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Challenging Inequality In One Of California's Most Divided Cities

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Violins. Trumpets. Guitars. Those are the traditional sounds of mariachi — along with songs about love and heartbreak. But Carlos Samaniego is challenging the machista world of mariachi by creating a space for queer musicians to make music that's free of discrimination and bullying.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Violins, trumpets, guitars. Those are the traditional sounds of Mariachi, along with songs about love and heartbreak. Now, Amanda in Los Angeles is creating a space for Queer Mariachi musicians. USC students reporter, Hey Zeus Alvarado has the story.

Speaker 2: 00:18 How you're holding you back is fine though. [inaudible] it's time for rehearsal. Samaniego is Sunni has violin. He's in the living room of a friend's house and he stole Ley. He's bringing chatroll pants. The slick black hair is partly to the side and on top of it it's a velvet sombrero.

Speaker 3: 00:41 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 00:42 Carlos is the director of Mariachi at Queens or Los Angeles or Mariachi Rainbow, the first of its kind and the world.

Speaker 4: 00:53 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 00:54 said, oh, wouldn't it be cool if it was like an old game? I'd let you go. Can you do that? So then I said, oh crap, what did I just say? Goggles grew up in Lausanne. Hillis surrounded by Mariachi music. He listened to hit artists like new Chavaya, one guardian and Roseo. Dorika

Speaker 4: 01:17 [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 01:19 He also

Speaker 1: 01:19 grew up a closeted gay teenager in the nineties I take pride in kind of kicking him out of the closet. Yeah,

Speaker 2: 01:26 that's his best friend Natalia Melendez. She's tall, has blonde hair and he Colgate welcoming smile.

Speaker 1: 01:32 I think it's important for everybody in this role to have an ally, whether it be family or friends.

Speaker 2: 01:37 Natalia mccardles when they were teenagers and they both played music with Mariachi was in Mexico. She helped him come to terms with his sexuality. She was on her own journey as a trans woman. Eventually goggles went off to cal state la where he invited Natalia to help plan the campuses annual pride event. One of the events was going to be a mock wedding in protest to the fact that same sex marriage was illegal. They all knew that I played Mariachi and they said, why don't we get Mig since this is a very Latino campus, Mariachi is always at a wedding. In fact, the idea of an awkward Mariachi band caught the attention of the manager of club Demple, a gay Latino Club in Hollywood.

Speaker 4: 02:22 [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 02:22 He offered us a job, buy it on the spot, so then we continued having my dad Sciatica Edis. After that for a few months, I was really young and inexperienced and as a director, so it died out after, after a few months at the time, goggles in Italian thought Madea chat. Could we decide to come to an end? They both graduated college. Natalia went to work in a lab drawing blood samples, warn the auto

Speaker 5: 02:50 [inaudible] does he eat it?

Speaker 2: 02:53 Got Lost on the other hand, moved to Italy and pursued a career as an opera singer. Then to New York. He played the violin with other Mariachi bands, but they didn't approve of him being out as a gay man. The mariachi world is very much east a, our Mexican culture is very much Easter. You'll always hear comments like, Oh, you know that don't be a fag, or did you see that queer over there? I felt like, well then I can't come out to them, but I also felt like it was unfair, you know, because they can talk about their girlfriends or about their wives. That's the exact feeling that inspired Carlos to find his own tribe and recreate Mariachi, ATPCO Edis in 2014 after settling back in La, I needed to have a safe place for Mariachi musicians that identify as LGBTQ plus to come together and rehearse and perform our music that we so much love, which is Mariachi music. What? Free of discrimination? Free of bullying, free of being made fun of you can be who you are. Here in this group. The group is open to anyone. [inaudible] not done yet. Performing at club temple. She's the first person gallows asked to join the rebirth of Maria [inaudible] today. She's the first transgender musician in Mariachi history. It's like an outer body

Speaker 1: 04:06 filling for me and I take it so strongly and it just feels beyond me at times. I love my music. I love what I do. I'm trying to be a good role model and just to know that I can give that to somebody. It means the world to me.

Speaker 2: 04:21 She gets messages from LGBTQ people living in rural Mexico who listened to her story and music on Youtube.

Speaker 1: 04:28 He quando [inaudible], Joe [inaudible], Joe [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 04:35 People write and to tell her how much it means to them that a transgender woman can represent their community through her passion for music.

Speaker 1: 04:42 If we can transcend to Mexico and we can have that affect on people over there, regardless if we don't live in Mexico, it's allowing them to know. It's just giving them that little oomph of, hey, maybe I can do it. Maybe there's hope.

Speaker 2: 04:56 Oh, you're [inaudible] Mario. We did started out with only five musicians, including Carlos and [inaudible], but it's now expanded to 11 all of them queer la natives of Mexican descent. They recently put out their first album. [inaudible] Carlos wants to take it a step further. I want our Mariachi GD international, you know, I want us to go and travel the world and perform everywhere and be on the same level as in terms of getting the shows that these big mariachis gets is gonna get [inaudible] competitors because we're of that caliber, we still need to be more accepted within the [inaudible] achieve world. But before they hit the international stage, Mario, chuck, we, these will continue to play every Sunday night at club tempo. When it all started as well as summer pride, festivities. NLA I'm missile Salvato and Los Angeles.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.