Music sometimes acts like a universal language, connecting people from different places, backgrounds and cultures. Now, a four-time Grammy award nominee is connecting young students with the age old genre of mariachi music and the result has been a surprise connection with their own families.
Teaching the century old art of mariachi is at the heart of Jose Hernandez. He is not only a teacher of the music he love, he founded the well-known Mariachi Sol de Mexico. Six years ago he started an intensive program for hundreds of people, from 5 to 30 years old. It includes a competition over four days, with the prize of the mariachi nationals title and performing with the group live.
"It's fun to pass it along because it was passed along to me," Hernandez said.
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The workshops are tough and intense, but they help young Latinos like the Garcia brothers with not just the music of the family's homeland, but with Spanish, a language their families thought they'd never learn.
While they play the trumpet and the guitar, they also sing along in Spanish with the group.
The music carries a deep connection for the brothers, deeper than just culture and language.
"We've been through something hard," Andy Garcia said. "My uncle passed away and mariachi has still motivated us to get going and I play for him."
The brothers uncle was instrumental is encouraging them to learn mariachi, learn the words and feel the music.
"He told me to keep going and not let anyone put you down... and when he passed away that was something I keep in my heart you know and that's why I keep playing," Garcia said.
These personal connections are what drive these young people to learn the music of their parents and grandparents.
"Parents connect with their kids when they are taking Mariachi classes," Hernandez said.
Hernandez runs nine after-school mariachi programs in Santa Ana alone and he is pushing to get more funding for mariachi to be included in music curriculum. He puts on similar programs across the country through his non-profit Mariachi Heritage Foundation.
"When the parents find out their kids want to learn mariachi, they say 'Wow!' A light comes on and they say it's a chance for my kids to stay connected to their language," he said.
Hernandez says watching these families become closer is what drives him to keep working to bring mariachi music into the lives of as many people as possible.