July 22, 2016
By Supriya Sridhar
Izabella Valdez came to mariachi camp for two reasons: her mom told her to, and she wanted to learn how to play guitar.
Learning more about the Mexican style of music and culture wasn't the main draw for her. In fact, Valdez said she never listened to mariachi apart from the occasional family gathering.
But after two weeks at the camp, the 15-year-old said she has developed more of an appreciation for mariachi, and even plans to perform at her uncle's upcoming 70th birthday.
“I can play this at his birthday party and be able to sing Las Mananitas,” Valdez said.
Mariachi camp, which was held at Plaza Mayor in Oklahoma City, aspires to not only ignite a love of music in its students, but also bridge the cultural gap between first generation Hispanic youths and their families.
Hispanics are the youngest major racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.
About one-third of the nation's Hispanic population is younger than 18, and about a quarter of all Hispanics are millennials.
“When you have this recent immigration of a large number of people, the rapid acculturation and assimilation of their children can create a gap between the parents and the kids,” said Robert Ruiz, camp coordinator and chief operating officer of Scissortail Community Development Corp. “For many reasons that's not a healthy situation.”
Ruiz, 37, grew up in San Antonio, where the Hispanic community had a rich heritage.
When he was 12 years old, he joined a mariachi group with his older brother, performing at birthdays, weddings and quinceneras.
“We were driving all over town going to people's most important life events,” Ruiz said.
But when Ruiz attended the University of Oklahoma, he said he saw a lack of mariachi culture and the need for it in Oklahoma.
Over time, many Hispanics in the U.S. want to learn about their heritage and roots. Mariachi helps them do that, Ruiz said.
To help educate younger generations, he started three mariachi programs in Oklahoma City elementary schools. But after 10 years, budget cuts took a toll and ultimately led to the termination of the programs.
Through the summer camp, Ruiz said he hopes kids can continue to learn.
“The kids can be passionate about these traditions,” he said.
And they're picking it up fast, said Geo Morgan, a guitar instructor at the camp.
“It took me several years to slowly acquire the skills to play guitar and they've been here for a week and a half, and they're already performing the music. It's really incredible,” he said.
Andrea Deleon, 11, is one of those campers.
Sporting pink glasses, high pigtails and a bright smile, she watched closely as her instructor snapped his fingers to the beat, imitating a metronome.
“I want to learn to play it while I'm singing,” Deleon said at the beginning of the camp, holding her vihuela, a small Mexican guitar.
Now, she can do just that.
She said she has learned the classic "Las Mananitas" and "La Bamba."
This summer's camp was a pilot project with hopes of becoming a full-time after-school program in the fall. The camp will conclude on Sunday with a recital.
Source: The Oklahoman