BY KIET DO
SALINAS – In the Salinas Valley, home to some of the most fertile land in the world, Julian Estrada is growing the next generation of mariachi musicians.
This is the start of the newest season of Mariachi Juvenil Alisal in the Alisal Union School District. Many of these students they're touching a guitar for only the second time in their lives.
"It's all part of the everyday learning. That's what we strive for every single day. So it comes from, they see the initial starting point, to now seeing them in their first performance, a lot of parents crying," Estrada said.
For Estrada, mariachi music has been in his blood for four generations. His great grandfather, Jesus Ruiz Guzman, began playing in the early 1900s as a way to share information during the Mexican Revolution.
He also quickly realized he could teach his sons to play, to earn a decent living.
Nowadays, the kids in Salinas may think they're learning just music, but there is much more.
"This is not just a typical music class. We also teach them a little bit of history," Estrada explained to KPIX 5. "Every song that we sing, there's always a meaning behind it. Try to tell them, 'Hey, this is the history of mariachi. We are now the second half of the book.'"
For Vicente Mariscal Rivera, back for a second year, the dedication and commitment is real. The whole school year has three practice sessions a week, including four hours on Saturday mornings.
When asked what he wanted others to get from his music, Vicente said, "I want them to get inspired."
Vicente's father, Vicente Mariscal Ramirez, also played in a band for several years. Mariachi deepens their connection.
"For us, it's important he continue with the culture of Mexico here," he said through a translator. "It would be like a dream for me that we both get together and practice music together."
There are now nearly 20 elementary school mariachi bands across the country. Alisal is the only one on the Central Coast.
Now in its 5th season, they've taught at least 500 students.
Estrada said if his great grandfather could see him now, he would be proud.
"They feel they have this uniform; they see they're in front of a stage, and they feel that courage. And say hey, 'This is me, and this is who I am,'" he said.
Music, history, culture, and pride. With mariachi, it's all one in the same.