Mariachi is so much more than a musical genre to Miriam L. Vazquez, a music teacher at Duane D. Keller Middle School in Las Vegas. It’s an inclusive movement! “Everyone can be a part of it regardless of language, age, religion or ethnic heritage,” she says. “All voices are important and valid in the promotion of mariachi education — not just Latinx educators. I say that music itself is a language, and more than ever, mariachi needs advocacy.”
Her mariachi program started with 80 students last fall, and one year later, it boasts 300 students! “Upon returning from the pandemic, many students faced great pain and fear as they lost a part of their lives that they thought could never be recovered,” Vazquez explains. “I decided to design a unique mariachi program where not only my students would feel at home, but also their families and other members of the community, who eagerly seek the warmth of being part of something great, new and with a purpose.”
Vazquez says that her program experienced an influx of non-Hispanic students who are developing a love and passion for mariachi music and “feel right at home in my classroom.” The program also provides opportunities for students to travel and gain valuable life skills that often lead to increased educational achievement, career prospects and other life aspirations.
Vazquez is described as understanding students’ social and emotional needs as well as their musical needs. She explains that gratitude is a fundamental part of the mariachi culture. “Aside from playing music together, I also encourage my students to be effective communicators,” she says. “We have developed a beautiful tradition of expressing aloud why we are grateful to have each other in our lives, which has greatly affected our culture at a school level. Not only have we seen a larger presence of music/performing arts on campus, but there has been a drastic increase in family involvement at the school — things our program has driven!”
Another way Vazquez shows gratitude is by promoting other programs at Keller during her concerts, which are some of the most well-attended shows in the district, with some drawing audiences of more than 1,000 people.
“We connect on a multi-generational level while building strong relationships among families, school and community,” she says. “In fact, we are launching our Familias Fuertes (Strong Families) sessions this semester to strengthen our family relationships through workshops that cover most of our students’ topics of need.”
Vazquez hosted the Keller Mariachi Face Off, affectionately referred to as “noche,” which brought together over 1,500 students, families and community members to celebrate the success of her growing program. “Within seven months of starting the program, we had more than 20 schools come together to make the event a success. In our specific location in the city, there aren’t a lot of community resources or community gathering places, so being able to provide this sense of community for everyone is a huge step in the right direction for us as a program and for our school.”