Ford Theatres

Mariachi Tradition

This exclusive web extra features Los Camperos performing the song "El Pasajero" with Ballet Folklor Pasión Mexicana and is representative of the Mariachi Festival tradition that has grown since the 1960s.

Before the 1960s, mariachi remained a musical form primarily practiced in Mexico, but as many musicians like Nati Cano found commercial success, the mariachi tradition expanded. Today, mariachi music has come to be universally recognized as a means of celebrating Mexican cultural heritage.

One of the biggest changes ushered in by this commercial success was the inclusion of mariachi in school curriculums that began in 1961-2 at UCLA's Institute for Ethnomusicology by Donn Borcherdt. He created a mariachi performance class and began a group with mariachi violinist Jesus Sanchez, called Mariachi Uclatlan, a group still in existence today. In fact, many of Borcherdt's students, including mariachi historian Dan Sheehy and first female mariachi Rebecca Gonzales both frequented La Fonda restaurant in the 1970s.

Fueled by the Chicano movement, mariachi began to make its way into high school curriculums in the 1970s. Belle Ortiz in San Antonio began teaching a high school course in 1970, which soon spread to five schools and eventually spawned the first mariachi festival: The San Antonio International Mariachi Conference, now called the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. Launched in 1979 by Belle and Juan Ortiz, the festival was backed by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Today, mariachi festivals are a regular feature of Mexican-American life in the Southwest and are powerful means of cultural self-expression that link Mexican and Mexican-American youth with the cultural traditions of their parents and grandparents.

Click here to see how Nati Cano brings mariachi music to the next generation!


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