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LGBTQ+ mariachi band seeks to broaden acceptance on Cinco de Mayo

As a gay mariachi musician, Carlos Samaniego grew tired of the discrimination and bullying from other mariachis in the macho world of the Mexican folk genre. So he formed his own group, still focused on the music, but with an all LGBTQ+ lineup.

So was born Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, billed as the first LGBTQ+ mariachi band, which were scheduled to play three gigs in the Los Angeles area on the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday (May 5), the first of which was a live-streamed gig to a group of college students from a backyard in Whittier, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The shows are part of an acceptance campaign promoted by Mexican beer company Estrella Jalisco.

Samaniego, who studied classical singing and violin, said he formed the first iteration of the band 20 years ago with gay men, getting an early boost from gigs at a gay Latino cowboy nightclub.

The band faded, and as Samaniego continued his mariachi career, the machismo grew overbearing. Starting over in 2014, he formed a more diverse group. The 10 members identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual and pansexual, Samaniego said.

“I unfortunately had to endure some bullying, some harassment, discrimination. And that continued over the years, which is why I decided to create Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles to create that haven, this safe space for LGBTQ+ mariachi musicians where we can come together, perform our beautiful music and be free of all of that discrimination and all the bullying and we could just be ourselves,” Samaniego said.

Samaniego said he sometimes notices resistance from hardcore mariachi fans, especially when playing at weddings. Older relatives visiting from Mexico are often shocked but come around once the music starts, he said.

Natalia Melendez, a transgender violinist and singer, said she often hears from queer and Latino musicians who see her as an inspiration.

“I faced many obstacles, but I’m happy,” she said.

“It’s made me the musician that I am today,” she added.

(Production: Sandra Stojanovic, Omar Younis)


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