May 30, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Somewhere over the “Arcoiris”

Members of the world’s first LGBTQ+ mariachi, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, share their story of struggle, success and ambition.

By Jorge Paniagua

Carlos Samaniego, the founder and director of the world’s first LGBTQ+ mariachi, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, still remembers the first same-sex wedding that the musical ensemble performed for when they regrouped in 2014.

Samaniego took out an ad in Adelante, a Latinx LGBTQ+ magazine. His goal was to garner attention for his newly reformed band, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles. The mariachi’s origin dates back to the year 2000; however, the band’s first onset didn’t last more than eight months, Samaniego said.

Samaniego and his best friend Natalia Melendez — the first transgender woman mariachi in the history of mariachi music — were passionate, albeit skeptical, about the mariachi’s reiteration taking place 13 years after its original induction in the early ‘00s.

Shortly after the ad was published, Samaniego received a call from a man who couldn’t believe that an LGBTQ+ mariachi existed.

“He said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this,” Samaniego said. “That’s it — I don’t know what you guys sound like but I want to hire you for my wedding.”

Photos: Jorge Paniagua.
Members of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles play together during their rehearsal.

The man from the phone call had been struggling to find a mariachi ensemble to perform at his upcoming wedding. He, a gay Mexican man, was going to marry his American partner and thought a mariachi performance would be perfect for his special day.

According to Samaniego, the man told him, “It’s been very stressful for me to hire a mariachi because I don’t know how the mariachi is going to feel playing at my wedding,” Samaniego said. “I don’t know if they’re going to feel uncomfortable or how they’re going to feel. Now that I know that you guys exist, I want you there.”

After agreeing to play at the man’s wedding, Samaniego felt saddened by the exchange he had with the engaged member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Straight couples never have to think about [whether] the mariachi is going to feel comfortable at [their] wedding,” Samaniego said. “What the hell is that, you know? That never crosses their mind. That doesn’t even come to play — yet it does for same-sex couples.”

Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles wants the LGBTQ+ community to know that it stands with them, completely. However, members of the musical performance also want their heterosexual mariachi counterparts to recognize that they’re a musical force to be reckoned with.

“We don’t bite unless they want us to,” Samaniego said. “We are human, like they are. We’re performing the same music as they are. Just because some of my guy [musicians] may be really feminine, or my girl [musicians] may be more masculine, or I have the first transgender woman in mariachi, doesn’t mean that we are any less of musicians then they are.”

The mariachi has come a long way since it got back together in 2014. Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles — simply referred to as “Arcoiris” by its 11 members — originally formed at Cal State Los Angeles while Samaniego was a student there. The mariachi first played at an on-campus mock same-sex wedding, organized by members of the university’s LGBTQ+ student body, in protest of same-sex marriage being illegal in California at the time.

However, that version of the mariachi struggled to reach the heights that the current version of Arcoiris enjoys, Samaniego said.

“Back then, I was really young,” he said. “I was really inexperienced as a director. I was getting my degree in music. I had a lot of growing up to do, a lot of learning. So, the mariachi did not last long — it didn’t last a year, maybe seven or eight months.”

Pablo Juarez Jr (pictured left), Mayra Martinez (center) and Leondro Orozco (right) all play similar looking instruments; however, each one creates a distinct sound.

Following the first group’s disintegration, Samaniego traveled the world — residing in places like Italy and New York. Furthermore, he continued his work as a musician in an array of mariachi groups; however, each group he played in was comprised of mainly straight musicians. Although he felt impassioned about playing mariachi music, he did face constant discrimination for being an openly gay mariachi in several of these bands.

Aside from the rampant anti-LGBTQ+ remarks made by his fellow straight mariachis, Samaniego felt uncomfortable in the hyper-masculine environment created by these people. For example, Samaniego disliked the fact that he wasn’t able to serenade a same-sex member of the audience. After all, his musical passion was centered on playing Mexican folk-style music — a genre which heavily features themes of love, conquest and romance.

However, now Samaniego and his fellow bandmates are able to freely serenade who they please at any of their performances.

“Before Arcoiris came along, you never saw a man singing to another man on a serious level or a woman singing to another woman on a serious level,” Natalia Melendez said.

“I feel, being LGBTQ+, when you can experience that engagement, watching an artist do their thing on stage, and it touches you and their singing to you, there’s something personal — there’s something very, very special about that,” Melendez said. “We give that to our public, especially to our gay community, we give that to them to let them know that, hey you can have a man sing to you — real macho and real strong and real beautifully — and you can have a woman sing to you. In the beginning, that was unheard of — people shied away from that.”

Melendez, who was apart of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles’ first rendition in the early ‘00s, began playing mariachi-style music at the age of eight. 30 years later, she feels as though she’s reached a prime in her career as a musician.

