Mariachis Ride Into Uvalde With Songs of Heartache and Hope (2023)


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With trumpets, strings and serenades, their music traces the arc of life. It often accompanies moments of jubilation, but it can also speak to a community’s profound sorrow.

By Rick Rojas

Video by Emily Rhyne

Photographs by Ivan Pierre Aguirre

Leer en español.

UVALDE, Texas — A bus rolled in off the dusty highway and into the heart of a town mired in sorrow.

Outsiders had sent so much to Uvalde lately: food, flowers, millions of dollars in donations, prayers — gestures, large and small, meant to acknowledge a grief that no one believed they could cure. Like the others, compelled to do something, dozens of mariachi musicians had traveled from San Antonio with the hope that they could deliver a dose of comfort.

In the square that has become an expression of Uvalde’s pain, where 21 crosses were erected to mark the lives stolen by the gunman who stormed into an elementary school, the musicians gathered along the edge of a fountain and started to play, drawing on the aching words of the revered Mexican musician Juan Gabriel.

Tú eres la tristeza de mis ojos
Que lloran en silencio por tu amor

You are the sadness in my eyes
that cry in silence for your love

“They don’t pet you,” Anthony Medrano, one of the performers, said of the lyrics. “They cut you.”

(Video) 50 mariachis perform in Uvalde to support the community

Healing requires honesty, however lacerating, he said. A mariachi performance like this one was meant to be a journey, starting in darkness and climbing closer to the light.

Mariachi music — with its trumpets, strings and serenades — often conjures images of jubilation or romance, its costumed performers playing at quinceañeras, weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Yet in truth, performers say, the music traces the arc of life, as adept at accompanying the depths of anguish as soaring triumph.



“We as mariachis are there for every part of a person’s life,” Mr. Medrano, who helped coordinate the trip, told the other performers as they hit the road. “We’re called to step up and step in — and help comfort families and help comfort community. That’s what we’re going to do today.”

The performance came together with a post on Facebook that was circulated around the mariachi community in South Texas, encouraging musicians to meet in a parking lot on the edge of downtown San Antonio on Wednesday afternoon. Roughly three dozen got on the bus there. Others made the trip on their own. One group drove in from Eagle Pass, a border city an hour southwest of Uvalde.

The pull to join the performance was strong. “They look like our children,” Sandra Gonzalez, a violin player, said of the victims. “The faces look familiar.”

The musicians brought trumpets, violins, a saxophone, little five-string instruments called vihuelas, much larger guitarrónes mexicanos.

And though Uvalde is only a little more than an hour away from San Antonio, they also filled the bus with snacks: ice chests packed with water, beer, ham, cheese and bolillos, boxes of chips, and cardboard carriers with large plastic cups of sweet tea from Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, a chain that’s something of a San Antonio institution.

(Video) Mariachis honor victims of Uvalde school shooting with musical performance



The musicians ranged in age from a 7-year-old boy to those in their 60s and older. One family had three generations represented. There were music educators, real estate professionals, a medical student. Ms. Gonzalez is a nurse in a newborn intensive care unit. “You look at this bus,” said Roland San Miguel, one of the performers. “You see the diversity. That’s my dad right there.”

“It shows that they’re not alone,” he went on. “Uvalde is not alone.”

Those who are drawn to mariachi, as performers or as listeners, reflect the breadth of the Mexican American experience, particularly in a place like South Texas. For some, Spanish is their first language, and their ties to Mexico are fresh. Others, though, are generations removed from Mexico. The music serves as a portal linking them with their heritage.

“There’s a pride in this music — it’s ours,” Mr. Medrano said. “When they need a spiritual recharge, they can do the grito.” (The grito is a spontaneous outburst — a howl or cry — of pure emotion that punctuates mariachi music, expressing excitement, heartbreak or lust.)

In some families, the tradition is passed down from one generation to the next. “I’m a fortunate one,” Mr. San Miguel said. “I was born into this.” The same was true for his 20-year-old son, Juan, who was also on the bus.

Others stumble into it. Some high schools in Texas have mariachi programs. About a decade ago, the University Interscholastic League, the organization in Texas that oversees statewide academic, athletic and arts competitions, added a contest for mariachi performing, just like with marching band, basketball and debate.


(Video) Mariachis fill Uvalde plaza with love



When Mark Cantu, another performer, was younger, Spanish was spoken in his home only when his parents wanted to say something they didn’t want children to hear. Yet when he heard mariachi music, something in it spoke to him. His father bought him a $50 violin from a pawnshop, and he supported himself in college playing weekend gigs in Laredo.

Christopher Andrew Perez, a violinist, was home from Utah, where he studies medicine. He saw the Facebook post and texted Mr. San Miguel to ask if he could play, too. “I always find my way back to it,” Mr. Perez, 25, said.

