Radney Foster's recent fering, “Godspeed (Dulces Suenos),” serves as a bilingual “prayer” for children separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border. Foster says the sentiment for the original song stems from a time period when he was undergoing many the same emotions as those parents at the border.
“I wrote the song originally when Julian, my oldest boy, was moving overseas with his mom to France at the age five,” he recalls. “Up until then, I had joint custody him, and my wife Cindy had been a second mama to him since he was three. So, we were both devastated. That song was born out knowing that you are not going to see your kid for months at a time. It was a lousy situation. I firsthand know that feeling.” The song appeared in Foster’s 1999 album See What You Want To See, but three years later the song would receive even more attention when The Dixie Chicks heard it – thanks to his wife.
“Natalie had a baby boy, and my relationship with them goes back to when they used to open shows for me in Austin. We sent her a baby gift, and Cindy said ‘You oughta stick ‘Godspeed’ in there.' I had a CD single, and I said ‘This has kept my boys asleep pretty good the past few years. I hope it does the same for yours.’"
Maines heard the song, liked it, and the trio recorded it for their Home disc, which eventually sold over six million copies. Better yet, the label decided to release the emotional song as the fourth single from the set. Unfortunately, the group soon found themselves out favor with certain radio companies after Maines’ 2003 comments regarding President Bush – and the song only made it to No. 48 on the Hot Country Songs chart. But, Foster asserts the song definitely hit the right notes with listeners.
“Despite all that, I had been closing shows with it for about twenty years as my last encore. It’s humbling when a guy with his hair cut high and tight – and has his wife and kids with him – standing there in the autograph line after the show and said ‘Mr. Foster, I want to thank you for that song because I sang it to my kids on a satellite phone from a mountain in Afghanistan.’ If that won’t humble you, not much will. So, it’s had that real emotional life. At that time, I was just trying to write a lullaby for my little boy – what you’re trying to do when you put him to bed.”
The song came back to the forefront Foster’s mind due to the recent headlines regarding immigration. “When this separating parents from their kids at the border, just because you crossed – even if you’re seeking asylum – story came up, I just went ‘Whoa.' Everything I was taught at the dinner table, about my faith, and everything just being a human being tells me that’s wrong. It just ate at me. Cindy said ‘You should translate that into Spanish and sing it.’"
Foster, who grew up a mile-and-a-half from the Mexican border, had other ideas. “I thought ‘No. I should sing it in Spanish and English because I’m bilingual.' I got as far as I could with the Spanish, and I literally called one my oldest friends – she was my sweetheart my freshman year in high school – Deborah Hernandez-Salinas. She helped me to put it together, and added a little more color to it. You really have to re-write it. You can’t just trans-literate it. It wouldn’t work.”
The singer-songwriter got a chance to re-visit his original composition, yet also be creative in coming up with something altogether different. “I had this chance to talk about someone who is on a journey – what’s it like to travel two thousand miles just because you’re leaving a situation so bad that you would travel that distance on the open road with a child – and what is it like to put that child to sleep – and where would you do that?"
Foster says the issue isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a political one, but a human one. “It begins to speak to the question ‘Who do we want to be as people?' My faith tells me in Matthew 25 – ‘I was a stranger and you took me in. I was in prison and you visited me. I was naked and you clothed me.’ It’s pretty straight-up. I know that nations have to have borders, and a way to control that, and that’s fine. But, I think that we as Americans like to think ourselves as someone who leads with humanity and kindness, but understanding that we’re all immigrants. If we have to send you home because you don’t qualify, we’re going to do that with dignity.”
Foster says that the reception to the video — which will benefit RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), which works with refugees and other immigrants — has been strong. “So far, it’s gone over well. There’s been a few places where people have been a little stunned. I’m sure if I looked at Facebook or Twitter, I could find a troll or two. But, I didn’t preach. Let the song speak for itself, and all a sudden, maybe someone will go look up the Spanish translation, or maybe seek someone out who might be a new immigrant, and find out what it is – and look at it from that heart point view, rather than that hardline point view. The reason I wanted to put it out is that you can try to change someone’s mind with an argument, but that rarely works. If you change somebody’s heart, and someone finds empathy for a human being, that’s a powerful experience. Music is the best way to do that.”