The board of La Frontera’s 34th Annual Tucson International Mariachi Conference commissioned me this year to create the artwork for the 2016 conference poster. It was an honor to be asked to create the art for the conference, as Mariachi music is very dear to my heart.
As an artist, I find inspiration from life and the story I’m about to share inspires me to paint mariachi musicians. My great-grandfather, Don Jose Alvarez was on furlow from the Southern Union Pacific Railroad in El Paso Texas during 1936. Don Jose was supporting his wife Francisca and children Daniel, Maria, Apolonia, Franciso, Jose Amador, George (my grandfather), Concepcion and Manuel. He had to think of a way to support his family during the furlow, so he taught himself how to play mariachi music. He was a craftsman and also built each instrument for a quartet and began to teach his sons to play music as he did. He packed up his sons and instruments and headed to Los Angeles where all the movies stars and the opportunity to make money from tourists. The railroad had given him free passes for himself, my tio Kee-ko (Francisco), my tio Charro ( Amador) and my grand father George and they all left for Los Angeles on a whim.
Los Angeles was a much different place back then, City Hall was the tallest building in Los Angeles and Mexicans were not allowed to
walk on Broadway, only on Los Angeles Street. My great-grandfather did not know English, so he had his son Kee-Ko who spoke fluent English to ask if “El Quarteto Azteca” could play in a new tourist plaza on Olvera street. The man in charge, Manuel Delarios allowed them to play for the tourists and sell photos of themselves dressed in their mariachi suits to make money.
They lived in the Hotel Jalisco for almost two years and continued to send money back to El Paso until the day came that the Southern Pacific Railroad called Don Jose back to work. But the music didn’t end, my grandfather and his brothers each continued to play and perform. As they got older some of my great-uncles went on to be professional musicians and my grand father moved to Los Angeles, but they always would pull out their instruments to play music whenever they were together at family gatherings. I have fond memories of watching them all perform in my grandmother’s living room during my childhood.
Whenever I paint Mariachi, its a tribute to my family, to my roots.