Reviewed by Dale Reynolds
In addition to the green, red and white flag of Mexico, Mariachi music is the other major symbol of our sister country south of us. And as it has become increasingly popular in the non-Hispanic sector of the U.S. population, in addition to its continuing importance to Latinos in general and Chicanos in particular, the fact that high schools in Texas and elsewhere actually have Mariachi programs at their individual schools, with regional and state-wide competitions to find the best students in music, train them and reward them, is amazing. (It shouldn’t be, obviously, but it nice to clock how the times they be a-changin’, indeed.)
PBS’ first-rate documentary (by Kim Connell and Ilana Trachtman), which aired earlier this summer, takes a year-long look at one small, largely-agricultural, southern Texan community, Zapata, and its high-school band of mariachi singers and musicians. In their spangly and authentic-looking uniforms, we watch them audition, rehearse, and perform in public and, most importantly, perform in competition with other Texas schools (the competitions range from elementary to high school).
This is a part of life that most of us are not exposed to very often and the directors and producers are to be congratulated on making it so entertaining and fun as well as suspenseful. At the end, we note that not all of these young people will follow through with careers in mariachidom, but the spunk and nerves and glee with which they are able to follow through on is more than merely entertaining – it is instructive to the rest of us about the tenacity it takes to follow one’s dreams, however impractical they may seem to others.
The teenagers we meet, all but one Latino, prove that we do have great kids in this country – even in racist and homophobic Texas – that can succeed by dint of hard work building on whatever talents they had to being with. We follow some of them at home or on their ranch, or at work, studying or earning money needed for uniforms and travel (just like sports). A sweet and attractive lot, they are inspirational and the music is lively and engaging – just as they appear to be.