The transformative power of mariachi culture

Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School performs at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 2011.

Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School performs at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 2011.

As I work on materials for a new Kickstarter campaign to fund my film on the rise of the mariachi movement in Tucson, the transformational power of mariachi culture becomes clearer and clearer to me.

At the time when Tucson’s first youth mariachi – Los Changuitos Feos – was being launched in 1964, the city of Tucson was starting up a program to deliberately destroy a large portion of the Mexican American homes and businesses in downtown, under the emblem of Urban Renewal. Even portions of the original Spanish presidio fort, which remained scattered around downtown, were destroyed in that effort to “turn Tucson into a modern city” at the expense of those least able to fight back.

Downtown Chicano neighborhoods destroyed as part of Tucson's "Urban Renewal" program of the 1960s.

Downtown Chicano neighborhoods destroyed as part of Tucson’s “Urban Renewal” program of the 1960s.

What a contrast with today when the city of Tucson now has two iconic symbols – the saguaro cactus, and the mariachi. This is directly attributable to the proliferation of mariachi groups in Tucson, the culture’s adoption as part of music and dance programs in the schools, and the success of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.

When the Changuitos was formed, students were still being physically punished for speaking Spanish in school, and this had been the case for generations. Few of the original Changuitos spoke any Spanish. Compare that to now when so many young people are fluently bilingual. Compare as well the lower school dropout rates associated with mariachi and folklorico programs in the school, the increase in graduation rates among Mexican Americans, the number of Latino graduates going on to college, and the rise in political power of the culture.

An early version of Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos – Tucson and America's first youth mariachi.

An early version of Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos – Tucson and America’s first youth mariachi.

That is what this film is about – showing this revolution as evolution through the art form’s ability to change cultural perceptions as it changes the quality of life of its core population.

How this ongoing process came about and how it is changing both our corner of the world and the world at large is the challenge, and through interviews with those who lived it, along with archival footage and stills, this important, uplifting American story will be told.

Stay tuned for more on how you can become involved in sharing this story with the world.

~ by Daniel Buckley on April 6, 2013.

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