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Mariachi bands a trend reaching area high schools

Emily McFarlan

Emily McFarlan

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:02AM

Almost exactly one year ago, I started hearing rumblings about mariachi bands taking off in high schools around the country on an education reporters email list, first from reporters in Oregon, then in Texas, Las Vegas and Washington state.

Oh, man, I thought. I can’t wait for mariachi to come to the school districts I cover so I can write about it.

(Our motivations as reporters are pretty noble like that.)

Little did I know, Elgin School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres already had been watching the trend. And as I started asking around the district about it, its first middle school mariachi students were giving exhilarating end-of-the-year performances.

The music isn’t part of my cultural heritage, as it is for many of the students who participate in mariachi bands in U46 and other school districts around the country.

But it’s hard not to get excited about mariachi, what with its sequined charro suits and catchy songs.

And it’s hard not to get excited about — even inspired by — an established program like Zapata High School’s, featured last fall in the PBS documentary “Mariachi High.”

The school of 900 students in rural Zapata, Texas, competes in mariachi competitions against much-larger high schools from around the state — and it even wins. At the end of the documentary, its Mariachi Halcon is recognized at the Texas State Capitol by state legislators.

But more than an uplifting underdog story, 100 percent of the high school seniors in Zapata’s mariachi program have gone on to an institute of higher learning after graduation. As the “Mariachi High” website puts it, those students are “pursuing excellence through a connection to their cultural heritage.”

“You’re a descendent of Mexicans,” band leader Adrian Padilla tells his students in the documentary, “so we’re going to keep you ancestors alive by playing this music.”

Here’s hoping students in the first district-wide mariachi band in the Fox Valley make those same connections with their education and their heritage; and that they find the same excitement as Mariachi Halcon. I can’t wait to hear more from them.

¡Buena suerte, U46!

-- Emily McFarlan Miller, staff writer

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