Mariachi Gives Students Hope For Future

Mariachi i i

The Middleton Street Elementary School Mariachi Band. courtesy of Middleton Street Elementary School hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of Middleton Street Elementary School
Mariachi

The Middleton Street Elementary School Mariachi Band.

courtesy of Middleton Street Elementary School

Mariachi music, long a tradition of Mexican culture, is finding its way into music education in schools across the United States. According to the National Association for Music Education, mariachi music programs are especially popular in southwest states with large Hispanic communities.

Every day after school, under the bloom of the fluorescent lights of the Middleton Street Elementary School auditorium in Los Angeles, young musicians practice. Wearing embroidered jackets with silver buttons, they are accompanied by dancers. The girls wear muslin dresses with hand-painted flowers, and the boys are in pale blue shirts with red ties and boots with taps on them.

The mariachi students in this elementary school auditorium range in age from 8 to 16. The middle- and high-school students learned their chops here and continue their instruction in an after-school program. This is a primarily first-generation Latino suburb of Los Angeles. Streets are marked by gang graffiti. The school's playground is a stone's throw from littered train tracks carefully navigated by children and stray dogs.

"Unfortunately, this area has a very high dropout rate — 50 percent," says Middleton Street Elementary School principal Javier Miranda, who started the program eight years ago. "So our expectation is that, through music, our students will develop a bond with the community and graduate from high school and college. "

Miranda says that the mariachi music program is considered a privilege. Students must maintain excellent grades and attendance even after leaving Middleton to stay in the program. He says it appears to be working.

"Their academic achievement keeps on improving," Miranda says. "Most of them are proficient or advanced in their state exam. We know their self-esteem and their academic performance is strengthened through music."

Lining the walls of the auditorium are the parents. One of them, Hilda Perez, says that mariachi represents hope for the future and a link with the past.

"All the family came from Mexico," she says. "These kids were born and raised here (in Los Angeles), so it's really important to us that they don't forget about .... their ancestors."

Luis Zambrano, 11, is reminded every time he takes his place in the mariachi line.

"It makes me feel emotional and excited and connected to my grandparents and my parents," he says. "My dream is playing mariachi professionally, trying to ... no, I think that's it."

Another violin player with her eyes on the future is 9-year-old Gabriella Sanchez, a petite girl with soulful eyes and silver earrings. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail.

"Like maybe when we grow up, like, we could come on shows of the TV," she says.

TV could definitely be part of Gabriella's future, but for now, she'll have to settle for being on the radio.

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