With their matching wide-brimmed hats and embroidered charro outfits, the Mariachi Continental group garnered student attention Wednesday in the Quad during an event that was part of the larger celebration of Latino culture this month.
“El Mariachi Showcase,” organized by the student group Mesa Cooperativa, featured Mariachi Continental, of El Monte, playing various songs through the ages of mariachi history, with Victor Oropeza narrating the story of Mexico’s famous genre of music.
“The whole point of today is to show students how mariachi bands came to be, and how today they’re integrated more into the U.S. mainstream,” said Oropeza.
In his presentation, Oropeza described how the earliest mariachi bands did not feature a brass section. They also didn’t wear the matching Charro, or horseman, outfits that mariachi bands are known for today.
To demonstrate, select members of Mariachi Continental performed an early song without the brass section while wearing the mixed outfits characteristic of the time.
“The most important revolution in mariachi music took place when trumpets were incorporated, creating the unique and brassy accent distinctive of mariachi,” Oropeza said.
One such song that featured the trumpets was “Ella,” originally written by José Alfredo Jiménez, who Oropeza said was one of the most famous Mexican composers. “Ella” is a song about a man “who got dumped,” and subsequently went to drink at the nearby cantina, Oropeza said.
“Mariachi music has a wide array of different styles. The most popular ones are rancheras, which would be the same as country music. They have waltzes, polkas and huapangos. There are many different styles that encompass all of what mariachis actually play,” Oropeza said.
Mariachi Continental also performed a paso doble, the style of music typically played during bullfights in Mexico and Spain.
“Mariachi music has been in the Mexican culture for years,” said Karen Mier, treasurer of Mesa Cooperativa. “For the Latinos, when they hear the mariachi music, it kind of livens up their spirit and brings out joy.”
“In their music, they’re storytellers. So a mariachi has been known to be the people that tell the stories of a whole entire country and culture,” Mier said.
Celebrating Latino culture is key to events like these, as Mier pointed out how at Cal State Fullerton, Latinos are anything but a minority.
“For us, it was really important because although we are considered a minority, on campus we are a majority. We should be proud that there are so many of us here,” Mier said. “Especially in Southern California, there are so many of us here. To see our extension and our growth in a positive way really shines a light on us.”
Mariachi has permeated into American popular culture, both in music and on the screen.
Oropeza said their music has become part of the multicultural landscape in the United States and musical icons such as Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos and Ritchie Valens all have their roots in the style.
Oropeza also pointed out how former President George W. Bush had hosted mariachis in the White House, and the significance of using this one aspect of Latino culture to “appeal to the Latino vote.”
With Oropeza translating for one of the Mariachi Continental members, he said how the El Monte, Calif. based group has been around for over 50 years.
The events will continue Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a Chicano/Latino pep rally in the Quad. Norman Zeledon, vice president of Mesa Cooperativa, said students can expect comedy, spoken-word poetry and encouragement.
“Being Chicano or Latino, it can mean a million different things for a million different people,” said Zeledon. “What we’re trying to do at Mesa Cooperativa is to let the people in the Chicano-Latino community know that there is a community for them and that there is an identity. Everyone’s identity will be different, but we want to give them the initiative.”