The sweet strains of mariachi music could be heard throughout the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina recently as the 9th Annual Sweetwater Mariachi Foundation Gala got underway. More than 400 guests filled the San Diego Ballroom to hear student and professional mariachi groups, watch Sweetwater District ballet folklórico dancers and applaud this year’s crop of scholarship winners from throughout the South Bay.
In their decade-old history, the foundation has given away more than $70,000 in scholarship funds to deserving artists from the Sweetwater District. These musicians and dancers are part of a cultural movement that is drawing hundreds of students each year to pick up instruments for the first time and embrace the rich heritage that permeates the South Bay community. Many of these students find that participating in this groundbreaking program has helped them to stay in school and excel, and gives them the inspiration they need to continue their musical studies in college.
The gala helps to raise funds for just that purpose. And helping that cause was the first-ever silent auction, held before the dinner and program got underway. With community and district staff donations going to the highest bidders, an additional $1,550 was raised for future graduates.
At this year’s event, 22 young artists received scholarships ranging from $375 to $1,500 to further their mariachi educations:
• Castle Part High School’s Giselle Vallejo
• Chula Vista High School’s Jorge Geraldo, Alicia Guerrero, Grecia Lima, Samuel Marchan, Jessica Navarro and Linda Uhila
• Mar Vista High School’s Christopher Gomez, Melissa Paloma and Cinthya Paredes
• Montgomery High School’s Carlos Cardenas
• Montgomery Middle School’s Angela Pate
• Southwest High School’s Ivan Espejo
• Southwest Middle School’s Karina Esparza
• Sweetwater High School’s Sabrina Navarro; Steele Canyon High School’s Jesus Seja and David Seja
• Maric College’s Citlali Villalobos
• Southwestern College’s Ana Figueroa, Magdalena Loza Flores, Rocio Machuca-Marquez and Isabela Raygoza
“These students are the best at their craft,” lauded Mariachi Scholarship Foundation President Robert Griego. “And they get to learn from the bestour mariachi and ballet folklórico instructors are experts in their field.”
After the winners had received their scholarships, the entertainment resumed. Mariachi groups from National City Middle, Otay Ranch High, Rancho del Rey Middle and San Ysidro High performed for the crowd, and ballet folklórico groups from Otay Ranch High and San Ysidro High joined in as well.
The Sweetwater District has long considered its mariachi program a crowing jewel, connecting students with school and with the local culture. Sweetwater Board of Trustees President Jim Cartmill is one of the program’s biggest supporters.
“We enjoy a unique blend of academics and culture at Sweetwater,” Cartmill commented. “Where else can you find the top Academic Decathlon, Academic League, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students rubbing elbows with beautifully costumed mariachi musicians?”
The grand finale of the evening was the performance by the Mariachi Divas, an all-female group based in Los Angeles that had attendees out of their seats and on the dance floor. Student performers used the opportunity to watch these polished professionals in their elementand take notes for their futures in the genre as well.