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Meet Mariachi Espuelas de Plata

Meet Mariachi Espuelas de Plata
Mariachi Espuelas de Plata got their start in 1998, by one man in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He had a dream of seeing Mexican-American youth learn and celebrate their heritage by learning mariachi music. The first group members practiced in the garage of one of the families. The musicians were in high school, still learning their instruments.

Initially, the parent membership struggled to earn funds for new trajes, traditional suits that were worn by wealthy landowners in Mexico. The parents also worked hard every weekend to earn money to pay for the instruction of the young members. Fundraisers, such as enchilada dinners and gordita sales were planned and carried out. The group’s members obtained valuable experience performing for the people who came to the fundraisers.

Irene Oliver-Lewis, the artistic director of the Court Youth Center, heard of the group and invited them to practice and learn there. Armando Maese, board member of the Court Youth Center’s Board of Directors, became involved with the mariachi group. His son, Marco, a violin player, joined the group. Armando was elected the first president of the Espuelas de Plata parent board.

Efforts to raise money continued, with some parents researching philanthropic organizations and applying for grants.

Oliver-Lewis, in her capacity as artistic director of the Court Youth Center, also participated in board meetings, giving feedback and contributing ideas. Mariachi Espuelas de Plata became “artists-in-residence” at CYC. As their fame grew, they attracted new attention to the Court Youth Center. In September, 1999, Espuelas de Plata performed at the Pan American Center along with Little Joe and other artists.

Group members (Jazz Gonzales, Joseph Alvarez, Astrid Castaneda, Stephen Castorena, Jaime Rodriguez, Rebekah Torres, Zabrina Feldman, Erika Ochoa, Kacee Armijo, Steven Ochoa, Vanessa Provencio and Rebecca Rodriguez) grew in their knowledge of mariachi. The group auditioned to perform in the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference Student Showcase in 2000; they were invited to perform. This happened only two years after being established. In 1999, the group was chosen to perform at the Parque Festival in Young Park.

People in and around Las Cruces started to hear good things about this youth group. As their fame spread, the number of bookings increased. People from Alamogordo, Ruidoso and Roswell called, asking for the group to come and perform at their functions, whether private or public.

Mack Ruiz, one founding member of Mariachi Cobre, which spearheads instruction at the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, noticed the group during one of the conferences, and took a personal interest in the group. He devoted time to coming out to Las Cruces from Orlando, Florida, so that he could give performance and showmanship instruction to the group. While he is not able to do this any more, the instruction and guidance he provided was invaluable.

The parent leadership realized that they needed to build depth into the group. If the member who played the guitarron could not make a performance, the group was lacking in sound. If several members who played the same instrument had conflicting commitments, such as marching band, a music festival or a mandatory practice, the planned performance was in jeopardy of being canceled. So, the practice of teaching multiple students how to play guitarron or vihuela was begun. The idea of an apprentice group was also discussed at this time. As the original students aged, they began to look elsewhere to learn music and perform. Espuelas de Plata needed to replace these older students with newer students who had already mastered their instrument and learned the required two hours of mariachi music. Espuelas de Plata is now on its second generation of students — the younger siblings of many of the original group members are now full members, and experienced in their own right.

Aside from participating at the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, the group traveled to Albuquerque, Tucson and San Antonio to participate in conferences in those cities.

In May, 2004, Mariachi Espuelas de Plata released their first CD, Herencia del Mariachi. The members who recorded this CD are now recognized as Espuelas de Plata 2004, in order to differentiate them from the current group. In addition, many of these group members have left Las Cruces, or have enrolled at New Mexico State University. One is in the Air Force, anticipating an upcoming deployment overseas. Another is in a mariachi group in El Paso, while the youngest is in a mariachi group at her high school in Deming, New Mexico. The university students are Jaime Rodriguez, Stephen Castorena, Edward Montoya, Vanessa Provencio, Astrid Castaneda and Rebekah Torres. Vanessa and Rebekah are in groups of their own. Rebekah is the rhythm instructor of the current performing group and for the apprentice group.

The apprentice group, Mariachi Espuelas de Cobre, receives the same musical training from the same instructors. They learn the same songs. They have the opportunity to perform at some of the same venues as Espuelas de Plata. This is done so that they can become accustomed to performing in front of audiences before they graduate to the performing group. They also participate in the same conferences and go on the same trips as the performing group members. The only thing they do not do is wear the full traje. Until they have been successfully auditioned into the performing group, they customarily wear black dress pants (men) or long skirt (ladies) with a long-sleeved white dress shirt and black boots. They are provided with the monios (fancy dress ties) prior to performances.

Because some of the apprentice group members are so new at playing their instruments, they do not yet perform. Instead, members of the performing group who play the same instrument will fill in for them until they have learned their instrument and memorized the songs.

Espuelas de Plata and Espuelas de Cobre are eagerly anticipating a trip to Anaheim, California — Espuelas de Plata has been invited to perform at Disneyland’s Music Days, scheduled for July 20, 2007. Espuelas de Cobre will travel with the group so they can learn what the level of commitment is for this kind of invitation. They will perform a folklorico dance as Espuelas de Plata provides accomaniment. (Rebekah Torres, who is also an experienced folklorico dancer, will teach the apprentice group members the dance.)

Besides performing at Disneyland, the group has traveled to Santa Fe and performed for the New Mexico Legislature.

Espuelas de Plata still receives instruction at the Court Youth Center. Irene Oliver-Lewis still has artistic influence over the group; indeed, she has become the group’s honorary godmother, or madrina.

Espuelas de Plata has learned and experienced many things in the nine years of their existence. Members of both groups might rightfully expect to experience even more as they continue to grow and mature, especially in the art of mariachi.

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