Story and photography by Sam Raetz
In a profession historically reserved for machismo and facial hair, one mariachi band has become a trailblazer for the next generation of female musicians who envision themselves on stage. Purists in sound and style, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles takes great pride in the traditions of their culture. Reyna (translated in English, Queen) is the first all-female Mariachi band formed in the United States. From playing for President Obama at the White House to being nominated for a GRAMMY in 2009, these twelve women continue to influence history together.
Brisa Bergeron – the youngest member of Reyna – grew up listening to the very band she now calls a family. “We give girls the opportunity to learn from other women. Growing up, I was confused about why I didn’t see women in mariachi bands until I was introduced to Reyna.”
Since the group’s inception in 1994, members have come and gone, but the quality of their product remains unchanged. Women aged across the decades come together to travel the country, sharing traditional Mexican folk music. Julie Murillo, the leader of the group, states that she worked in predominantly male groups prior to joining the Mariachi Queens. “Reyna feels like a sisterhood. Like a family.”
And family it is. Sisters, and violinists, Sylvia Hinojosa and Laura Peña share the front row together each time the group takes the stage. Sylvia, the last remaining original member of the band, first picked up a violin at age 10 when her father and grandfather taught her to play by ear. As older sisters do, Sylvia fostered Laura’s development as a violinist and inspired her formation to the musician she is today. “I was extremely fortunate to have had a female mariachi figure in my life from a young age — my sister Sylvia.”
Reyna’s success stems from their rare combination of talent, work ethic, and perseverance. The Mariachi Queens on-stage performance is infectious; it’s clear they love the work that they do.
Mariachi music, specifically for Mexicans and Mexican Americans, is more than blazing violins and trumpets though. It’s a cultural symbol that is a part of who they are and who their ancestors were. Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles is a group of musicians that interweaves effort to keep tradition and standard of the past alive while opening the door for the next generation of las reynas.