if you take a stroll down Boyle Avenue and First Street in Boyle Heights, you will find yourself walking into a place saturated with Mexican culture known as Mariachi Plaza. Filled with life, music and people, Mariachi Plaza is where I first began to nurture my exploration and adoration of mariachi music. Surrounded by authentic Mexican restaurants and a community that adores mariachi music, it is no wonder why hundreds travel near and far to attend the mariachi festivals held at Mariachi Plaza. People of all ethnicities stop and listen to hear the wonderful music, and it was at these mariachi festivals where I truly understood the importance and significance mariachi music holds for many of its listeners.
Although many tend to view mariachi as a genre of music, it represents much more. Mariachi is a symbol of tradition, culture, spirituality, healing, hope, love and joy, with the ability to create an endless range of emotions. Whether it conjures a fond, distant memory or stirs up the feelings of vitality and power, mariachi music is an intricate, irreplaceable sound that shapes the soul of Mexican culture. Encompassing all these elements into my life, I continue to preserve this beautiful art form by teaching mariachi classes at The Mariachi Conservatory. By teaching families both in and outside of the Boyle Heights community about the Mexican culture, places such as Mariachi Plaza will continue to hold meaning and value for decades to come. As you arrive at the plaza, you may hear the sound of violins bringing life to songs of the past, brass trumpets proudly announcing the next melodic passage, the strong beating pulse of the guitarrones, and the guitars and vihuelas igniting the rhythmic movements of a song. It’s in this cultural space, embedded with community, family and pride, where you will find Mariachi Plaza.
Richard Mata M.A. ’19 has been professionally performing mariachi music for more than 20 years. A composer and arranger, Mata is music director at Salesian High School in Los Angeles. His music has been featured in documentaries and independent films and on the HBO network.
This article appeared in the spring 2019 issue (Vol. 9, No. 1) of LMU Magazine.