The musicians believe their music contains a certain power. Even the most experienced performers struggle to translate that sensation into words. But mariachi allows them to convey an array of emotion, even within a single song: joy, pride, love, yearning, sadness. In turn, the music resonates with listeners contending with the same emotions.

The prevailing sentiments now: hurt, anger.

“It can still make you swallow hard and get choked up,” Mr. San Miguel said. “You can take out some emotion on an instrument.”

Mr. Cantu, a public school music teacher, compared performing mariachi music with method acting. Being able to draw on life experiences similar to what is in the music — love, loss, victory — helps deepen the performance. “We’re all actors,” he said. “We get dressed up. We put on the whole suit. You can press play on a device, but you can’t get the experience.”

The performers are acquainted with grief. Members of the mariachi community often gather to play at funerals for parents, spouses and other relatives of performers who have died. And as the coronavirus pandemic ripped through the Mexican American community, mariachi groups were called on to perform. “We have played so many funerals,” Ms. Gonzalez said.



(Video) Mariachis bring music, hope to Uvalde following school shooting


She saw the solace they provided to those families. “We gave that comfort,” she said. She knew what it meant to her and her mother and sisters when mariachis played at her father’s funeral several years ago.

Still, there was apprehension as the bus passed through Castroville and Hondo and approached Uvalde. “This is a first for us,” Mr. San Miguel said. “This magnitude of tragedy.”

There had been no rehearsals. There was not even a list of songs they would perform. An experienced mariachi performer is expected to have instant recall of an expansive catalog of songs. “There are probably 200 or 300 you’ve forgotten,” Mr. San Miguel joked.

The bus reached Uvalde and lumbered into the town square.

“We’ll call out the songs as we go,” Mr. Medrano said as everyone started clambering off, “and do what we do.”

After the shooting, a memorial sprouted in the square and has kept growing. Flowers, wilting in the heat, piled higher and higher, with stuffed animals, candles and American flags. Messages were inscribed on posters and in chalk on the sidewalk. “Fly high lil angels,” one said.

The mariachis performed “Amor Eterno,” the wrenching Juan Gabriel song written about his agony over losing his mother. It was recognizable to many from the first few notes.

The heat was starting to lift, and the pecan trees filtered out the harsh sun. A crowd gathered around the square. Some brought lawn chairs and their dogs. A few dabbed their eyes, quietly weeping.

But just as Mr. Medrano promised, the music seemed to give those who gathered a respite, even if for just a moment. Mr. San Miguel led some of the musicians in an instrumental rendition of “Amazing Grace.” He remembered the comfort he felt when the song was played at his brother’s funeral last year.

His father, the Grammy Award-winning mariachi performer Juan Ortiz, crooned another song that many in the crowd knew instantly: “Un Dia A La Vez.” The song’s consolation: Healing was not here, and no one knew when it would come. But Uvalde could summon the resilience to move forward.

Un día a la vez, Dios mío
y es lo que pido de ti
dame la fuerza para vivir
un día a la vez

One day at a time, my God,
and that is what I ask of you,
give me the strength to live
one day at a time.


Mariachis Ride Into Uvalde With Songs of Heartache and Hope? ›

With trumpets, strings and serenades, their music traces the arc of life. It often accompanies moments of jubilation, but it can also speak to a community's profound sorrow. Leer en español.

What is the name of the famous mariachi song? ›

1. “El Son de la Negra” By Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. El Son de la Negra is quite easily one of the most famous mariachi songs of all time.

What mariachi songs are played at a funeral? ›

Mariachi Songs for Funeral and songs for mom and dad that will make them smile.
  • Amor de Madre.
  • Tengo Madre.
  • Canto A La Mujer.
  • Madrecita Querida.
  • Esa Mujer.
  • Hermoso Carino.
  • Mi Linda Esposa.
  • 4 Velas.
Mar 3, 2020

Where can you find the most famous mariachi bands? ›

The most famous mariachi bands in Mexico

Mariachi Mexico de Pepe Villa. Mariachi Internacional Guadalajara. Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán.

Why do mariachis play at funerals? ›

The ritual of having the mariachi community come together to play at the funeral or wake of a musician who has died has become a common practice, and it is a sign of respect and camaraderie, said Leon, leader of Mariachi Mexico Vivo.

What is the Mexican song that everyone knows? ›

'La Bamba'

This is one of the most famous Mexican folk songs in history.

What should I request from a mariachi band? ›

List of the 25 Best Mariachi Songs to Request
  • Para Siempre.
  • Urge – Vicente Fernandez.
  • Maria Isabel.
  • Mujeres Divinas – guaranteed to make you sob. A good mariachi song for your Father.
  • No Vale la Pena.
  • 6.La Media Vuelta.
  • Sabor a Mi.
  • Te regalo una rosa – Juan Luis Guerra is Dominican but many singers know this song.

