CHULA VISTA, California — Dating back to the 18th century, mariachi music has won over hearts. However, it wasn’t until recently a person could pursue a college degree specializing in Mexican-style music.
Throughout the pandemic, the Torres family formed their own mariachi band. At every performance, they prove what the Mexican folk music is all about.
“What mariachi means to me…man it means family it means community," Mario Torres, the father, said.
“I love performing with my family so much because I think it’s so beautiful we can share this music with each other," said Melanie Torres.
“Now our ensemble is nine musicians and within this year and a half, we have launched the academy," Mario said.
There is one person, in particular, the family thanks for their collaboration to educate students of all ages on mariachi. That person is Jeff Nevin. He is a professor of music and the director of mariachi activities at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California.
“We’ve been able to implement mariachi in a lot of local schools and raise money and give scholarships to those kids so they can go to college when they graduate," Nevin said. “I wasn’t born Mexican, my family is Russian, Irish, Swedish and I was born in Chicago but I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. And when I was 15 years old, complete coincidence somebody saw me with my trumpet I was playing in my school band. And they said, "Hey, we're looking for a trumpet player and turned out it was a mariachi.”
Years later, the president of the college approached him with an idea.
“It was his idea to have a college degree in mariachi and, literally, when he told me, I said I don’t think you know what you’re asking and I said there is no such thing as a college degree in mariachi music anywhere in the world, they don’t have them in Mexico. And I said but if that’s what you want, absolutely I’ll do that for you," Nevin said. “We got the degree approved by the California Community Colleges in 2004 and that was the first degree, college degree anywhere in the country.”
Since then, they’ve inspired other colleges to create their own associates and bachelor's degrees for mariachi, filling a prominent void.
“I recognize that there is a huge need for mariachi teachers across the country," Nevin said. “So there are music teachers who don’t know anything about mariachi or there are Mariachi’s who never went to college and didn’t get their degrees.”
That problem is slowly shrinking as more students graduate from the program— students like Daniel Chavez.
“I want to teach it. Teach it if I have the chance and why not keep performing," Chavez said. “Yeah, I graduated last semester.”
He crosses the border from Mexico to California to get to school and rehearsal.
“You figure out there is a program, there’s a sort of education going better in the US than sometimes even in Mexico City," Chavez said.
The degree has created new possibilities for his future.
“I can see the expressions of the people that are actually enjoying it and it’s really satisfaction. It feels really warm," Chavez said.