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Mariachi High

Airs Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3 p.m. on KPBS TV

Students from Mariachi Halcon, a top-ranked competitive high-school mariachi ...

Credit: Courtesy of Bruce Fisher Photography

Above: Students from Mariachi Halcon, a top-ranked competitive high-school mariachi band in the rural ranching town of Zapata, Texas.

"Mariachi High" documents a year in the life of Mariachi Halcon, a top-ranked competitive high-school mariachi band in the rural ranching town of Zapata, Texas.

Using the band and its music as a lens, this spirited documentary focuses on Mexican-American teenagers pursuing excellence and finding strength in themselves, as well as a connection to their cultural heritage.

Despite the economic challenges in Zapata and its school district, charismatic mariachi director Adrian Padilla creates a championship-level music ensemble that can compete against larger, more privileged schools from around Texas.

The determined students in Mariachi Halcon are not only gifted musicians, but also gifted students –among Zapata High School’s academic top 10 percent. In the past five years, all of the students who spent four years in Mariachi Halcon graduated from high school and went on to an institution of higher learning.

“At a time when Latinos have the highest dropout rate in the country and when arts education continues to be under attack, we found a story of teens who pursue excellence through their cultural heritage despite some very real challenges,” says "Mariachi High" producer and director Ilana Trachtman. “This is an exuberant story about ambitious and talented Mexican-American teenagers — whom you hardly ever see on screen.”

This film originally aired in 2012. This film is by Ilana Trachtman, Kim Connell and Kelly Sheehan, of Rubylake LLC. "Mariachi High" is on Facebook.

Preview: Mariachi High

"Mariachi High" spends a year in the life of the champion mariachi ensemble of Zapata High School on the Rio Grande in south Texas.

Mariachi High | Charlie Martinez: A Mariachi Freshman

For his first day of high school, Carlos “Charlie” Martinez irons his jeans and refreshes his cologne. Over the next several months, he’ll go from nervous “fishie” to school mascot, and the only vocalist to represent Zapata High School at a national mariachi competition. Watch the full film, Mariachi High, during the 2012 PBS Summer Arts Festival.

Mariachi High | La Quinceañera

The Quinceañera marks a special occasion in a Mexican girl's life.

Mariachi High | “Alma Llanera”

Alma Llanera, sung by Eloy Martinez in Mariachi High, is a famous mariachi song written in 1914. Recorded by many vocalists including Placido Domingo, it’s considered the unofficial “second anthem” of Venezuela, and is often sung at parties and social gatherings. Sing along with Eloy and Mariachi Halcon as the lyrics come up on the screen.

Mariachi High | This is Zapata, Texas

Zapata, Texas (population 5089) is a small Texas town on the Rio Grande, 200 miles south of San Antonio and 400 miles southwest of Houston. The population is 95% Latino, and, interestingly, boasts the most hangliding world records in the world. The visual tour starts here.

Mariachi High | Where are they now?

Updates from the students featured in the film Mariachi High.

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