Friday, November 9, 2007

Mariachi Memories and Festival at Young Park

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Mariachi transcends time, place and ethnic origins.
Can a Midwestern Scandinavian-American Baby Boomer really grow up loving mariachi, you may ask?
Si, and I’m living proof.
I may have had a lot to learn, but I was hardly a mariachi virgin when I moved to New Mexico.
I came from a family of singers in Michigan. Dad, who was trying to teach us Spanish, made sure our road trip repertoire featured some fun Español numbers.
In my Midwestern WASP familia, the canciones de mi padre included pop standards from his salad days in the 1930s and 40s: “Si Lito Lindo,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “Juanita,” “La Cucharacha,” and assorted other ditties.
There were also lots of fun Spanglish hybrids like “The Donkey Serenade.”
I can’t remember where I put my car keys, but my brain can instantly access: “Amigo mio, does she not have a dainty bray? She listens carefully to each little tune you play. La bella señorita? Si, si mi muchachita...”
Well, you get the idea.
We not only had the music, we were learning the moves. By the time I got to high school, many of us in the Orchard View High School Spanish Club could manage a rudimentary version of what we called the Mexican hat dance.
As a teenager, I heard mariachi groups singing and playing versions of those family favorite songs during trips to California and Tijuana. I may not have understood much about mariachi musical traditions then, but I know what I like, and I loved the soulful vocals, the romantic guitars and shimmering violins, the clear passionate trumpets, the beautiful costumes and dramatic movements of flamenco and folklorico dancers.
In the West and even the Midwest, mariachi became a part of my life. I discovered how much I missed it when I moved back East. The turning point came when I was planning a party in uber-Anglo Palm Beach and found myself trying to turn a chamber music group into a mariachi band.
As I worked to coax a French horn, cello and viola into playing a little cocktail hour ranchera to liven things up, I knew that it was time to return to the Southwest. Now, of course, I know I was not asking the impossible, I was merely ahead of my time. These days, the likes of Mariachi Cobre, Linda Ronstandt and a sombrero-clad Doc Severinsen routinely and brilliantly lead symphony orchestras to mariachi magnificence.
With exposure to the real deal, even the culturally deprived can learn. I was born preferring salsa to ketchup...and the rest of the United States, given a choice, finally caught up with me.
So it is with mariachi and all its glorious trappings.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jose Tena’s Ballet Folklorico de la Tierra del Encanto. The flashing mariposa skirts, the sight of dancers in their crisp white Veracruz outfits accented with colorful embroidery, moving with lighted candles down the aisles of Oñate High School’s’s all etched indelibly in the mucho gusto balconies of my brain.
Show me a soul who is not moved by the rush of mariachi dancers and musicians opening a Spectacular concert at Pan Am and I will show you a difunto.
I’m not sure when I realized mariachi was a lot more than music and dance and pageantry.
It’s also poetry, passion, pleasure and pain. It’s faith, an expression of—and cure for—the blues, a great way to cheer up when you’re down and celebrate when you’re happy. It’s chiles and Christmas and luminarias and maracas and piñatas and a hot summer fiesta with cool margaritas.
Mariachi is a culture, a way of life.
I remember a meeting in 1994 with some of the founders of what would become the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference. Jose Tena was there, along with Phyllis Franzoy, Erlinda Portilla, Judy Luna and several others, including native Las Crucens with Anglo roots who stressed that the heritage they wanted to preserve and nurture was sin fronteras, transcending borders and boundaries of heritage and ethnicity.
It’s a dream we’ve seen fulfilled, a rare thing, our own little milagro, and all who have contributed should be proud.
¡Viva mariachi!
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at Access my blog by going to, click on the Blogzone and then on the Las Cruces Style icon or go directly to

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