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Wave of Women Making Mariachi Their Own
Air Date: 04/21/2018
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Wave of Women Making Mariachi Their Own


Finally tonight, it’s a musical tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Starting in Mexico and expanding far beyond. And until relatively recently, mariachi was almost always performed by men. But that’s changing now in a big way. From Texas, here’s NBC’s Maya Rodriguez.

MAYA RODRIGUEZ, reporting:

It’s show time at LUNA Music Bar in San Antonio. On stage tonight, Mariachi Las Altenas. The musicians are all women part of a wave of ladies making mariachi their own. What do you play?

VALERIE VARGAS: I started playing the violin in the orchestra, fifth grade strings.

RODRIGUEZ: Valerie Vargas founded the group.

VARGAS: The idea of having my own all female group was something that I was definitely interested in.

RODRIGUEZ: Texas is leading the way with more and more women playing mariachi.

VARGAS: It was usually always men. I don’t remember seeing too many female mariachis when I was younger.

RODRIGUEZ: But that is changing. At Brackenridge High School more than half of John Nieto’s mariachi students are girls.

JOHN NIETO: The male only adds so much but the female voice that makes it that much better.

RODRIGUEZ: For juniors Donna Chavez and Palo Mariano, it’s a chance to connect with their heritage.

GIRL #1: I feel it’s empowering.

GIRL #2: I just think it’s another way of me getting in touch with my roots and my culture and a big part of me.

RODRIGUEZ: Their joining in part thanks to former music teacher Belle Ortiz

BELLE ORTIZ: I never thought it was going to happen.

RODRIGUEZ: Back in the ‘70s, Belle fought hard to get mariachi instruction into public schools here credited with helping give girls the chance to play.

ORTIZ: They’re as good as men mariachis. I remember I had an incident that one of the young lady said, my mother says I can’t play a man’s instrument in mariachi. I can play mariachi but I can only play violin. I said, honey, if you want to play your guitar on, here it is.

RODRIGUEZ: What’s it like to see these women embrace that part of their culture?

ORTIZ: Proud. I am so proud of them.

RODRIGUEZ: Back at LUNA Bar, Mariachi Las Altenas prepare to wrap up their set and return to their everyday lives as teachers, nurses and businesswomen.

VARGAS: We call each other superwomen sometimes. We do multiple things, it’s not just mariachi. That’s what brings us together. So it’s pretty special.

RODRIGUEZ: Together, changing tradition, thanks to a shared passion for this music. Maya Rodriguez, NBC News, San Antonio, Texas.

Mariachi connects schools, families in Chicago

CHICAGO — Jose Torres smiles as he thinks about how his 12-year-old daughter Alexa has embraced learning the same mariachi music he plays at home during a new Chicago Public Schools program that teaches the Mexican songs, linking the family's culture with the classroom.

Read more on Newsela