By Pablo Jaime Sainz
When Enrique Campos wears his mariachi suit and plays one of the many instruments he’s learn to play, he said he feels a tremendous pride in his Mexican heritage.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” he said.
Last week, Campos became the first student to graduate from the A.A. in Music with a Mariachi Specialization at Southwestern College, the first mariachi degree program in the United States.
“I’m happy that, after so many years of hard work, I’m finally earning my degree,” said 24-year old Campos. “And I’m even more proud to be getting my degree in the music I love the most, the music that trully represents Mexican culture.”
But Campos wasn’t always interested in mariachi. In fact, it wasn’t until he arrived at Southwestern that he began to pay attention to the genre.
When he was growing up in Los Angeles, Campos would listen to old school, rap. Then, during the quebradita craze of the ‘90’s, his sisters introduced him to banda sinaloense and norteño music.
“First I wanted to learn to play the accordion, because I was all into norteño,” he said. “I used to like other types of music, but little by little, I fell in love with mariachi.”
He began taking mariachi music courses, he changed his major to mariachi music, and then, without realizing it, he was a true master of mariachi.
“I play almost all of the instruments in a mariachi: the guitarrón, the guitarra, the vihuela, the violin, the trumpet.”
His favorite mariachi is Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, an institution in mariachi music.
And when it comes to his favorite singers, he said he prefers the immortal voices of mariachi, such as Pedro Infante, José Alfredo Jiménez and Jorge Negrete.
When he was beginning to take music courses for his degree, his family would question his choice of major.
“They used to ask me what was I going to do with music,” said Campos, whose father is from Sinaloa and mother from Coahuila.
Although he likes to perform at parties and special events, he said he doesn’t want to become a professional performer. His love for mariachi, he said, goes well beyond that.
“I want to teach children about the beauty of mariachi music.”
He has taught mariachi lessons to the children at John A. Otis Elementary School and Montgomery Middle School.
Campos said that after graduation he plans to take a few months off from school. Then, he will apply to San Diego State University where he is planning to earn his B.A. in Music Education.
Campos’ graduation will have a positive impact in the two-year old A.A. degree in Music with a Mariachi specialization, said Jeff Nevin, mariachi professor and founder of the mariachi music program at Southwestern College and one of the most important researchers of the genre in the U.S.
“Hopefully this recognition will attract more students to the program,” said Nevin, who has his own professional mariachi called Mariachi Champaña Nevin.
Nevin came to Southwestern College eight years ago to create the mariachi program. The final approval for the mariachi especialization degree came two years ago. It became the first mariachi degree in the United States, and at that time, the only one.
Currently, 10 students have declared their major in Mariachi. But there are as many as 100 students who are involved with the program, including those who take just classes for personal enrichment, Nevin said.
There’s even a student from Puerto Rico who moved to Chula Vista especially to enter the mariachi degree program at Southwestern College, he said.
Students in the program take classes such as Introduction to Mariachi Performance and a history class called Development of Mariachi Style and Culture.
Nevin said there were two main reasons why he created the mariachi program at Southwestern.
First, he said, it is a great benefit for students and young people of Mexican descent.
“Mariachi can give a sense of pride to our students”
Second, he said, with the growing number of local school mariachis there’s a need for mariachi teachers who have received formal training in the genre.
There are about six middle schools and six high schools in the South Bay that have a school mariachi, Nevin said. Most of them are part of the Sweetwater Unified School District.
Campos, the first graduate of the Southwestern College mariachi program, said he sees himself teaching and preparing one of the local school mariachis. But he added that other students should consider majoring in mariachi music.
“It’s a great honor, but I encourage other students to join me. I don’t want to be the only one in San Diego with a degree in mariachi.”
Campos won’t be the only one for long.
Next year, Nevin said two students will graduate from the program. Within the next three years, about 10 students are expected to earn their degree in mariachi music from Southwestern College.