Mexican culture spreads to the UW through Mariachi music


Mariachi Quinto Sol violinists Tara Olson(left) and Susan Fung perform last Friday at the Ethnic Cultural Theater. Mariachi Quinto Sol is a student run music club that holds multiple performances around the state.


Dancers perform at the Ethnic Cultural Theater as an opening act for Mariachi Quinto Sol’s set last Friday.

“Ay, ay, ay, ay!”

The famous Mexican “grito,” or cry of independence, could be heard coming from senior Tara Olson last Friday. Dressed in a traditional studded “charro” costume, a black suit with gold stitching, Olson blended right in to the band El Mariachi Quito Sol.

With just half of its members of Mexican heritage, the UW’s only mariachi band is about spreading Mexican culture in the UW community. In English, El Mariachi Quito Sol is translated as Mariachi of the Fifth Sun.

“They are incredibly diverse,” said Luna Garcia, a teacher for the Mexican folk youth dance group Joyas Mestizas. “You won’t find another mariachi with an Asian or white person. … You just won’t.”

The band played to a packed house at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast Friday night, where many had never experienced live mariachi music.

Mariachi music has all Spanish lyrics and Mexican instruments, such as the “vihuela,” a small deep-bodied guitar, and the “guitarón,” the Mexican bass.

Anyone can find meaning in the music, which evokes feelings of sorrow and happiness, said senior Laura Contreras, a member of El Mariachi Quito Sol.

“We try to get the audience to feel the emotions the singer is feeling,” she said. “[That way] anyone can relate.”

After practicing in founder Mario Perez’s basement for two years, the band became a UW student organization, forming El Mariachi Club, in 2004. Now with 10 members, the club performs at private events, cultural festivals and community service events.

Friday’s show was the first performance hosted by the band; it benefited the mariachi program at Chief Sealth High School.

“A lot of kids at all educational levels don’t find connections in mainstream school culture,” said Noah Zeichner, a Spanish teacher at Chief Sealth High School and a founding member of El Mariachi Quito Sol. “If [they] don’t find relevancy in their education, they won’t stick around.”

El Mariachi Quito Sol is a way to encourage students, especially Latino students who find cultural relevance in mariachi music, to pursue higher education, Zeichner said.

“They provide a cultural bridge for Latino students coming to the University,” he said. “A nationwide effort [to bring mariachi to public schools] started in San Antonio in the ‘70s. We’re actually behind in the game.”

The mariachi program at Chief Sealth High School was incorporated into the school’s music curriculum five years ago. Every spring, El Mariachi Quito Sol plays at the high school’s tamale dinner to show students that they can find their cultural niche in college.

“In Mexico, mariachi artists are icons to everyone,” Contreras said.

The band practices Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the Ethnic Cultural Center across from Lander and Terry residence halls. They are always looking for new members, Olson said.

“Try something new,” she said. “You’ll be really surprised.”

[Reach reporter Catherine Daley at news@thedaily.washington.edu.]

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