the United States from Somalia. Moreover, he remembers his home country very well, meaning he knows why the move happened. Still, the move isn’t an instant end to all problems. After all, people living in the ghettoes also need a way out. As such, “Coming to America” is an expletive-laden though light-hearted depiction of one man’s refugee experience.
1. “American Land” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s “American Land” is another song pointing out that the immigrant experience in the United States is far from idyllic. It makes extensive use of the stories that convinced people to head over. Those stories sound exaggerated, but they are very similar to some of the stories people used to tell in the old days. The song contrasts these stories with the experiences of many immigrants, who worked hard but were still met with societal rejection. Moreover, the song makes it clear this isn’t just an issue safely relegated to the past. Of course, “American Land” wouldn’t be so powerful if it wasn’t for Springsteen’s consistently amazing vocals.