(Reuters) – As a gay mariachi musician, Carlos Samaniego grew tired of the discrimination and bullying from other mariachis in the macho world of the Mexican folk genre. So he formed his own group, still focused on the music, but with an all LGBTQ+ lineup.
So was born Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, billed as the first LGBTQ+ mariachi band, which played three gigs in the Los Angeles area on the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday as part of an acceptance campaign promoted by a Mexican beer company.
Samaniego, who studied classical singing and violin, said he formed the first iteration of the band 20 years ago with gay men, getting an early boost from gigs at a gay Latino cowboy nightclub.
The band faded, and as Samaniego continued his mariachi career, the machismo grew overbearing. Starting over in 2014, he formed a more diverse group. The 10 members identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual and pansexual, Samaniego said.
“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.
Samaniego said he sometimes notices resistance from hardcore mariachi fans, especially when playing at weddings. Older relatives visiting from Mexico are often shocked but come around once the music starts, he said.
Natalia Melendez, a transgender violinist and singer, said she often hears from queer and Latino musicians who see her as an inspiration.
“When I did transition, I didn’t realize I was going to be a pillar for others,” Melendez said. “I do feel I have to take responsibility. I owe it to my community and to show the world that we are to be respected.”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)