School Keeps Mariachi Tradition Alive in New York

The Escuela de Mariachi Angeles de NY at the Consulate General Of Hungary in New York in February (Photo via Facebook)

Founded in 2016, the Escuela de Mariachi Ángeles de NY – Angels of NY Mariachi School – is a cradle of talent. Its main purpose is to keep the culture of mariachi music alive in New York City.

Owners René Escamilla and Miguel Ponce were born in Guerrero and Puebla, respectively. Fate brought each of them to New York as they sought a better life, and music brought them together to create this project.

Diario de México USA spoke with them to learn about the great work they are carrying out.

When he was 5 years old, Miguel came to the United States with his parents. Little did he know what life had in store for him.

He inherited a passion for music from his father, who is part of a mariachi group and school. Music has always been a part of his life, so he decided to get closer to it.

René arrived in the United States at 37 alongside his wife. When his children – a girl and a boy – were born, he realized that they both showed natural musical talent. He enrolled them in piano, singing and guitar lessons, which helped them gradually hone their abilities.

Miguel used to teach at a piano school in Queens, and René’s children were his students. That is how the two Mexico natives ended up chatting, and soon became good friends and colleagues with a shared passion for music.

With the goal of fostering their culture among younger generations, the pair embarked on a search across New York neighborhoods for the perfect place to teach. René owns a store in Manhattan and, noticing the number of children living in the area, decided it was the perfect place to establish the business.

“We spoke to the pastor of the church where we are teaching right now. He – as well as a singing teacher and one of the parents – supported us, and that is how we started, with 10 students. Three of them came with some experience, and the other seven started from zero,” said René.

The Escuela de Mariachi Ángeles de NY accepts children between 6 and 17 years of age. They may learn to sing or play instruments such as the violin, guitar, guitarrón, vihuela and trumpet, both in theory and practice. One of the developments of the school is that they have started to open classes to adults.

The school is located at 161 East 104th St. in New York. Being Mexican is not a requirement to enroll in the mariachi school. Students hail from Ecuador, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, the United States and the Mexican states of Puebla, Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca and Mexico City.

This is a nonprofit project, and it is sustained thanks to the contributions of the public.

“We saw that children stopped by and wanted to learn mariachi, and that is the reason why we founded the school. I also do it for the music. It is good that children have a tradition to learn and that they stay away from things that are not going to benefit them. We want to help the community,” said Miguel.

With his family’s mariachi group, the Puebla native has performed on important stages such as Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. He has also played alongside his students at a number of consulates, including those of Mexico, Hungary and the Philippines, and in several cultural events in New York.

Many of his students did not speak Spanish, so the classes have also helped them perfect the language. Although the teachers are bilingual, the lessons are taught in Spanish.

Undoubtedly, one of the founders’ greatest satisfactions is seeing the children grow as individuals and as musicians in the genre of mariachi and stay away from violence and crime.

“We immigrants are hardworking. We try to provide for our children; we do everything to improve their future. I have seen parents who bring in their children even if they are tired after work, and the kids are really happy to come and hang out with other peers,” said Miguel.

As for the immigration phenomenon, they believe that a reform that opens the door to immigrants is necessary – particularly children and their parents – to allow them to come out of the shadows.

Upcoming performances

You will be able to enjoy music played by the members of the Escuela de Mariachi Ángeles de NY during the Cinco de Mayo Festival held on East 116th between Second and Third avenues in East Harlem. The event will feature live music, Mexican food, drinks, dancing and folklore.

In their shows, their most requested songs are “Cielito lindo,” “México lindo y querido” and “Guadalajara.”

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