The fastest growing Mariachi music program outside of Mexico is in Washington state. A high school Mariachi band from Wenatchee has an award winning director and they’ve won a few themselves.
Since the 18th century, Mariachi has been an integral part of Mexico’s music scene and most students here have Mexican roots. There aren’t many programs like this in the U.S.
The group, which is called Mariachi Huenachi, keeps kids culturally connected. They also have to meet specific academic standards. Teacher Ramon Rivera said expectations are high.
“We are a farming community,” he said. “Their parents work in apples, cherries and pears and when you think of an agriculture worker, you don’t think of them going to college. You don’t think of them going to be the next senator, the next president, the next governor of the state.”
Sarahi Hernandez-Rubio is a soloist in the band. Next year, she hopes to sing at Eastern Washington University. She scored a partial scholarship from the band. She’ll be the first in her family to go to college.
“Where we started, it was not good,” Hernandez-Rubio said. :We were like poor, poor, poor, poor and it feels amazing to give that to my mom.”
Historically, women did not take part in Mariachi. That posed a challenge for Rosa Espinoza, who had to convince her conservative Mexican parents that the band is good for her.
“I would beg all the time and show them videos and pictures and so, it was all family trust,” she said. Espinoza will also be the first in her family to attend college next year because of two small scholarships from the band.
Mariachi Huenachi plays 40 shows per year, but audiences aren’t always receptive. Rivera said a concert for their local Congressman this spring drew negative comments and questions about the students’ citizenship on social media. But they’ve been invited by U.S. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan to play in the nation’s capital.
“To be recognized like that, by politicians that are on that side of the spectrum, we’re looking past illegal immigrants or past stereotypes,” Rivera said. “These are kids.”
That concert take places in October, as part of a Hispanic heritage month celebration.