What Is the Story of Mariachis?

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

If you’ve ever been to Mexican restaurant with live music, there is a good chance that you’ve gotten to hear the famous mariachis. These roaming musicians, easy to spot in their sombreros and black and silver charro clothing, are the best-known of all kinds of Mexican music.

In fact, mariachis and their music may be one of the most recognized Latin art forms worldwide. Since 2011, this form of music has been recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Importance of Mariachi

Mariachis themselves are an important part of any Mexican celebration: weddings, quinceañeras (15th birthday parties), birthdays, celebrating Mother’s Day in Mexico, etc. They even play in churches on feast days in celebration of saints and the Virgin Mary.

here is the story of mariachis, they figured heavily in the movies of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, spreading their popularity throughout Latin America.

You can find mariachis as a significant part of celebrations in many countries outside of Mexico, including the southwestern United States and other regions with large Hispanic populations. Indeed, the festival Mariachi USA is over its 25th year.

Origins of Mariachi Music

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

As a form of mestizo folk music, its origins are not fully known. Jalisco is often considered to be the home of mariachi, although it is possible that it originated throughout the entire region of western Mexico: Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Colima, and Michoacán.

The first written mention of mariachis is in the mid-1800s, in a letter by a priest. In it, he complained about the noise that these folk musicians made.

The most common instruments in a mariachi ensemble are: guitarrón (bass guitar), guitar, vihuela (small guitar), violin, and trumpet.

Although for many of us, the horn section of a mariachi is one of its most iconic aspects, they were only added to the mariachi ensemble in the early 1900s, due to the influence of recording devices and radio.

Origins of the Word “Mariachi”

There are actually a number of theories about the origins of the word “mariachi.” For many years the word was thought to come from the French word for marriage (mariage), due to the popularity of mariachis at weddings. This explanation has now fallen out of favor.

The word is now considered to be of indigenous origin.

One explanation holds that The Coca tribe, which spoke a version of Nahuatl, had a religious song called “María ce son,” which eventually became Mariachi and “son,” or song.

“Mariachi” itself came to mean “el indio está contento” – the Indian (native American) is happy.

Other possible origins of the name include derivations of the name of a local wood, which, according to theory, was used to make either guitars or the dance platform for the groups.

“Mariachi” is unique word because it can refer to the group of performers, to an individual musician, or to the music they play (son de mariachi) even though, mariachis play a number of kinds of music, including polkas, corridos, rancheras, boleros, and huapangos.

If you have a favorite traditional Mexican song, don’t hesitate to ask: there is a very good chance these accomplished musicians will know it.

Have you had Mariachis at an important family event? Tell us in the comments!

La Guayabera, A Must-Have Shirt from Hispanic Culture

La Guayabera, a formal Hispanic shirt.

If you Google a photo of a recent summit of heads of state, for example, the Cumbre de las Américas (Summit of the Americas), you’ll notice something interesting. While some of the leaders will be wearing suits, as expected at such a formal occasion, you will also see leaders wearing a loose, white button-down shirt with four pockets and embroidery – worn long and untucked. Called la guayabera, this shirt is considered formal attire and is completely appropriate.

La guayabera appears to have first come about in the late 18th or early 19th century, and like so many aspects of Hispanic culture, the history of la guayabera shirt has different versions.

Cubans claim it’s Cuban, Mexicans claim it’s Mexican, and there are even those who say it came from the Dominican Republic, where it’s called a chacabana.

Origins of La Guayabera

La Guayabera, a formal Hispanic shirt.

La Guayabera, a formal Hispanic shirt.

However, most histories point to Cuba as the original creator of the guayabera, although the exact story varies.

In one, a husband asks his wife for a shirt designed so that he could carry around important items such as handkerchiefs and cigars. In another, a Spanish immigrant created the style of shirt.

Stories of the Mexican origin of the shirt are generally tied to the coastal areas of Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula. These regions both had considerable trade with Cuba, and it’s likely that guayaberas arrived in Mexico near the turn of the 20th century through these trading routes.

Despite the likely Cuban origins, Mexico clearly contributed greatly to the popularity and the spread of la guayabera, particularly in the 1970s.  In Mexico, it’s called a Mexican wedding shirt, since they commonly wear it at weddings.

The Yucatán, where it’s called a camisa de Yucatán (Yucatán shirt), is also believed to have added the iconic embroidery to the shirt, making the embroidered guayabera truly a mix of Latin cultures.

One part of the story that stays fairly consistent is the origin of the name. Given the size and number (four) of pockets, it’s believed that they were used to carry guavas (guayabas). However, it’s also possible that the name came from Cuba, from the people called the yayaberos who lived near the Yayabo River.

The shirts themselves can be short- or long-sleeved, and they can be any color. Most common, and most formal, are white shirts.

One of the hallmarks of the guayabera is its trademark folds, generally accompanied by detailed embroidery.

Wearing a Guayabera

One reason that so many Latin men prefer guayaberas is their comfort. They are lightweight and men wear it untucked (hence the straight hem), and even have side vents – great for those who may have put on some weight! And of course, you can carry anything in those four pockets.

The shirts can be made of any lightweight fabric, but traditionally they have been made of linen or cotton, both cool choices in the warm climates of the best Cuban beaches and coastal Mexico.

Given the recent increase in destination weddings to Latin American tropical locations, guayaberas have become wedding attire for a new, non-Hispanic generation of couples.

Men choosing this kind of attire for their wedding, not traditional in their own culture, do so as a nod to the country where they are getting married. Many also appreciate the guayabera’s more informal look, as well as its comfort in hot climes.

As a symbol of Latin culture, this shirt has become even more acceptable amongst those looking to unite Latin America. Hence its recent popularity by the region’s presidents and others, who years ago may have chosen a suit for formal occasion but now often choose guayaberas.

Are you a fan of guayaberas at formal occasions? Let us know in the comments!

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