July 13, 2007

A mariachi crash-course for children and grown ups, too!

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

When Marta Arroyo was growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, she used to get ready for school to the sound of mariachi songs coming out of her family’s radio.

It was a daily family ritual: She and her brothers and sisters getting dressed for school, her father getting ready for work in the nearby fields, and her mother preparing breakfast and the tacos the father would take with him for lunch.

Growing up, Arroyo’s childhood was filled with the clear sound of mariachi classics, such as “El son de la negra.”

“We always had a lot of music at home,” she said.

Then, during her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Arroyo joined a ballet folklorico troupe, where she further developed her love for mariachi music.

“That time promoted a sense of pride and love for my culture,” said Arroyo, a 58 year old retired elementary school teacher from Oceanside.

Marta Arroyo, author of “La Fiesta y El Mariachi.”

Arroyo was able to write down that love for mariachi music and folklore through her new bilingual children’s book, titled “La Fiesta y el Mariachi,” where she tells the story of Lupita, a young girl who attends a fiesta with her family where the mariachi band is playing.

“I’ve always had a great love for mariachi music,” said Arroyo, who retired last year from her teaching job at Jefferson Elementary School in Carlsbad. “This book represents that love for mariachi.”

“La Fiesta y el Mariachi” is written in simple, clear prose, and published with the English version next to the Spanish text. It includes beautiful color illustrations by Carlsbad art teacher and artist Marsha Hawes.

The book tells the story of a fiesta narrated through the eyes of young Lupita, a little girl who is proud of her Mexican heritage and who loves all things mariachi. The story gives clear descriptions of traditional Mexican clothing, including Lupita’s and her parents’. It also presents the typical charro outfit of mariachis. The basic instruments of mariachi are beautifully portrayed through Lupita’s words and through the outstanding illustrations.

The text is written for children six year olds and up, although younger children will love the colorful illustrations and the simple, but compelling story.

It’s perfect for elementary school children, like the ones Arroyo used to teach at Jefferson Elementary.

She presented the book to the Jefferson children in June, just before they left for Summer break, and “they loved it,” she said.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm,” Arroyo said. “I played mariachi songs while reading them the book, and some children would say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that song at home’ or ‘My dad likes that song.’ It was really encouraging.”

Arroyo has begun promoting the book at other schools in San Diego County, with the hopes that school districts and libraries will adopt it for their curricula.

“Marta Arroyo has passionately shared a part of the Mexican culture that is often not recognized in children’s storybooks,” writes Sandy Muñoz, a library media technician at Jefferson Elementary School. “This story is sure to spark further interest in the Mariachi, and it is also perfect for classrooms learning about the culture.”

“La Fiesta y el Mariachi,” which was published by BookSurge, is available through Amazon.com.

At that site, readers from different parts of the United States have written positive reviews of the book.

“La Fiesta y el Mariachi” is “a great story that connects with the heart of all children,” wrote Julio Gonzalez, from Santa Cruz, California.

But the book has not only attracted children; adults love it, too.

“This is a lovely story that takes me back to my childhood days in the Southwest,” wrote Adela Gonzalez, from Capitola, California. “It evokes pleasant memories of my visits to the marketplace with my family where delightful mariachi music filled my soul.”

B. Blanco, of Pueblo, Colorado, wrote that “The way the book is written, anyone can pick it up and start to learn Spanish. I hope the author continues writing and sharing her culture and memories with us.”

Arroyo said she will continue writing. She is already working on her second book, “Señora Tamales,” which will tell the story of how her mother used to cook the best tamales around town.

With the support of her husband, Juan, and her children and grandchildren, Arroyo said “La Fiesta y el Mariachi” represents a long-time dream of writing.

“It is a reason for self-pride,” she said. “It is my culture.”

To order a copy of “La Fiesta y el Mariachi,” visit www.amazon.com and do a search.

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