A whirlwind is how Erika Soveranes described it.
A normal work week was proceeding at Brownsville Lopez High School where she works as a music program director. Mid-week, a call came in from Arlington, Texas. Mexican boxing hero Canelo Alvarez had a huge fight on tap at AT&T Stadium.
Would the Mariachi Margaritas – an all-women group of which Soveranes is a member – be willing to sing behind legendary Mexican singer Pedro Aguilar as the boxer made his grand entrance for the May 8 fight?
Yes, was the quick answer from Karina Vela, the Margaritas’ leader. A charter bus was rushed to pick up the Cameron County-based group. After a quick rehearsal, and then in a flash, it was on, a fight with more than 73,000 fans in attendance.
Realizing A Dream
“We got on stage in front of all of those people at that huge stadium, looked at each other, and it was like, ‘What the heck? Is this really happening?'” Soveranes recalled thinking.
There was no time for stage fright, not that the accomplished women musicians would have any. Still, they found themselves in the midst of a Hollywood-like production that immediately preceded the Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders fight. It was the biggest sporting event in the United States in the immediate post-pandemic era.
Eleven women from Brownsville, San Benito and Harlingen who share a love for mariachi music made some history of their own. Aguilar is among Mexico’s biggest entertainment names. He chose an all-women group from the Rio Grande Valley to accompany him in the biggest of venues. It was a huge statement that mariachi music isn’t just for men to sing and play.
“It just shows all the girls and women out there that if you keep pursuing your dream, it will happen,” said Virginia Reney, an orchestra director at Harlingen High School and a member of the Margaritas.
Soveranes concurred with her colleague on the significance of not only a Valley mariachi group being chosen for such a huge event, but the one picked is made up entirely of women.
“We knew this was special because the Aguilar family could have chosen any mariachi group from anywhere, and they chose us, an all-female cast,” Soveranes said. “It’s pretty historic in our world.”
Making Their Mark
Vela wasn’t looking to make history when she began Mariachi Margaritas.
“I wanted to do something different,” said Vela, a music educator at an area school district. “It was difficult at the beginning with customers when they found out we were an all-female group. They would say, ‘Oh, OK, let me get back to you.'”
Vela estimates there are 20 active mariachi groups in the Valley, with only three being all women. The beginnings of mariachi music go back to the 19th century. Its origins have roots in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The imagery of men in big hats with guitars and guitarrons is well-grounded in the traditions of mariachis.
Mariachi music celebrates the struggles, joys and milestones of life in the Hispanic community. Events like baptisms, weddings, holidays and even funerals are sometimes not complete without a mariachi group playing and singing the Mexican classics in boisterous fashion.
“There was a perception that women wouldn’t be able to sound as loud and big as an all-male group,” Vela said.
It didn’t deter Mariachi Margaritas as they played in a slew of events around the Valley. Mother’s Day, birthdays, graduations and retirements are just to name a few. The Margaritas got a big break in recent years when Angela Aguilar, the teenage daughter of Pepe, chose the Margaritas to play for her during the Texas part of a national tour.
It was that connection and Angela’s favorable impression of the Margaritas that led to the Canelo boxing mega-event at AT&T Stadium in early May. What would have been unthinkable even five years ago became reality. Eleven women musicians from the Valley played for Pepe and his daughter in front of a huge crowd in Arlington and for an audience around the world.
“It just goes to show how things are changing,” said Avi Gonzalez, a member of the Margaritas. “It shows that female mariachis can be at big events and perform as well as men.”
Life has changed for the Margaritas since the Canelo fight.
“We’re getting calls left and right,” said Vela of how the group’s business is growing. “When we play somewhere, customers come up to us and say how proud they are of us.”
Reney said she was recently recognized at a doctor’s office in Harlingen and asked to take photos with boxing fans who saw the Canelo fight. They recalled how wonderful the Margaritas sounded at the event.
The day after the Canelo fight and its 73,000 fans was Mother’s Day. Back in the Valley, the Margaritas played from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. for women in backyards and driveways.
“It just shows how versatile and humble our group is,” Soveranes said. “It’s just as special to do these personal and smaller gatherings as it is playing in front of a lot of people. We’re playing the music we love.”