Leondro Orozco plays his guitar and sings a medley during the mariachi rehearsal.

“I feel a great deal of responsibility,” Melendez said. “I’m quite honored, I’m quite proud of who I am and what I stand for.”

Although Arcoiris is the world’s first – and only – completely LGBTQ+ mariachi, members of the band hope that won’t be the case for long. Both Samaniego and Melendez, who have been best friends for years, encourage other LGBTQ+ musicians to either band together and create their own LGBTQ+ musical collective or join Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, if they’re up for the challenge.

“Transmen and transwomen — I encourage all of them to do it,” Melendez said. “Whether they want to perform with us, whether they just want to be an artist, singer, I am behind them 100 percent. I welcome them to our group if they ever want to venture out like that. I would love to share the stage with my fellow transwomen.”

Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles has seen a great deal of success in the last year. They released their first full-length record, titled “Los Arcoiris.” They headlined the 2018 “El Grito” festival in Grand Park — an annual event which showcases some of the most-talented mariachi groups ever. Their upcoming plans, for this month, include playing at the American Embassy in Madrid, Spain and celebrating Long Beach Pride by performing a three-hour set during one of Hotel Maya’s “12 Months of Maya-Achis” events on May 19 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We uphold that not only does Arcoiris stand for a safe place but we also stand for the best for the best,” Melendez said. “That’s what we want to put out there.”

Related Posts

(Video) Dayglow Coffee Opens New Location in Larchmont

May 29, 2024

May 29, 2024

The specialty coffee shop that serves premium coffee as drip or hand brew coffee, canned cold brew and espresso drinks....

Join Chef Rashida Holmes for a One-Night-Only Caribbean Feast at Connie & Ted’s

May 28, 2024

May 28, 2024

Six-Course Culinary Collaboration Highlighting Afro-Caribbean Flavors on May 30 As summer approaches, Angelenos are invited to a unique culinary event...

Thousands of UAW Members Join Strike at UCLA and UC Davis Over Unfair Labor Practices

May 28, 2024

May 28, 2024

Union Demand UC Respect Free Speech Rights and Provide Safe Work Environments Thousands of UAW Local 4811 members at UCLA...

Murder Charge Added in Venice Canals Assault Case After Victim’s Death

May 28, 2024

May 28, 2024

Anthony Jones Now Faces Life Sentence Without Possibility of Parole  Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced today that...

Celebrate National Burger Day with Free Burgers and Special Deals on May 28

May 27, 2024

May 27, 2024

From Arby’s to Wendy’s, Find out Where to Score the Best Burger Deals As National Burger Day approaches on May...

Pultizer Prize Winning Rapper Signs Deal To Purchase Pricey Brentwood Estate

May 27, 2024

May 27, 2024

Deal Would Be One of the Biggest Real Estate Sales in 2024  Pulitzer Prize winning rapper Kendrick Lamar has agreed...

SaMo Pride to Illuminate Santa Monica with June Celebrations for the Whole Family

May 27, 2024

May 27, 2024

Drag Queen Storytime, Musical Performances to Honor LGBTQ+ Community The annual SaMo Pride celebration is set to paint the city...

Measles Case Reported in Traveler at LAX: Health Officials Issue Exposure Warning

May 27, 2024

May 27, 2024

Fourth Infectious Case of Measles in Los Angeles This Year, Third at LAX The Los Angeles County Department of Public...

West Hollywood’s Arts and Culture Industry Generates $12.4 Million in 2022

May 24, 2024

May 24, 2024

Industry Supports 248 Jobs and Contributes $3.4 Million in Tax Revenue The nonprofit arts and culture sector in West Hollywood...

UCLA Police Make First Arrest in Attack on Palestine Solidarity Encampment

May 24, 2024

May 24, 2024

18-year-old Charged With Assault with a Deadly Weapon; Bail Set at $30,000 By Dolores Quintana After three weeks, the University...

UAW Local 4811 Calls for Strike at UCLA and UC Davis Over Unresolved Labor Practices

May 24, 2024

May 24, 2024

UCLA Administration Calls in Riot Police Over Brief Establishment of Second Encampment The Executive Board of UAW Local 4811 called...

Woman Charged After High-Speed Pursuit, Multi-Vehicle Crash on 405 Freeway

May 23, 2024

May 23, 2024

Preliminary hearing set for June 20, Suspect Faces Multiple Charges Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that a...

UCLA Police Chief Reassigned After Assault on Palestine Solidarity Encampment

May 22, 2024

May 22, 2024

Acting Chief Named as John Thomas Reassigned to Other Duties on Monday By Dolores Quintana In the aftermath of the...

(Video) The Long Awaited Opening of @Something About Her. The line was down the block for most of the day. Huge success

May 22, 2024

May 22, 2024

If you look closely you can see the owners in the video, who were so very gracious and genuine to...