Keeping Traditions Alive at Mexico’s Top Mariachi School
PRI’s The World misses the mark on mariachi, and Mexicans — again!
Escuela de Mariachi Ollin Yoliztli is the first formal mariachi program in Mexico, and its director, Leticia Soto, happens to be a Mexican American from the San Fernando Valley who graduated from UCLA in ’13 with a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. In fact, she helped revive that school’s campus mariachi, Mariachi de Uclatlán, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013.
Putting Soto’s background in context completely changes the narrative of this story, and most others on mariachi — and Mexican Americans, for that matter. A 50th anniversary is a great accomplishment for a student mariachi program, let alone one based in the United States, but the fact is that Mexicans in the U.S. have long led efforts to formalize the study and elevation of mariachi music’s artistic profile.
The first international conference on mariachi was held not in Guadalajara but in Tucson, Arizona. Several more institutions based around mariachi have been created in the United States in recent years. For instance, Texas and California have impressive mariachi-based school music programs, complete with elaborate state competitions. In contrast, we found no similar school music programs in Mexico.
All of this was, of course, missed by the folks at the BBC and their sister program, PRI’s The World. Instead of focusing on mariachi and its rich history, or on Soto and her unique story, they largely talked about mariachi’s negative stereotypes. But reporter Jason Margolis did mention Soto on his Twitter account. However, he referred to her as “American,” which is clearly a misrepresentation of her heritage. Another reason Mexicans need to tell our own stories. Tan-tan!
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- Malcolm X (via specialnights)