What is the most played song at a funeral? ›

Ave Maria,” a traditional song recorded by many artists, remains very popular as does. Elton John's “Candle in the Wind”. “Time To Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra remains a staple at Phaneuf-hosted funerals. Country music playlists are also often requested.

What is a good song for someone who passed away in Spanish? ›

1. "Si No Te Hubieras Ido” by Marco Antonio Solís. This song expresses the sheer pain of loss.

What music is played at a Mexican funeral? ›

Belinda McLeod, BA in Secondary Education

However, mariachi describes a type of Mexican folk music that can be appropriate for many different occasions, including a funeral.

Who is considered the best mariachi band? ›

Mariachi Artists
  • Lucha Villa. 26,161 listeners. ...
  • Javier Solís. 78,187 listeners. ...
  • Chingon. 132,051 listeners. ...
  • Cuco Sanchez. 20,675 listeners. ...
  • Pedro Fernández. 76,419 listeners. ...
  • Miguel Aceves Mejía. 14,246 listeners. ...
  • Ana Gabriel. 190,091 listeners. ...
  • Javier Solís. 78,187 listeners. Gabriel Siria Levario nació el 1º de Setiembre de 1931.

How many songs can a mariachi play an hour? ›

In one hour we play an average of 15-16 songs depending on the length of the songs requested.

Who is the best mariachi singer? ›

The 20 Greatest Ranchera Singers of All Time: The Complete List
  • Rocio Dúrcal.
  • Chavela Vargas. ...
  • Francisco “El Charro” Avitia.
  • Lucha Villa. ...
  • Juan/David Záizar. ...
  • Amalia Mendoza.
  • Alejandro Fernández. ...
  • Tito Guizar.
Mar 29, 2013

What is the Mexican tradition when someone dies? ›

In Mexico, after a death, a vigil is held with family and friends for 24-48 hours. They will eat and drink together, and guests will pray and bring the family gifts. The deceased will be buried with their clothing and important possessions. Children will be included from a young age.

What do you wear to a Hispanic funeral? ›

What you wear to a Mexican funeral will be much the same as what you would wear to any other funeral. Dark colors make the best choice, and you should choose formal apparel over casual. Men and boys should wear dark slacks and dress shirts or suits. Women should wear modest, dark blouses, skirts, or dresses.

What are Hispanic funerals like? ›

A traditional Hispanic funeral will consist of 3-4 days of services and vigils to honor and pray for the deceased. A Catholic Priest will lead the services for the funeral, starting with the wake – a time to join together and pray, share memories, and pay respects.

What is the most beautiful Spanish song? ›

The Most Beautiful Spanish Songs
  • Su CanciónJacinta Hernández.
  • La Rosa EnfloreceJacinta.
  • Eres TuJacinta Hernández.
  • A la unaJacinta.
  • El Tren Blindado/El Quinto RegimientoChristina Rosmini, Taofik Farah.
  • SinceridadCarlos Romero.
  • MorenicaJacinta.
  • La MentiraCarlos Romero.

What is the number one Spanish song in the world? ›

1. “Despacito”- Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee. This song has become the most notorious Spanish song of all time!

What is the most played Mexican song? ›

The Most Famous Mexican Songs in the History of the United States
  • “La Bamba”. Ritchie Valens.
  • “Querida”. Juan Gabriel.
  • “La Jaula de Oro”. Los Tigres del Norte.
  • “Dr. Psiquiatra”. Gloria Trevi.
  • “Como la Flor”. Selena.
  • “Oye Mi Amor”. Mana.

What is Vicente Fernandez most famous song? ›

Lástima que seas ajena” is not only one of Vicente Fernández's most famous songs, but also one of the last songs sung live by the King of Ranchera in what would be his last concert in 2016.

What is called the dance of mariachi music? ›

The jarabe style of dance and music is a combination of different music and performance. From this style, we get the best-known dance related to mariachi- The Mexican Hat Dance! Based in Guadalajara, it is now considered the official dance of Mexico.

Who is the most famous mariachi singers? ›

When thinking about Mariachi, perhaps some of the first names that come to mind are Vicente Fernandez, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Rocio Durcal and Pepe Aguilar. These are some of the biggest names in Mariachi, and in the case of Fernandez, it has translated into international success and sold out arenas.

What is the Mexican music called? ›

There are around five main genres of Mexican music: son, corrido, ranchera, mariachi, and banda. Each of these genres have unique characteristics, instruments, and performing style. They also have unique backgrounds that influenced the development of these qualities.

1. KHOU 11 Special Report: Texans help in the aftermath of Uvalde tragedy
(KHOU 11)
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