Two student groups showcase Latinx culture
The Santa Clara
May 4, 2017
Some joined because of the fun. Others simply wanted to learn something new. And a few even admit to being coerced by eager friends.
Whatever the reason for initially joining, members of Mariachi de Santa Clara and Ballet Folklorico de Santa Clara University have stuck with the two relatively recent organizations—not just because of their passion for performing, but also because of their pride in displaying their Mexican culture.
Although the groups may be small—in total, they only have 17 student members, with several involved in both clubs—they have a lot of heart for performing mariachi music and dancing folklorico.
For those that don’t know, mariachi is a wide-ranging type of music originally from Mexico. Bands are usually composed of trumpets and string instruments—think violins, guitars and guitarrónes (essentially big-bellied bass guitars)—along with other guitar variations. But perhaps one of mariachi’s more famed aspects is its vocals, which require a wide-singing range and the ability to hold very long notes at times.
Incredibly diverse in its sound and meaning, mariachi evades a simple description. It can at times sound cheery—boisterous even. But at other times, it can be much more subdued and longing. No matter the sound though, mariachi songs almost always contain incredible emotion, with lyrics often full of pain, anger and bittersweet sadness.
For instance, in the famed song “El Rey”—made popular by singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez and later Vincente Fernández—the singer croons originally in Spanish, “I don’t have neither a throne nor a queen / nor anyone that understands me / but I keep being the king.”
Folklorico, on the other hand, is a type of dance that also hails from Mexico. And also like mariachi, it has no singular form. Instead, through a variety of dance styles, folklorico reflects the myriad of cultures and traditions across Mexico’s regions.
Many, however, may recognize the dance form for its large and often colorful circular skirts that the performers don and proudly hold up with their hands. The outfits, however, aren’t just a pretty sight—they also bring a flurry of energy to the stage as the dancers spin and slice the skirts through the air, mesmerizing audience members.
In other words, to be a mariachi band player and a folklorico dancer is no easy feat. And for the 17 members of those two groups, they manage to do so while also attending the university.
But perhaps even more shocking is the fact that many of the students involved in either Mariachi or Folklorico had little to no experience before college.
“I had never done folklorico or mariachi ever—in my life. But I grew up listening to mariachi music because my grandma raised me for much of my life,” said senior Hector Navarro.
Navarro, who also dances with Ballet Folklorico, currently serves as the co-chair of Mariachi de Santa Clara with sophomore Moriah Montes—who additionally works as the co-chair of Folklorico with sophomore Areli Hernandez.
Nonetheless, as Navarro explained, despite his initial inexperience, he pushed himself to keep up with both the band and the dance group.
“It was really intimidating, but Moriah and all of them were really welcoming,” the senior said. “Although it’s difficult, it’s definitely worth it. I didn’t have too much trouble catching up.”
That being said, Navarro knows where his strengths lie.
“I prefer mariachi just because I’ve played music before, so it’s a little bit easier to learn, to advance. Folklorico, for me, is just especially difficult because I’m not that coordinated,” Navarro said with a chuckle.
Montes, on the other hand, has quite the lengthy history with the music form—she started playing mariachi at nine-years-old. And while she’s only a sophomore, her history with Mariachi de Santa Clara goes further back then the two years she has been at the university. When her older sister’s boyfriend—Anthony Angeles ’16—organized the Santa Clara band a few years back, Montes found herself and her talent being recruited.
“They didn’t really have a lot of members, so they did get a lot of outside help. I would come, even though I didn’t go to school here yet,” Montes said. “I was only a senior in high school when I would come help them out!”
Since the group’s small beginnings, Mariachi has grown to include now seven students. And the band’s talent continues to be recognized and recruited more and more. Mariachi plays a variety of on-campus venues, including Global Village, Noche Latina, La Virgen Del Tepeyac, MeChA/El Frente’s annual culture show and the Chicanx/ Latinx Senior Ceremony.
And often, when Mariachi is called upon to perform, so is Ballet Folklorico. However, the dance group—which started around the same time as Mariachi—has had a rougher time keeping afloat and maintaining members. However, that changed this year, when Hernandez and Montes took over as the chairs. After recruiting 14 committed members, the pair has been driven to make Folklorico a success.
“We wanted to continue learning, and also build a presence on campus. Especially as a minority group, a lot of us wanted to showcase the beauty of Mexican culture,” Hernandez said.
The group practices at least once a week for a couple hours under the coaching of Luis Toledo—a family friend of Montes’ and former director of a professional folklorico company. He volunteers his time to train and choreograph Ballet Folklorico—and even lends the dancers the various regional clothing he has from his past folklorico group.
While dancing for several hours each week sounds fun, it also requires a lot of dedication—especially with any intricate footwork and partnering. As first-year dancer Natali Gonzalez explained, the work can be quite frustrating and tedious.
“Sometimes for a couple of weeks, we’ll be practicing just one step,” she said.
But for Andres Cisneros—another first-year dancer—the long hours the group puts in always pay off.
“We work hard all the time and leading up to a performance, it’s a lot more work,” he noted. “But when you are actually doing it, with the adrenaline, it’s really fun.”
Performing for an audience pushes Mariachi members to work their hardest as well. But sometimes the performance depends on who is listening.
“It literally always makes a difference to what crowd you play to,” Montes said. “Like if you play to a crowd that’s cheering for you, just really excited about it, then it really gets you motivated.”
“You feel appreciated,” Navarro added.
But beyond performing, for many of the members of Mariachi and Ballet Folklorico, their dedication to their craft stems from a deep desire to show—and build—appreciation for their culture and their backgrounds.
“For me personally, playing trumpet and singing music that resonates with a lot of people in our culture is something special,” Navarro said. “I feel it’s a way for me to say thanks to my grandma for introducing that to me as a kid.”
Mariachi and Folklorico don’t just connect students to their culture—as Hernandez explained, the groups also serve as a way to connect to other students who may not feel like they necessarily belong at the university.
“For any prospective Latino students, when they come onto campus, they might see that it’s predominantly white and then they don’t really see themselves here. They might feel detached from an institution like this,” Hernandez said. “But at events like Global Village or Noche Latina, when they see people like us—people they can relate to—they see potential. It’s motivating.”
Contact Maura Turcotte at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.