One thousand Mariachi students and directors from throughout the nation will convene in San Antonio for the 29th Annual Mariachi Extravaganza November 30 – December 2. Among the attendees will be 34 people from Washington State which includes Mariachi Director Rachel Lake and two mariachi groups from Ilwaco High School. Rachel will be leading her group of mariachi students to the Extravaganza this year. It’s the first time a group from Washington attends the event.
Rachel and I talked recently about how she started the mariachi program in Ilwaco, Washington and what her students hope to get out of the Mariachi Extravaganza.
Cynthia: Rachel, what is your role at Ilwaco High School?
Rachel: We are a very small school so I wear many hats. I’m the band director, the choir director, the Jazz band and mariachi director. I also teach history.
Cynthia: How did you get started in mariachi music?
Rachel: About 30% of our total student population at Ilwaco is Latino but for some reason we were loosing our students between middle school and high school. They weren’t transitioning from middle school band to high school band and I didn’t understand why there was such a drastic decline in numbers. So I tried talking to the students about it but didn’t have much luck finding answers. Then I reached out to my community members and began asking around and I learned that the parents wanted their kids to focus on important classes and not so much band. There wasn’t a high value in encouraging their kids to play Western music. So I talked to our social migrant representative about this issue and we decided to start a mariachi music program. We now have 42 students participating in mariachi music and it’s changing the entire culture of our school. Almost 15% of the student population is involved in the mariachi program. There’s only 300 students in the entire school!
Cynthia: Where are you originally from?
Rachel: I am originally from Washington State. I attended Northwest University and got my Masters of Arts degree at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.
Cynthia: Where are your mariachi students from?
Rachel: The majority have roots in Jalisco. About 25% of our students are first generation so several of them speak only Spanish. Ten percent of our student population comes from the migrant community who work in the shellfish and cranberry industries. Our school is very warm and welcoming to the Latino population and this is attractive to many families with children.
Cynthia: How did you hear about the Extravaganza?
Rachel: Once we decided to start the mariachi program, I started doing research and I learned about the Summer mariachi program for Mariachi Directors in Las Vegas. This is where I fell in love with the vihuela and I found this to be an excellent program. I also googled “What is the best mariachi music festival in the U.S.” and the Mariachi Extravaganza popped up. I met a lot of mariachi directors at the Summer Camp in Las Vegas and they also spoke highly of the event.
Cynthia: Nice! So you’ve fallen in love with mariachi music?
Rachel: Yes. I recently discovered Pedro Fernandez and I’ve fallen in love him. I listen to a lot of his music and my students love him as well. I play the piano, cello, clarinet and trumpet so I also have an affinity to mariachi polkas.
Cynthia: What are you and your students expecting out of the Mariachi Extravaganza?
Rachel: I’ve watched a lot of the videos and have seen a lot of the social media posts from the Extravaganza and they’re amazing. The talent is phenomenal. I’ve been showing some of these video to the students – especially the Grand Champion Vocal Winner from last year – Nayelli Peña. The students are in awe with her talent. They’re like… “is she going to be there?” I think our greatest expectation is to be around all of this great talent and to have the opportunity to interact and learn from the performances. My students have a passion for mariachi music but I hope this experience will ignite it even further and encourage them to return home with a newfound appreciation for the music and motivation to learn even more. I want them to develop their skills and knowledge of mariachi music and meet some of the many people who are involved in these programs. I’m really impressed with the colleges and universities who participate in the event and I’m really excited that my students will have the opportunity to meet others and connect with the universities. We’re a young, fresh, raw group. Our program is only a year old so our students are a bit nervous but we’re super excited to be part of the event. It’s important for our students to get out of our very small community and experience new places and meet new people. This is something that is very important to our school district.
Cynthia: We’re happy to have you. What is the name of your group?
Rachel: I’m bringing 2 groups so one group is named Mariachi Pescador because of the location of our town. We’re right on the ocean and near the border of Oregon so we’re actually flying out of Portland to San Antonio. Mariachi Oro y Azul is the name of our other group.
Mariachi Pescador and Mariachi Oro y Azul will perform during the Serenata en el Rio on Thursday, November 30 at the Shops at Rivercenter in the lagoon area starting at 5:00 p.m. They will also compete during the high school group competitions on Friday, December 1 starting at 2:00 p.m. at the Lila Cockrell Theater. The “Serenata en el Rio” is a free event open to the public. Wristbands to see the National Mariachi Group competitions can be purchased at the door at the Lila Cockrell Theatre the day of the event.
Ilwaco High School is part of the Ocean Beach School District and is the only high school in the district. The city of Ilwaco is known as a fishing village and tourist town with spectacular ocean views.
Click here for a complete schedule of events taking place as part of the 29th Annual Mariachi Extravaganza. Free events include the Mariachi-themed Art Exhibit and reception on Friday, November 17 at the UTSA Southwest Campus (formerly known as the Southwest School of Art). The Mariachi Mass at Our Lady of the Lake University on Sunday, November 26 is also free as well as the Serenata en el Rio. Tickets to see the Mariachi Extravaganza grand finale show on Saturday, December 2 can be purchased on Ticketmaster.com. For more information, contact 210-225-3353.