UTPA alumna starts Mariachi Mariposas

A group of 14 women stand across an auditorium stage, instruments in hand. All are dressed in long lavender skirts and matching silver threaded blouses. The lights in the auditorium dim, the ladies begin playing La Charreada, a traditional Mexican mariachi song, and soon the room is flooded with applause.

The careers of these women did not bloom overnight, though.

Twenty-seven years ago, Mayra Garcia listened to her mother sing mariachi music around the house from Latin artists, such as Aida Cuevas and Lola Beltran. Her eyes shined with admiration and she knew that someday she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

At age 12, Garcia got into the music act and was part of mariachis throughout grade school, high school and into college at UTPA. In June 2012, the Mission native took her love of music and formed Mariachi Mariposas, an all-women South Texan mariachi group. Little did she know that one day the group would headline for Grammy-nominated Latin artists Roy Escobedo and Gabriel Garcia in July 2013.

Mayra Garcia, head mariachi director for La Joya Palmview High School, said she saw many of her female mariachi students possess amazing talent and passion for the music. Garcia wanted to provide a way for them to continue with their love of mariachi after graduation, and Mariachi Mariposas was born.

“I fell in love with the music and with the violin, which later became a part of me,” the 39-year-old said. “I never left it. Mariachi music served as an outlet for me.”

According to Garcia, a 1999 alumna with a bachelor’s degree in music, she formed the all-women band to give opportunities to underestimated female musicians and to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams.

“This is my passion. I love it when I can teach others to hold a passion for music and use it as a way of expressing their culture,” she said. “It’s a demonstration of their ethnicity.”

For mass communication major Beatriz Guevara, playing guitar has been a hobby of hers since the sixth grade and it later became her passion when she joined Rio Grande City High School’s Mariachi Cascabel. After graduating in 2011, she auditioned for UTPA’s Mariachi Aztlan, but was unable to join due to limited spots.

As Guevara’s college life continued, she found herself as a reporter for Bronc Radio and TV and later became its news director. The 20-year-old enjoyed her time assigning stories to new reporters and encouraging their progress, but missed being surrounded by mariachi tunes.

“It’s just a fullness, you know, when harmony, voices and instruments just come together. People clapping when you’re done,” the senior said. “I’ve met famous mariachi players and they come up to you and they tell you that you’re playing was ‘just awesome!’ That’s what pumps you up to stay motivated.”

Along with encouraging young female musicians, Mariachi Mariposas also provides older females with the opportunity to be in a mariachi group, an option many women didn’t have in their youths. Today, the Mariposas are 14 women, ranging from 18 to 44 years old.

FLYING OUT OF THE COCOON

After Garcia’s decision to start an all-female mariachi band, she began phoning old friends who played with her in UTPA’s Mariachi Aztlan. In a matter of days, she had brought a complete group of female mariachi players together.

In August 2012, the name Mariachi Mariposas was chosen to fit the essence of growth, soul and hope, according to Garcia. As a way of spreading joy through cultural music, Garcia huddled around her laptop and created Facebook and YouTube pages for the public to enjoy.

Along with a new name to distinguish themselves, the Mariposas soon began practicing in a member’s home in Sharyland. Crammed into a small space, the Mariposas did not complain about practicing four hours a week. Time was put into learning new music as well as getting the ladies acquainted with one another, something Garcia thought was essential to form a bond.

The time and effort that went into practicing and promoting paid off when the Mariposas landed appearances on Spanish TV network Noticias Univision and Channel 4 News. The Mariposas captured the hearts of viewers and managed to snag their first gig in December 2012.

“It’s an adrenaline rush when you play,” said Elizabeth Salinas, an administrative assistant in the UTPA philosophy department and violinist for the Mariposas. “When you’re doing a performance, you have all these people just staring at you…it’s all very fulfilling.”

Whispers of  the female group spread and the Mariposas began receiving calls from schools across the Rio Grande Valley, such as Edinburg Vela High School and Palmview High School. Garcia believes that their music should be shared with the world in order to spread their message of ‘proud ambassadors of our cultural music.’

“(The Mariposas) believe in the importance of education and we promote mariachi education,” the violinist said. “It’s important for students to see what is out there for them once they achieve graduation…it’s the most important work we do.”

Talk of the female group became louder, reaching as far as Corpus Christi. The Mariachi’s career climbed to the top when they found themselves headlining the Edinburg Arts Free Summer Concert with Roy Escobedo and Gabriel Garcia in July 2013.

“I still get nervous after all these years, but it’s such an emotional feeling to know that people have purchased a ticket to see your talent,” Garcia said. “I feel very grateful and proud to be able to give the people a little piece of our traditional and cultural music.”

FUTURE HITS

After about two years of performing both public and private events, the Mariposas are ready to put their skills to the test by performing in their first competition this March. According to Garcia, Mariachi Mariposas was chosen out of six artists throughout the state of Texas to perform at the event.

Due to the rules regarding the competition, participants cannot state who they are or mention the name of the event until the winners have been announced at the event . If any entrees are found promoting prior to the event, they will not be allowed to compete.

Despite the rules, The Mariposas are eager to talk about the competition and look forward to their journey.   

“We have future plans and we hope to one day be up there with the names of Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and Mariachi Divas,” said Guevara. “All those female mariachis have made it all the way to the Grammys. That’s our dream and that’s what we’re working for.”

With their competition around the corner, the women have been practicing harder than ever in order to take home first place. The band also plans to release a CD of original music that fans can look forward to hearing later this year.