Mariachi Music: Its Roots and Importance in San Antonio Culture

Whether you’re strolling down the River Walk, enjoying Fiesta, or visiting Mi Tierra or some other Mexican restaurant, it’s hard not to encounter mariachi music in San Antonio. While Mexico is the birthplace of this unique music genre, the Alamo City has embraced it to the point that it is part of our identity as San Antonians.  

The moment I arrived in San Antonio I knew it was a special city. It is the place where I want my kids to grow up, and I love that a tradition like mariachi music is part of its culture. What makes mariachi music in San Antonio different from other cities? Much more than I have imagined…

When I started writing this post, I knew I had to talk to some local mariachis to learn more about this music genre in our city. That’s how I learned that mariachi classes in public schools started here in San Antonio. Back in the 1970s, they weren’t available in any other place.

Belle San Miguel Ortiz, known as “The Mother of Mariachi,” is a San Antonio mom and teacher who began the first mariachi class at her alma mater, Lanier High School, in 1969. Later, in 1975, she taught the first mariachi class at San Antonio College. Ortiz’s legacy is now part of more than 2,000 schools around our country making San Antonio proud.

Mariachi music combines different generations of Hispanic families and adds Americans to the Mexican culture. Carlos Alvarez, musician for Mariachi Campanas de America, told me that he is surprised by the diversity of students who decide to take mariachi music classes:

“I was surprised that different ethnicities come together, from Mexicans to Americans, or African Americans… These kids love the style, the music, and instead of joining a different program at their schools, they decided to join [a] mariachi group,” he said.

San Antonio’s acceptance of mariachi music demonstrates that you don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy hearing it sung, because music it is not just heard, but felt. “Mariachi music is universal. It involves feelings and it is something beautiful,” said Sebastian Torres, director for Mariachi Los Galleros.

This is how our own Sebastien de la Cruz became famous. In 2013, he received racist threats after singing the National Anthem mariachi style at a Spurs game. However, he also surprised the county with his unique voice, which rocketed him into fame.

Sebastien is an example of a San Antonio kid with Hispanic heritage who has mariachi music in his soul and sings with pride of who he is.

Mariachi music has also inspired some people to learn Spanish or improve at speaking it. That was the case with Carlos Alvarez, who after being part of a mariachi music class at Palo Alto College, perfected his language. He told me that Mr. Ortiz, music director for Campanas de America, patiently taught him how to correctly pronounce the lyrics of each song. After 21 years of being part of this group, music has changed Carlos’s life to a point that his 10-year-old daughter can listen to Ariana Grande as well as mariachi music and understand both.

Mariachi Azteca de America Photo credit: Anthony Medrano

Mariachi music started at the end of the 17th century, but has evolved with time. Today, mariachi music is “cool” again, thanks to young singers such as Christian Nodal and Alex Fernandez, Jr., who present this music to new generations.

With his 2017 song “Adiós Amor,” Christian Nodal demonstrated that it is possible to fuse mariachi with other music genres, inspiring today’s youth to sing along. “He gave mariachi a different feeling, a special change that make it ‘cool’ again,” said Carlos Alvarez.

On the other end, 25-year-old Alex Fernández, Vicente Fernández’s grandson, just started his music career and will likely see his heritage represented in San Antonio, just like his grandfather’s.

Five Facts About Mariachi Music

  1. The mariachi sound, known as son, was born in Cocula, Jalisco, near Guadalajara.
  2. A mariachi group is formed by 7 to 12 members.
  3. Basic instruments in a mariachi group include guitar, vihuela, guitarrón, violins, and trumpets.
  4. The Charro costume represents the clothing of a Mexican cowboy, consisting of a jacket, tight pants, shirt, booties, and a shawl tie.
  5. Mariachi music became popular in the golden age of Mexican cinema through Pedro Infante’s movies.

Five San Antonio Mariachis That Represent the Alamo City

  1. Campanas de AméricaThis mariachi group has played in San Antonio the longest, beginning back in 1978. Campanas de America has performed at major events, including the Hispanic Inaugural Gala for Bill Clinton and the White House for president George Bush.
  2. Los Galleros—This group was founded in 2006 to proudly represent its Hispanic heritage. It has collaborated with the tenor Placido Domingo and recently produced a new CD entitled “La Flor Que Más Quiero.”
  3. Azteca AmericaThis group was founded in 2006 by “Gino” Rivera, who learned about mariachi music from his family, who comprised the group Mariachi Los Parientes.
  4. Las AlteñasThis is mariachi group consists of only women, who have been proudly wearing the traditional mariachi costume for the past 17 years. They have represented our city at different events, including SXSW, The Women’s Mariachi Music Festival in Los Angeles, and Ballroom Marfa in Nueva York.
  5. Los Caporales—Proudly formed in San Antonio and integrated by many teachers of our city, this group traveled all the way to Russia to represent our music and identity.

Five Most Requested Mariachi Songs in San Antonio

  1. “Los Laureles”
  2. “Amor Eterno”
  3. “El Rey”
  4. “Mariachi Loco”
  5. “Volver Volver”

So the next time you see mariachis playing outside your favorite San Antonio restaurant, be sure to applaud. Their history is rich, and their passion for their music is undeniable.

Born and raised in the north part of Mexico, Aidée is a mom of two boys who considers San Antonio a great place to raise kids, even though all her family lives on the other side of the border. She speaks only Español at home and tries to teach her boys about their heritage, learning as well about American traditions and having fun adapting to both cultures. Favorite Restaurant: Palenque Grill Favorite Landmark: Mission San Jose Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Rodeo