Mariachi Arcoíris challenges mariachi’s masculinity

Mariachi Arcoíris de Los Angeles, the world’s first LGBTQIA+ mariachi band, performs Mexican music all over the world. The ensemble was formed as a space for musicians who identify as LGBTQIA+ and want to still perform traditional Mexican music.

The group also features the world’s first transgender mariachi member, Natalia Melendez, who co-founded Mariachi Arcoíris with Carlos Samaniego in reaction to discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. The pair first performed at a gay club when they were both in college and decided to return to the idea 10 years later when they realized this could be an important outlet for a lot of people.

Mariachi was originally intended to symbolize machismo and concepts of masculinity through songs about love and heartbreak. The genre has been male-dominated for years, despite evidence of women playing mariachi music as far back as 1903.

Leonor Xochitl Perez, who curated the “Viva! El Mariachi Femenil” exhibit at the Women’s Museum of California in 2013, told outlet KPBS why mariachi music is considered “very masculine.”

“You stand when you play it. You throw yells. You’re very extroverted,” she said. “It’s very strong and aggressive.”

Mariachi Arcoíris directly challenges mariachi’s reputation and history. Donned in rainbow ties, Mariachi Arcoíris has regular shows at Santa Monica’s Club Tempo — the birthplace of the group — every Sunday, in addition to traveling outside of Southern California to share the group’s love of music and Mexican tradition.

“When I came out, other musicians, the total machos, would tell me I wasn’t good enough to represent this music,” Samaniego told The Los Angeles Times in 2015. “I wanted to create a haven for people who identified as LGBT in the mariachi world to play the music we love and not be made fun of, not be talked down to because of how they look, how they act, who they go to bed with.”

“He’s just glitter everywhere,” Melendez said about Samaniego in the same interview, “rainbows and everything, taking over Los Angeles with his mariachi.”

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