Eddy Flores de León, 16, was the one playing cowbell in band class when he made the switch to guitar and the mariachi class for the spring semester.
Originally from Guatemala, he was unfamiliar with the Mexican music.
“It’s like a different sound, more unique,” said the sophomore, noting that no other high school in the district or area offers mariachi music. “I think it’s cool they tried it here first.”
A few days later at the district office, Superintendent Richard Carranza watched a video of Eddy and his classmates playing the Mexican love song and his face filled with emotion — a combination of joy and pride mixed with a bit of deja vu.
In the early 1990s, he had started a similar program in Tucson, where he was a social studies teacher at a school that was 92 percent Mexican American.
The program started with 11 students, and within 10 years Carranza was a full-time mariachi teacher with 250 students and a premier performance group, Mariachi Aztlán, that was paid for its gigs and toured the country. The money paid for college scholarships for the kids — $2,000 for each year the high school students were in the elite band.
“It brought a recognition of who they are, their cultural heritage, into the school,” he said. “We wanted to diversify what we considered art.”
And: “They always knew this was a vehicle to get to college.”
Carranza, a mariachi musician, said the program turned gangbangers into musicians with at least a 3.0 grade point average, which was required to perform.
And parent involvement exploded, as families held food fundraisers to buy costumes and showed up at performances to support the students, who won accolades across the country.
“Often times the athletes get all those kudos,” Carranza said. “This was so empowering for these kids.”
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