Going Varsity in Mariachi: A Coming-of-Age Documentary

Words by Aime Mira 

Edited by Abigail Vela

Directors Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn have documented the journey and pride of Edinburg North High School’s Mariachi Oro – in their latest Sundance film, placing an important view on the very real lives of ENHS Senior Class Mariachi students.

It’s rare when we see the lives of Mexican-American People on display in a setting of normality, where the stories that are usually told ”tend to focus on immigration and trauma”, says Vasquez, and while these stories have their place, there is also space to focus tales on love, joy, and even, high school.

For many Hispanic youth, outside of the Rio Grande Valley, the closest relationship they will have to their culture is based on mainstream media: Encanto, Coco, In the Heights, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and West Side Story are just some of the recent films that young people have to look up to. What is absent in these stories is realness and closeness to their everyday lives.  

Osborn mentions, “mainstream culture does tend to kind of narrow the scope of the lifestyles we see of Mexican-American families down to often ones of crisis.” Going Varsity in Mariachi deems to humanize the youth of the borderlands by showcasing their lives as just that, people having regular high school careers with a little bit of spice, of course.

“It’s a movie about these mariachi competitions, but it’s more about growing up along the border,” Vasquez adds. The film illustrates the students’ growth in Mariachi but also their personal successes in love, learning to drive, applying for college, and graduation.

Bella, one of the team captains, now living in San Antonio, expresses,  “I see how beautiful the Valley [is] and how that was really home to me… the movie really makes me think about that… It made me appreciate it more.”

What this documentary provides for Mexican-American youth across the nation is regardless of proximity to their heritage, they have a right to “engage with their Mexican culture,” as Osborn put it, who is half Mexican. Having this film star real students celebrating a Mexican art form within the United States is inspiring and far expands the traditional coming-of-age guide. It’s a perfect blend of music but also showcases the uniqueness of living in a predominantly Hispanic community, where Mexican culture can be freely celebrated. Going Varsity in Mariachi may not be a history lesson on Mariachi, but it shows us the most important part: la gente, the people who put their soul into the music.

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