One of my favorite illustrations in Finding the Music/En Pos de la Música shows Reyna holding a black and white snapshot of her grandfather’s mariachi group: five men standing behind their instruments in elegant trajes de charro.
And the truth is, that image has long been the public face of mariachi. It’s an art form that has been dominated by men, often known best for music played by male musicians, and songs written from a male perspective.
But another truth is that women have played vital—if less widely celebrated—roles in mariachi for more than a century. Leonor Xochitl Perez, a scholar and founder of The Mariachi Women’s Foundation, has documented the stories of female musicians such as Rosa Quirino, who at 12-years-old (!) in 1903 began singing and playing violin with a mariachi ensemble in Mexico.
I wanted Finding the Music to honor those voices too.
So Reyna, the story’s main character, is named in honor of mariachi trailblazers like Lola Beltran, known by many as “La Reina,” the Queen, and of more recent all-female mariachi groups like Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles who happen to be based in Southern California where I’m from.
For more information on the history of women in mariachi, check out Dra. Perez’s work, as well as the PBS Independent Lens documentary, Compañeras, which profiles Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.
In the meantime, I super want you to check out the young women (and young men!) of one of my favorite mariachis, Mariachi Chavez, of Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, Calif. They are, no joke, so talented. Here they are performing “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” a song made famous by La Reina, Lola Beltran.