The Women of Mariachi: Breaking Barriers in a Machismo Culture
This article originally appeared in She Shreds Magazine Issue #5, released June 2014.
Originating in Jalisco, Mexico via farm workers in rural areas, mariachi is now known as the music of Mexico. Much after its inception, these ensembles were brought to Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, where the now-established tradition of performing in restaurants began. Like most orchestras, these groups of musicians are created and led by a director who finds jobs and assigns music to the group. Wearing extravagant charro suits in a group of five or more, mariachis also perform during a celebration such as a wedding or a quinceñera, but can be heard almost anywhere: on the streets, at a political event, or even at a funeral. Mariachi is the music that celebrates life and death, love and heartache.
Rich in sound and passion, the machismo infiltrates this genre just like any other in a culture where gender roles are above ground. “You have to remember, women didn’t get the right to vote until 1953, so culturally they weren’t given the right to decide,” explains Dr. Leonor Perez, a mariachi herself and longtime researcher on women’s involvement in mariachi throughout history. “There was the first all-female group that we know of called Las Adelitas…within four years there were Estrellas De Mexico and Las Coronelas in 1953,” says Dr. Perez about the three pioneering groups who opened the door for many more to come.
According to Perez, in recent years women’s presence in mariachi has become more common, and in 2014 there were about 30 all-female mariachi groups in the United States, 60 in Mexico, South America and Canada, and even one in England. Despite the barriers created by machismo, women all over the world are making headway as they continue to strive for presence and success in this evolving genre.
Although to many the female presence in mariachi culture is a new development, the timeline we’ve created below—with help from Perez—proves that women have been actively impacting the genre since the turn of the century. These mariachi groups continue to break barriers and spread the mariachi culture on international levels.
Timeline — Women in Mariachi:
1903 – Rosa Quirino is the first documented woman to play in a mariachi band.
1948 – First all-female mariachi band, Las Adelitas, from Mexico City formed after their director visited Cuba and saw an all-female tropical orchestra perform.
1951 – Second all-female mariachi band, Las Estrellas De Mexico, formed in Mexico City.
1953 – The third of the three pioneering all-female mariachi bands, Las Coronelas, formed in Mexico City.
1936–1969 – Golden age of Mexican Cinema. Movies such as Yo No Me Caso Compadre and Mi Niño, Mi Caballo y Yo showed these all-female mariachi bands performing in the background.
1967 – First all-female mariachi band in the United States, Las Rancheritas, forms in Alamo, TX.
1968 – Mariachi classes started being implemented in schools around California as part of bilingual and multicultural education, allowing mariachi to become an outlet for women to express their freedom and ethnic identity.
1975 – Renowned mariachi violinist Rebecca Gonzales breaks into the mainstream spotlight in the internationally renowned mariachi group Los Camperos de Nati Cano.
1976 – All-female mariachi band Las Generales forms in Los Angeles.
1977 – All-female mariachi band Mariachi Estrellas formed in Topeka, Kansas, as a church group.
1979 – The Tucson International Mariachi Conference is the first of its kind in the United States.
1991 – The Hollywood Bowl hosts a tribute to American women’s contributions to mariachi music over the decades
1994 – Mariachi Reyna De Los Angeles forms and becomes one of the most well-known mariachi groups in the United States. They celebrated 20 years in 2014.
2008 – Mariachi Mujer 2000 is chosen to represent all of the Americas at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
2009 – The Mariachi Divas become the first mariachi band ever to win a Grammy.
2013 – ¡Viva El Mariachi Femenil!, the exhibit curated by Leonor Xóchitl Perez, PhD, debuts at the Women’s Museum Of California, documenting 110 years of female presence in Mariachi music.
2014 – The Mariachi Divas become the first mariachi ever (men or women) to win a second Grammy.
2014 – Women Pioneers of Mariachi Music: Seen, Heard and Now Remembered, the first book exclusively dedicated to mariachi women is written and published by Dr. Leonor Xóchitl Perez.
2015 – Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles is L.A.’s first openly LGBTQ mariachi group and features the world’s first trans mariachi.