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Mariachi musicians head east from Michigan Avenue toward Millennium
Park’s Pritzker Pavilion to perform at the third annual Chicago Mariachi Festival on Sunday evening. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Mariachi music ‘kind of like being home away from home’

SHARE Mariachi music ‘kind of like being home away from home’
SHARE Mariachi music ‘kind of like being home away from home’

The impassioned, joyous yells of Mariachi musicians — known as gritos — filled the air at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park Sunday evening.

And for many in the overflow crowd at the third annual Chicago Mariachi Festival, estimated at 22,000, the trademark horns, guitars, brightly colored costumes and piercing gritos sparked nostalgia for Mexico.

“It’s just kind of like being home away from home,” said Jose Luis Diaz, 55, of Albany Park, whose family is originally from Durango, Mexico. “This brings back all of our traditions, just makes us feel reminiscent of our family that’s still down in Mexico.”

Jose Luis Diaz with Julia Alonseo and Coco Alonseo. All three friends live in Albany Park and attended the Chicago Mariachi Festival on Sunday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Jose Luis Diaz with Julia Alonseo and Coco Alonseo. All three friends live in Albany Park and attended the Chicago Mariachi Festival on Sunday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Diaz said having the event at the city’s premier music venue also speaks to the lengths the Mexican community in Chicago has come.

“I’m glad the city finally kind of gives us a little recognition and gives us this area to express our culture,” he said.

“I believe at some point [the city] kind of shunned us a little bit and kept us segregated by Little Village and Pilsen. But now that they see we’ve kind of grown in numbers, they’ve kind of opened up things for our culture and let us utilize these spaces,” he said.

The city donated the space for the event, said Cesar Maldonado, president of the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, a Chicago based nonprofit that teaches the genre to future generations.

The group raised $120,000 for the event in order to draw the best mariachi musicians from around the country.

“Chicago’s really becoming the second mariachi capital for the world, Guadalajara being number one,” Maldonado said.

The lineup included the West Coast groups Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, as well as Mariachi Aztlan of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Mariachi Herencia de Mexico from Chicago.

Reflecting the diversity of the crowd, the mariachi group from Chicago played a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

Mona Ruiz with her daughter, Paulina Zapata, and husband Alberto Ruiz, at the Chicago Mariachi Festival. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Mona Ruiz with her daughter, Paulina Zapata, and husband Alberto Ruiz, at the Chicago Mariachi Festival. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Mona Ruiz, sitting in a lawn chair with a blanket on her lap, briefly thought about why she loves mariachi.

“I don’t know. I just like it,” said Ruiz, of Elgin, who was celebrating her birthday.

“It’s our culture,” said her husband, Alberto.

“And it brings people together,” said Ruiz’s daughter, Paulina Zapata, 30.

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