by Yesenia Burgara
“It is a really powerful way to get that message across,” said Rudy Vasquez, CSUN alumnus and trumpet player for Mariachi Arcoiris “to inform people because they are not only being informed, they feel what you feel.”Music is considered the universal language. People listen to music for many different reasons, but it makes an impact on most. Musicians have taken that into consideration and many now use their music as a form of activism.
Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles is likely the very first openly LGTBQ Mariachi in history and is trying to use their music to break barriers in the music world. The group provides a safe haven for mariachi musicians identifying with the LGTBQ community who want to perform traditional Mexican regional music.
Traditionally mariachis are male dominated and considered to have a “machismo” stigma, meaning to have male chauvinism tendencies. Therefore a mariachi is not a place where someone of the LGTBQ community may feel comfortable or be themselves openly.
“We (gay mariachi musicians) needed a place where we were free from bullying, being made fun of, being talked about behind our backs, and discrimination,” said Carlos Samaniego, director of Mariachi Arcoiris. “Different type of things that all of us unfortunately have suffered.”
“The group also has members who are straight and considered allies,” Vasquez said. “It’s great to see they could play comfortably with us, and know that about us and they are not going to feel that their masculinity is being threatened or anything. It’s like helping out or being a part of any other mariachi. They go in there and play with no reservations.”
Females have been a part of the mariachi world since 1903 when the first documented female, Rosa Quirino, played in a mariachi band, but to some it is still uncommon to think of female mariachis. The first all-female group was the Las Adelitas formed in 1948 and was directed by a male. Today only about thirty all female mariachi reside in the U.S. Mariachi http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/05/local/la-me-mariachi-women-20140306
Arcoiris welcomes women and is proud to have the first transgender female in mariachi history, Natalia Melendez their violinist.
“There was a lot of obstacles I had to go through, to being comfortable and not even expecting to be in a leadership role to the world, and I’ve been blessed with that, Melendez said. “I’ve been given this kind of responsibility through everything that I’ve done.”
States such as California have legalized gay marriage, demonstrating that times are changing for the LGTBQ community in a positive direction.
“Your generation is more flexible, adaptable and open and not as concerned about rigid boundaries about sexuality and gender,” said Kathryn Sorrells, CSUN Communication Studies Professors. “I think those kind of performances are shifting for people in ways that I think are really helpful. Not everywhere, not all the time certain spaces are more open,”Sorrells.
Despite advances ,the LGTBQ community is uncertain under the new Trump administration and still continue to experience discrimination such as harassment, misgendered pronouns,denied basic public accommodations , homophobic comments, lack of protection, and exclusion from some areas in society.
But with artist and groups such as Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles who use music as a tool to advocate for a change, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“Music and protest are going to continue to come together in really powerful and creative ways in the next decade.” Sorrells said.