A queer mariachi band?
An LGBTQ+ mariachi band got the spotlight it rightfully deserved this past Cinco de Mayo. According to Reuters, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, the first LGBTQ+ mariachi band, was founded by Carlos Samaniego. Samaniego was tired of homophobic and toxic masculinity found in the mariachi industry. As such, he wanted to create a space where LGBTQ musicians could thrive in the musical genre and business. That was 20 years ago, and now Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles has since grown to 10 members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, non-binary, asexual, and/or pansexual.
“I wanted to create an environment for musicians like myself, where we can be free, and we can just be who we are authentically and perform our music without having to worry about the bullying,” Samaniego said.
That said, the journey hasn’t been easy for Samaniego or his fellow members. Samaniego’s initial version of the band disbanded in the 2000s. He then started from scratch in 2014. Part of that fade back was due to the overbearing machismo Samaniego found within the mariachi community. He notes that he especially sees the homophobia at weddings from older relatives visiting from Mexico. That said, he also finds that some come around once they hear the music.
As Samaniego’s childhood friend a fellow member Natalia Melendez, who identifies as transgender, told Billboard, her biggest goal with the group is helping to create a better world through representation and music.
“I pour my heart out when I perform, representing myself,” Melendez told Billboard in 2018. “I want what I am to make a statement for the next generation. To let them know that you can be a role model. To show them you can be a transgender woman and be successful without letting society bring you down. I took a lot of shots at the negativity and have a bigger vision now, to be visible and positive in people’s lives in general. Life is hard, but when you have a dream, you can be whatever you want.”