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Que Viva Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez   
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 03:14

MMAP, along with eleven other exemplary after-school and out-of-school arts and humanities programs, were honored by Michelle Obama as 2012 recipients of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

Proud young Mariachi's were in the House – the White House. And their musical selection: perfect!

As Mariachi Tesoro, the young Mariachi Master Apprentice Program musicians from San Fernando, sang its medley of traditional Mexican songs arranged by instructor Jimmy Cuellar that included the lyrics, "Viva Mexico" and "Viva America," smiles grew, heads began to bob and some of the guests even started to let their hair down a bit to respond with a shy "Viva!" It seemed like they wanted to match the group's passionate young energy, and join in.

Understandably, there was White House decorum to consider and they didn't get the rulebook that gritos from the audience are compliments.

But after Mariachi Tesoro finished its performance, the audience wasn't subdued. They promptly got to their feet to give the students an enthusiastic standing ovation, and the first lady, Michelle Obama, quickly hopped on to the small stage to give each one of the performers a warm abrazo.

"Oh my goodness! Well! See this is why we do what we do," Obama said. "This why we're here because there are thousands of young people out there with this level of talent and passion and energy, and to think that we wouldn't invest in this? That we wouldn't find the resources to continue to allow these gifts to grow?"

Addressing the art and humanities educators in the room, Obama said, "And that is why what you all do so amazing, so important and so necessary."

The performance and award was an once-in-a-lifetime experience that the teenagers said was too difficult to put into words. But when asked they tried, using the words, "surreal," "amazing," "an honor," "like a dream."

They were in Washington, D.C., a place they had only heard and read about, but didn't think they would visit, certainly not at this point in their young lives. They could have never imagined they would be in the nation's capitol not as tourists, but as honorees.

They had just performed in the prestigious Kennedy Center, "the most beautiful stage" they had ever seen which they considered the pinnacle. As one of 12 recipients of the 2012 Award for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program, they were the only the only program with a full concentration on traditional music. Over the next year, they will receive $10,000, communication support, and the use of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards logo.

And they would soon find there was still more unexpected life changing moments to come. They were asked to play in the White House, and called to rehearse there one day before the award ceremony.

The group's instructor, Sergio Alonso, thought they'd be playing at the reception following the ceremony. But at the eleventh hour he learned that he and the group would, in fact, be playing as the finale to the ceremony held in the East Room of the White House for the esteemed audience.

They would be playing for the first lady, who sat directly in front of them as they performed. They were the only group of the 2012 recipients to perform in the White House.

"We were told that we were going to the White House for the awards ceremony, but we didn't know that Michelle Obama would be there," said Stefanie Espinoza, 18, a violinist and vocalist with the group. "When she walked into the room, I couldn't believe it." Espinoza said.

Also to their surprise, the young musicians were given some private time with Obama before the ceremony.

"She asked us all about school and how our grades were and told us that she had watched our performance at the Kennedy Center online," Espinoza said.

"She had such a radiant smile that she put all of us at ease and when she talked to us, she was real and helped us to relax. She asked me if I was in high school and I told her that I had just started college, I was a freshman at UCLA and she asked what I was studying. When I told her I was studying biology, she told me, 'This is the direction that we want to go in,' and 'my husband has said that more young women are needed in the math and sciences.'

"I almost started crying," Espinoza said. "She encouraged me to be strong and keep going." During the ceremony, Espinoza was moved again when Obama referenced her ambition during her speech, correlating the arts developing a desire for higher education. 'I couldn't believe that she mentioned me. It made me want to just keep going and strive more," she said.

Fabian Nunez understood the message.

The 17-year-old San Fernando High student, and violinist for Mariachi Tesoro said it was the MMAP program and his instructors – Jesus "Chuey" Guzman, Alonso and Cuellar – who changed his life.

"A couple of years ago, I was just a regular guy and I was considering dropping out of school. My family wasn't doing well financially and I thought I should go to work to help. I'm so grateful to them and this experience has been unbelievable," Nunez said.

"We actually stayed at the historic Willard Hotel near the White House…after we had the photo opportunity with Mrs. Obama, I just couldn't stop smiling."

After meeting the first lady, Nunez announced, "Then she gave each one of us a hug. She was extremely genuine; she gave you a motherly feeling. My trip is complete, anything else is icing. It's been amazing. I cannot thank everyone enough."

Nunez said he hopes to be a CEO of a company, but like Espinosa, will always be a Mariachi musician.

Alejandro Ascencio, 15, a student at San Fernando High, comes from a musical family. His two other brothers, Jerry and Adrian, are also members of Mariachi Tesoro and MMAP. He described his experience at the White House as "unfathomable."

Precocious and to the point, he summed it up: "When does a kid from San Fernando go to the White House and meet the first lady and the first African American first lady? I was absolutely nervous. This was big!" he said.

"It was so surreal, she was sitting right in front of me when I was performing. It's like a dream, when I tell people what happened they probably won't believe me."

When asked if he could imagine any experience that could top this one, Ascencio replied, "Playing for the Pope or for the President himself," which he said he believes is very possible after having this experience. His parents, strong supporters of the program, also went on the trip and watched their son play at the White House via a webcast at the Holiday Inn where they stayed. Parents, friends and family members sent text messages and shared the online webcasts on their Facebook pages.

"We have received congratulatory messages from around the country. They blew up Facebook," Alonso said. "This was really history in the making. It was an honor for the city and community of San Fernando to represent them nationally.

"It's a victory for our program and a victory for the Mexican traditional arts to be accepted by the current administration to understand that our nation is a mixing pot and the Mexican and Mexican American experience should not be marginalized and the community is a strong contributor to the arts and to every field."

It's believed that the MMAP program works because the teachers are Master teachers from the renowned Mariachi Los Camperos. The program, designed for students ages 10- 18, demands discipline and teaches the art, skill and tradition of being a Mariachi. There is also, however, a group known as the Mariachi Tesoritos that is for kids under the age of 10. The students are required to read music and understand the meaning and respect for the mariachi clothing that they wear.

This completes a circle, for not just the students but also their master teachers, as the Camperos played at the White House for President Clinton, now their students have played for the Obama administration. It's also meaningful given the importance of national issues that directly impact the Latino community, Alonso said.

As a teacher Alonso said it's impossible to put this experience in words.

"To see the children from our community not just on a national stage but at the White House. As a teacher you want to give them an experience so that they can perform as adults and to give them real life experiences for them to learn from but there is no preparation for an experience like this."

Before parting, Obama told the students, "It's not enough to receive these gifts and blessings but to understand that you are blessed. Your job now is to pass it on and to find someone, whether it is in the arts or academically… and in your life, it's your job to find that someone you are going to pull up, to find the next "you," and make sure they get the same chance that you got... right?"

San Fernando's "treasures" will be returning to their hometown of San Fernando today, Thanksgiving Day.

"I am so inspired and so grateful," said Espinoza, who said she plans on going back to Washington D.C. "I'd like to come back to the White House and receive an award for my work as a surgeon and keep playing music the rest of my life."

Whether they are the students, teachers or administrator of the program, this award and Washington and White House experience cannot be compared. They have all said the same thing. This will be a Thanksgiving that they will never forget. They are all "grateful and forever changed."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 03:31

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