May FSL Lecture to Feature ‘The Mariachi Miracle’

At the May FSL lecture, Dan Buckley will discuss The Mariachi Miracle, his 10-year-plus film, book, and archive project documenting the transformative power of Tucson’s youth mariachi and folklórico dance programs.

Nancy McCluskey-Moore

On Thursday, May 16, at 4 p.m. in the DesertView Theater, the Friends of SaddleBrooke Libraries (FSL) lecture will feature producer/director/author Daniel Buckley. Buckley will discuss The Mariachi Miracle, his 10-year-plus film, book, and archive project documenting the transformative power of Tucson’s youth mariachi and folklórico dance programs within the broader community.

Music and dance can alter our mood, make us feel more deeply, and generally inspire us. But youth mariachis have become not just the soundtrack to social justice, socioeconomic gain, community cohesion, and artistic and educational growth, but powerful catalysts, creating change within the broader Tucson community and beyond.

America’s first youth mariachi began here in Tucson in 1964 with a group called Los Changuitos Feos (The Ugly Little Monkeys), founded by Catholic priest Fr. Charles Rourke, who had been an accomplished jazz pianist before joining the priesthood. Rourke was struck by the complexity and beauty of the music, as well as its cultural connection to the Mexican Americans in his community. The “Changos” would become a point of great community pride and cultural ambassadors to the U.S. and Mexico.

The board of the group began charging for performances, investing the money and turning it into a scholarship opportunity that would change the destiny of generations of Changuitos to this day. The group’s bylaws and scholarship program became the template for the success of future mariachi and folklórico dance programs in Tucson schools and around the country.

Los Changuitos Feos was the sole youth mariachi in Tucson from 1964 to 1980 and an all-male group. But with the birth of Mariachi Nuevo in 1980, the gender barrier came down. Over the next dozen years, youth mariachi and folklórico programs proliferated, accelerated by a combination of factors, including the birth of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 1983, Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre recording in 1987, the inclusion of young women in Tucson’s youth mariachis, and the determination by the Sunnyside Unified and Tucson Unified school districts to create curriculum-based mariachi programs from grades Kindergarten through 12.

These programs provide young people with the tools to succeed in any industry—teamwork, discipline, time management skills, public speaking skills, community involvement, etc. Out of these programs have come doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, educators, administrators, politicians, and captains of industry, as well as musicians and dancers. Our community has prospered economically and has become more cohesive and energized as a result of these programs. Moreover, families have become more connected, and neighborhoods have a sense of community pride in these young performers.

Daniel Buckley has written about music and culture for more than 40 years for the Tucson Citizen daily newspaper, Tucson Weekly, Stereophile magazine, Native Peoples magazine, and more. He has created films, photographic collections, and videos for the Arizona Historical Society, the Arizona Centennial’s “Arizona Experience,” and the Arizona State Museum. In addition, he is an award-winning performance artist, composer, photographer, and filmmaker. In 2013 he became the first Anglo inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference. A year later, he was named Artist of the Year at the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards.

This lecture is free for FSL members and $5 for nonmembers to attend.