The music of The University of Texas-Pan American's (UTPA) famed Mariachi Aztlán will once again be heard in one of the nation's top venues.
Mariachi Aztlán is readying to perform at the 2012 Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. The 16-member group will perform outdoors on the National Mall, between the Smithsonian museums, twice daily June 27-July 1 and July 4-8.
UTPA was among 21 universities chosen out of more than 100 grant applications for the coveted performance spot in the Smithsonian's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of land-grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, and the mariachi program's founder at UTPA, said the selection process was extremely competitive.
"It's a great honor and a wonderful recognition for the University. We are representing UT Pan American at the national level," Guerra said. "There will be hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world who will see our mariachis perform and learn about the mariachi."
The Folklife Festival is billed as the largest annual cultural event in the U.S. capital. The fair takes place for two weeks every summer overlapping the Fourth of July holiday. Free to the public, like other Smithsonian museums, the festival typically draws more than one million visitors yearly.
"That's huge. We are so excited. This is like a dream come true," Guerra said.
The prestigious trip would not have been possible without support from Southwest Airlines. The airline partnered up with the University and provided flight accommodations for 10 members of the UTPA mariachi.
"We are very grateful to Southwest Airlines because they are contributing half of the tickets to the mariachi. This is wonderful because without their help we only would have taken half of the group and it is just not the same," Guerra said.
Dominga Garza, a senior music major and four-year member of the group, said Southwest Airlines is a longtime supporter of Mariachi Aztlán.
"I love Southwest Airlines and we really do appreciate it because they go above and beyond for us," Garza said. "This isn't the first time that they have paid for our airfare. They have helped us out with other trips before."
The 22-year-old violinist said the acclaimed group has been working long hours to prepare for the Smithsonian celebration, and calls it a great honor.
"We are so excited to be going and I think we have proven ourselves. We have been practicing a lot for this and we are ready," Garza said. "Hopefully we will inspire a lot of people and give people a lot of knowledge about mariachi and our music."
The festival is often referred to as a "museum without walls," and an "encyclopedia of sound." According to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival website, the event is an exercise in cultural democracy, in which performers speak for themselves, with each other, and to the public. Its goal is to strengthen and preserve cultural tradition.
"It's a way for the Smithsonian to bring different cultures together because each university offers something different. It is all about how this cultural music is motivating students. I am so thrilled because it is like this was created just for us," Guerra said.
The student musicians will also be headlining a special performance at the Folklife Festival June 29 on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.
"It is so important to have our University represented at this level, and at the same time the opportunity for the students to experience this festival and Washington, D.C. is incredible," Guerra said. "Many of these kids have never left the Valley so it is always one of my goals for them to experience their education beyond Texas."
In the past two years the award-winning group has performed in the White House for President Obama, captured the top prize at the Houston Rodeo Mariachi Invitational Competition, performed the first mariachi opera with the Houston Grand Opera and played for a crowd of 74,000 people at the Reliant Center in Houston on Tejano Day.
If you are interested in supporting Mariachi Aztlán or the music department please contact the Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.