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San Antonio's Girl in a Coma wakes up to a cultural identity crisis

She's been touring across America in a cramped minivan, so Girl in a Coma's Nina Diaz was a couple of days behind on the news.

"That's great! That's amazing!" gushes the Mexican-American-descended frontwoman upon discovering that Arizona senator Russell Pearce was just ousted in a recall vote. It was Pearce who crafted the Senate Bill 1070 legislation that requires Arizona law enforcement officers to demand citizenship papers from anyone they have "reasonable suspicion" of being an illegal immigrant.

"He was that new-age-Hitler kind of guy, and I had no idea he was gone! I'm somewhat fascinated with World War II, mainly because it was so ridiculous and so horrible, and I felt like this [SB 1070] situation was on the verge of being something like that. It made me feel a little lost in society. Lost in general."

Diaz, 23, crafted the lyrics to "Hope," on Girl in a Coma's new Exits & All the Rest album, after the San Antonio trio went to Phoenix last December to play Zack de la Rocha's Sound Strike benefit. While there, Diaz and her bandmates (sister/drummer Phanie Diaz and bassist Jenn Alva) were given an eye-opening tour of local Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious Tent City, an extension of the Maricopa County Jail.

"'Hope' is my take on everything that I saw there," says Diaz, who's grown from chirpy Goth chipmunk to dusky blues belter in her seven years on the road with Girl in a Coma. The Sound Strike fundraiser, she explains, "was for families that had been hurt by [1070] that had no money, so they couldn't even get Christmas presents for their kids. And the promoter took us to this jail where these people were held for questioning because they were going to send 'em back to Mexico. They were wearing these pink jail uniforms and roaming around a courtyard where the same Christmas song was being played, over and over until it was really annoying. And it really was like an internment camp, and it was really emotional for us to see that."

Ordinarily, Diaz prefers conjuring up a fantasy environment in her lyrics. "I like to take people away from all the shit that's going on in the world," she says. "But this time? I couldn't help but write about what was going on."

Girl in a Coma has definitely been growing up fast. Taking their name from a Smiths song ("Girlfriend in a Coma") back in 2005, they soon signed to Joan Jett's Blackheart Records; released three albums, including last year's Adventures In Coverland (with Nina crooning Patsy Cline, Ritchie Valens and Joy Division songs); and even opened for Morrissey at the Smiths leader's request.

Meanwhile, Diaz still can't figure out why one race would bear prejudice toward another. "If you know any Mexican-American families, they're just naturally very warm people," she says. "They have their barbecues, their big family get-togethers and they're just all about taking care of each other and making sure everyone's OK.

"And that's the way we feel every time we go on tour — we make sure that we take care of ourselves, and we're very warm and inviting to our fans and to other musicians we meet. There are a lot of good things that come from our heritage."

scene@csindy.com

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