The Second Annual Anita Martinez Mariachi Festival kicked off a week of activity Thursday with a concert that featured visiting artists and local talent.
Mariachi Campanas de America is a San Antonio mariachi band that has been performing longer than some of its current members have been alive.
They provided a rapid rotation of rousing traditional and newer mariachi songs that easily won over the audience.
The band’s 40-year performance experience was revealed in how smoothly a series of local singers were featured in the program.
The evening ended with local favorites Mariachi Orgullo de América and Norahua dance troop joining Campanas de America.
Latinos whose families have been in Oklahoma City for generations, new arrivals from Latin America and Anglos made up the broad spectrum audience in the Oklahoma City Community College Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Oklahoma City native Jessica Martinez-Brooks was pleased by the event, hearing many songs from her childhood and marveling at the parade of talent.
The festival is a namesake of her grandmother, Anita Martinez, who helped bring Hispanic culture out of the shadows in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma through cultural and political activism.
“You know, my grandma really had a heart for the Latino community,” Martinez-Brooks told Free Press after the show.
“She advocated for seniors. She advocated for people who didn’t know how to navigate the system here in Oklahoma.”
But Anita Martinez had a profound effect on young Latinas growing up in the state.
“One of the best things she ever did was to show that Latinas – women – could really be a source of power and inspiration, that they were really the heart of the family. Without them, things just don’t work.”
She said her grandmother had a big effect on her.
“She showed me you could do it all. You can have a family. You can have kids. You can have a job. You can have a career. She’s the one who showed us how to do it.”
Robert Ruiz is the founder of the festival and accomplished leader of Mariachi Orgullo de América.
After the concert, he talked about the ways mariachi music is becoming a cultural bridge from the Hispanic community to the rest of world cultures.
“Mexican music is loved the whole world over,” said Ruiz.
“There are mariachis in Germany and Japan, and all over South America, even though in other Latin American countries everybody knows it’s a Mexican tradition, but they have festivals and competitions in Peru and Columbia and all these other places.”
Ruiz is the president of Scissortail Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit with a focus on developing community resources for students mostly on the south side of the city.
The activities during the week have a strong focus on providing mentoring environments for mariachi students and young visual artists.
The festival is a collaboration with Oklahoma Contemporary Arts, a nonprofit that promotes the development of artistic talent in adults, youth and children.
Friday, the organization hosted events featuring visual arts of Latino youth.
The schedule also included master classes for adults and the elementary mariachi programs that have been supported by Academia, a project of Scissortail CDC.
Free Press reported on the organization’s summer mariachi camp in 2017.
Bandleader Juan B. Ortiz and the rest of the professional musicians in Mariachi Campanas de America provided coaching for the elementary students and adults in a master class.
The evening closed with performances by students in the after-school mariachi programs at Fillmore, Shidler and Adams elementary schools in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
A new organization was launched just before this year’s festival.
The Oklahoma Latino Cultural Center will promote Hispanic cultural knowledge and appreciation.
Friday, local artist Narciso Argüelles was announced as the first director of the center.
Argüelles is an art instructor at OCCC and has an extensive portfolio of various forms of visual art. He is best known for his photography.
He was quick to tell us that he will share responsibilities with two others who are on the center’s board, Wilmari Ruiz Delucca and Ricardo Cajias.
Argüelles is hopeful about the future of the center.
“Latinos are thirsting for home, entertainment and celebrations of their culture as they strive to carve out a place here,” he told Free Press.
The center will not have a permanent place but will focus on the development of talent in a number of locations around the city, Argüelles said.