Mariachiando: La raíz
Mariachiando will be an ongoing series of posts at L.A. Eastside and here about my experience as a mariachi musician throughout Los Angeles. The posts will not be in chronological order in order to fully document these experiences and create a narrative. To follow these posts here, visit the Mariachiando page.
My paternal grandfather was a mariachi musician in México. in the weekends, my grandfather often left for a whole day or a weekend with his violin, guitar, or vihuela, to play with compadres in other pueblos around los Altos de Jalisco. Often, he’d be in the plazas, playing and singing with friends. When he came to the United States to work in the 1970s, he spent time working, but eventually quit and spent the rest of his time in East L.A., playing throughout the area with other mariachis and friends.
Meanwhile, my dad and siblings grew up listening to my grandfather’s music and the music that filtered to their pueblo’s radios from Guadalajara. When they had some time to themselves, either when they walked from their rancho to the pueblo, they played games or sang. While none of my grandfather’s children became mariachis themselves, they all sang, a few of them very, very well and my dad learned to play the guitar.
My dad is the third-oldest male and the fourth-oldest child. The eldest three males immigrated first to the United States in the late-1970s. They originally lived in East L.A. & Boyle Heights, but moved to South Gate in the early-1980s. All the siblings eventually moved out to the Bay Area, the last one, the oldest male of the family, leaving South Gate in 1989 and his stove to my dad (which is still in operation today). One of my uncles, my future padrino de bautizo, lived in the Bay Area and married someone he met over there. My grandfather stayed with him and other uncles during that time, and with him he had his violin. Mi padrino hired a mariachi to play at the cena after the misa, and of course it was time for my grandfather to bring out his instrument and perform along with the mariachi. The mariachi mi padrino hired was the mariachi that Carlos Santana’s father was a member. I was only a few months old.
I didn’t see my grandfather again until 1993. I don’t remember that trip at all. I went again in 1995 and re-met my grandfather. I was five years old and what I most remembered of him was the he spent a lot of time playing and singing music.
In the U.S., my dad had a guitar in our apartment that he used sometimes to accompany himself as he sang. It hung in a corner of the living room, collecting dust and hanging from a single neon-green shoelace tied through the headstock. I always wanted to learn the guitar, but because of my dad’s limited knowledge and little contact with my grandfather, I was not able to start learning an instrument.
Between 1995 and 1999, I saw my grandfather a few times in Tijuana, when he visited his sister. In 1999, my uncles in the Bay Area were able to bring him into the United States. Then, my uncles had a party to welcome him to the United States and my family went up to the Bay Area. My padrino hired a grupo huasteco and my grandfather started playing and singing with them.
In elementary school, I was told that because I was in the Gifted Program, I had the opportunity to take music classes. Immediately, I told my parents I wanted to learn the guitar. My dad obliged and bought me my first guitar, a cheap, $20 guitar we bought at La Barata in South Gate (the store also supplied most of the furniture and appliances in our apartment in the 1990s).
I never sensed any pressure from my family to become a mariachi like my grandfather. I just wanted to be a part of my grandfather’s, uncles, and father’s performances at family gatherings.