Mariachi Los Jaguares from STEAM Academy at Burke began over two years ago in 2014 as a unique proposal by the Director of Music at STEAM Academy Burke Middle School, Robert Mendez. What started as once a small program of students has expanded into two different level classes to accommodate the demand. Robert Mendez first proposed the idea of a mariachi class to the former Burke Middle School vice principal, the results are beyond what anyone anticipated. The name “Los Jaguares” comes directly from their school mascot, The Jaguars.
Robert Mendez, the Music Director for the STEAM Academy, teaches choir and band, and now mariachi. While he has never formally performed in a mariachi group, he grew up listening to it at home and always aspired to be a musician one day. Mr. Mendez has a musical background in classical music and jazz, attended California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) for his undergraduate degree and the University of Southern California (USC) for graduate school. Years later, he developed his own curriculum for a mariachi program at the STEAM Academy. According to Mendez, since the birth of the program, the community response to it has been overwhelmingly positive.
Surprisingly, the STEAM Academy is one of the very few schools that offer a mariachi program in southern California, whereas states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona have major student participation in mariachi groups as part of their music education.
According to Mr. Mendez, there is a wide array of educational benefits from music. It promotes creative thinking, team building, and above all, keeps students interested in school. Music teaches patience and discipline because it’s impossible to master your instrument overnight, “Playing music in a group is a great place for anyone who wishes to strive in a healthy and competitive music education environment.”
Since the start of the program, every year for Cinco de Mayo, dozens of students gather in the common quad area for their performance of classic mariachi songs, instantly drawing large crowds.
As part of the curriculum, Mr. Mendez also includes the cultural and historical significance of mariachi music, and the important values that go along with being a musician. According to Mr. Mendez, many people who are unfamiliar with music often underestimate the difficulty and level of skill required to learn, play, and perform mariachi music.
It's his opinion that,
“Mariachi music means a lot to Latino Americans, particularly in Pico Rivera, because they’re familiar with the music that they grew up with and it brings back fond memories. And now to see their children or even grandchildren learning and performing mariachi music in school is something really special that not many other schools can offer, and that’s what makes mariachi music especially important to me and this community.”
In planning for the future, Mr. Mendez believes that Los Jaguares will continue to grow as they gain more exposure throughout the community and build the music programs at the STEAM Academy. Additionally, Mr. Mendez adds that he hopes the mariachi program will eventually expand to other communities and schools in Southern California.