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Mariachi chorus line during last year’s Mariachi Festival. Photo: Dee Rogers.

Mariachi chorus line during last year’s Mariachi Festival. Photo: Dee Rogers.

Cinthia Rodriguez

El Observador

The Mexican Heritage Corporation is well known for its annual mariachi festival but it also collaborates with other organizations to promote Mexican heritage through art, music, and dance. One of the ways they do that is through their mariachi youth program.

“The mission of the Mexican Heritage Corporation is to celebrate and preserve the cultural heritage of Mexico and one of the ways we do that is by preserving this art form known as mariachi by teaching it, by presenting it in performance and by creating new ways to sustain its preservation with new generations of Latinos such as finding ways to teach mariachi in the public schools here in San Jose,” said Marcela Davison Aviles, executive director of MHC.

The mariachi youth program was developed to help students achieve musical proficiency in a school setting and through workshops. MHC worked with educators to create a curriculum that meets the requirements by the state of California Department of Education for preforming arts instruction. This way, the students can be evaluated and given academic credit.  There are several elementary, middle, and high schools in San Jose where the program is offered.

“Mariachi as an art form is difficult to learn to do well, in terms of the repertoire that you have to learn, in terms of the performance techniques that a musician needs to acquire in order to become a successful musician. Learning things like technique, pitch, intonation, learning the discipline of rehearsing every day; learning to be an active listener, learning to read music. All the calculations that you make in your head. It’s not easy,” said Davison Aviles. “These are all skills that if you provide access to students to have the opportunity to learn theses skills, to create something beautiful, to be part of something bigger than themselves, and our data shows it, that that creates a recipe for success.”

The mariachi youth program has been up and running for 15 years. Aside from celebrating their Quinceñera (a Latin American tradition for a young woman who turns 15 years old) they also have another reason to celebrate; they will have the opportunity to perform at a national policy forum.

MHC accepted to work on the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH). MHC assisted in identifying other educators in mariachi across the country including cities like Chicago, Nashville, Tucson, and Las Vegas. They advised Washington D.C. on who should be at the table to discuss the impact of music education. Most importantly, MHC will provide the entertainment; students from the mariachi youth program will be performing. “We’re just taking the music that we grew up with and adding it to the mix so that our youth will have access to the same kind of programs that other students from other communities have access to that creates a whole program of success and academic achievement,” said Davison Aviles.

Special auditions were held to create an all-star band and folklorico ensemble. All students range from 10 years old to 17 years of age. The students will perform on August 27.

The two-day forum taking place on August 27 and 28, managed under the US Department of Education, seeks to create outreach, provide information, and focus on best practices in the educational community with regards to closing the Latino academic achievement gap. MHC will share the rationale behind offering access to programs like their own.  “I know that the key to success for a student to be able to do well in school and create a successful plan to get into college, half of it, if not more, is support at home and parents really being involved with their child,” said Davison Aviles.

MHC will also present the idea of providing an educational tool that’s culturally relevant, and creates an environment in which parents feel they can become more engaged in their child’s academic career. Other participants include Michael Butera, Director of the National Music Educator’s Association, Laurie Schell, Director of Music Makes Us, Nashville Public School District, and Richard Carranza, Superintendent of Schools at San Francisco Unified, as well as music and entertainment industry executives, non-profit arts leaders, and funders in philanthropy. “Mariachi, as an art form, has made such an impact in the US. It has created an opportunity for marginalized Latino youth to succeed through music,” said Davison Aviles.


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