Need an Entertaining Reminder of the Beauty of Mexican-American Culture? Watch “Going Varsity in Mariachi”

woman wearing a mariachi suit stands in front of a microphone facing an audience
Photo Courtesy of Osmosis Films

The delightfully entertaining documentary ”Going Varsity in Mariachi,” which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, follows Edinburg North High School's “Mariachi Oro” ensemble as they compete against other South Texas schools for the state championship. The film, directed by Mexican American directors Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn, among other things, highlights the importance of music education and the cultural significance of mariachi music.

The film has been praised for showing the cultural and personal growth of the students as opposed to the often-used main vantage point of the teacher, and for showing the art form of mariachi music as more than a "Mexican restaurant novelty."

There is a significant body of research that suggests that music education in high school can improve a variety of sociological outcomes for students. Some studies have found that students who participate in music programs have higher graduation rates, improved cognitive development, and better academic performance in subjects such as math and science.

As reported to Latino Rebels, director Alejandra Vasquez said they wanted to show “how important the fine arts are and how important fine arts education is.”

A large body of research affirms this very important point that the film makes. One study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that high school students who participated in music programs had a significantly higher graduation rate than those who did not participate in the programs. Another study published in the journal Social Science Research found that students who participated in music programs had higher reading and math scores than their non-musician peers.

Improved educational and social outcomes aren’t the only benefits that Mariachi programs provide.

As funding for the programs continues to grow across the U.S., there’s also a growing body of research that suggests that mariachi programs in high school can have a positive impact on sociological outcomes, specifically for Latino students.

A study published by the University of Arizona found that Latino students who participated in mariachi programs had higher levels of cultural identity and pride than those who did not participate in mariachi programs. Another study published in the Journal of Music Education Research found that Latino students who participated in mariachi programs had better social skills and were more likely to participate in other extracurricular activities than their non-mariachi peers.

The research also goes on to affirm that the programs help contribute to a sense of community among students and a sense of belonging, which positively impacts the students' mental and emotional health.

At a time when too much of the mainstream media reports on Mexican-American culture through negative stereotypes and uninformed viewpoints, Mariachi programs are an important way for high school education to provide a way for students to connect with their cultural heritage and develop a sense of pride in their identity.

One of Vasquez’s hopes for the film is that Mexican-American viewers “...see themselves in these kids. I hope that they see the value in the music and… feel seen.”

By providing a space for Latino students to connect with their culture through music and form a sense of community, mariachi clubs can have a positive and lasting impact on their development and well-being.

And maybe, just maybe, add to the growing number of mainstream films that showcase the overwhelming way in which Mexican-American culture is an integral part of what makes America great.

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