When The University of Texas-Pan American's (UTPA) famed Mariachi Aztlán needed to travel to Washington, D.C. last year to perform at the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival, Southwest Airlines extended a generous wing and provided flight accommodations for the group.
This year, Southwest Airlines is giving an encore performance by providing flight accommodations for 18 members of the award-winning mariachi, which will be performing with 11-year-old singer Sebastien De La Cruz Oct. 2 at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's (CHCI) 36th Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.
De La Cruz -- the "Golden Cowboy" -- wowed audiences with his performances on "America's Got Talent" and at games three and four during the NBA Finals in San Antonio.
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, and the mariachi program's founder at UTPA, said the awards gala is the largest and most prestigious gathering of Hispanic leaders in the nation who will be celebrating the achievements of the Latino community. The evening's festivities will include a performance by the UTPA Mariachi Aztlán followed by remarks from President Barack Obama and other prominent public figures. The University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa is expected to receive the CHCI Chair's Medallion Award.
"Southwest Airlines has very generously provided support for the upcoming UTPA student trip to the CHCI's Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.," Guerra said. "This is a great opportunity for our University students and the musical heritage of the Rio Grande Valley to be represented at a level of national visibility as our mariachi musical ambassadors represent student excellence from UT Pan American. We are very grateful to Southwest Airlines for making this amazing opportunity possible."
Members of the mariachi, too appreciate the generosity of Southwest Airlines.
"It's an incredible experience, we get to travel a lot," said Eddie Lopez, a second-year master's student and member of UTPA Mariachi Aztlán. "It's a lot of work and people sometimes don't realize how much work it is with all the traveling we do and the playing and practicing. We have to keep up with our homework but it's incredible when we get experiences like this. There's nothing like it."
This is the second time Southwest Airlines has helped the University. Previously, UTPA's Mariachi Aztlán performed at the 2012 Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and Southwest Airlines provided flight accommodations for 10 members of the UTPA mariachi.
UTPA was among 21 universities chosen out of more than 100 grant applications for the coveted performance spot in the Smithsonian's celebration. The festival is produced in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the past few years the award-winning group also has performed in the White House for President Obama, captured the top prize at the Houston Rodeo Mariachi Invitational Competition, and played for a crowd of 74,000 people at a Houston Texans game.
The local community will be able to hear the Mariachi Atzlán perform with De La Cruz at UTPA's HESTEC Community Day Oct. 12. The performance will be held at 7:10 p.m. on the Main Stage at the Edinburg campus that day.