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How Mariachi Changed 3 Las Vegas Families

Music transformed these Nevada students’ and their families’ lives and have set the course for their futures.

Latin music is very popular in the United States, and mariachi is especially prevalent among Mexican families. Mariachi musicians across the U.S. perform at events honoring the rich culture of Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries. Because of the music’s popularity, mariachi education is a sweeping movement that started in the Southwest but is now offered at many schools in the U.S. Incorporating mariachi into a formal music education program has made all the difference to many students of Hispanic descent who may not have otherwise become involved in music.

Mariachi by Accident

Daniel, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya

Daniel is a graduate of Las Vegas High School and its mariachi group, Mariachi Joya, and current member of Mariachi Plata at The College of Southern Nevada. Before he joined mariachi, he was not involved in any music courses although he always wanted to be a musician. He joined mariachi on violin during his freshman year and loved being in music class with his friends. Toward the end of the year, COVID-19 sent everyone to virtual learning.

Daniel took advantage of online music theory courses offered at LVHS and used his time at home to learn even more about mariachi. He decided that he wanted to switch to the guitarron, which is a bass-guitar-like instrument that carries the bassline in the mariachi ensemble. He took the initiative to practice every day, and when we returned to school the following year, he was named the guitarron player of Mariachi Joya!, which has been recognized as the “Nation’s Premier Mariachi Ensemble” by SBO magazine. Daniel’s grades improved and he even had straight As during some semesters of his junior and senior years.

“For me, mariachi was an accident,” he says. “I was going down one path, and my love for mariachi took me to even new heights. I just thought I was going to play the violin, but through the last few years I have gotten to share the stage with famous musicians, meet my heroes, and even bring music back into my parents’ lives.”

His mother, Flor, echoes his passion and says, “I am very proud of my son. I am happy that out of all my kids that one of them has the same love for mariachi music as I do. My relationship with my son is closer because he started to play mariachi music and it fills my soul to see him doing what he loves”.

Now, Daniel is slated to become one of the first-ever mariachi students in a new university program and is excited to bring this beautiful music to new generations as a mariachi teacher after he graduates.

A Family of Musicians

Jennilee, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya

Jennilee is another example of how mariachi changed a student’s life. Jenni was not involved in after-school activities before mariachi came along. She was a very shy young woman who followed in her older brother’s footsteps when she joined mariachi. She is now a senior at Las Vegas High and regularly auditions at vocal competitions across the country.

“Mariachi has made me believe in myself more than ever,” she says. “We really love this music and this community we have created. I do not know where I would be without my school’s mariachi program”.

Her younger sister is now in mariachi, and their mother is proud to have three musicians in the family who make people smile with every performance.

Brothers in Mariachi

Axel is the current student director of Mariachi Joya. He started playing the violin in beginning mariachi two years ago and practiced for hours every day to get into the school’s top ensemble. His younger brother, Irvin, is a mariachi student at Keller Middle School, which has a thriving program under Ms. Miriam Vazquez, who does a great job at preparing her students to become “Joyas.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto with Axel, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada with Axel, a member of Mariachi Joya.

Irvin really loves playing beautiful music with his friends, and he says, “I am really proud of my big brother Axel. He is a role model for me and has inspired me to work hard in school. Mariachi has bonded us. Now we have something special to talk about every day. I hope I can be in Joya one day, too.”

Axel has a 4.0 GPA and says that mariachi greatly contributes to his academic success. “Mariachi has motivated me to do well in school,” he says. “It taught me that I can get results with hard work, so if I put hard work into other classes, I can do well in those just like mariachi.”

Being a part of Mariachi Joya has changed his outlook on what he wants to do in life. Axel says that he wants to teach mariachi so he can help students “bring their communities together just like we did here on the east side.”

Axel and Irvin are just one of many examples of how mariachi education has brought families together. It also prepares students for life outside of music.

The cultural power of mariachi is strong. It rings families together, creates opportunities for students that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and it creates strong community engagement.

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