As the youngest member of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, Mexico's legendary mariachi ensemble, Steven Sandoval is an ardent fan of Texas A&M International University Mariachi Interncional students because they've decided to keep one of Mexico's oldest music forms alive.
Sandoval, 31, was himself apprehensive to learn at first, when his musician father pulled him by the ears to begin violin practice at age 16 in Mexico City.
"At that age, you want to be having fun with your friends and not going for a practice," he said smiling.
But thanks to his father's insistence, Sandoval is today a cultural ambassador of Mexico, trotting the globe with a group of veteran musicians who give concerts at packed coliseums to deliver the heart and soul of their country through songs like "La negra," "El carretero", "El tren", and "Fiesta en el corazón".
Sandoval and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán will be in Laredo for the first time April 26 in a concert at the Laredo Entertainment Center benefitting TAMIU students. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. and the public will have an opportunity to know in-depth the group that sealed its name in history with appearances along Mexico's artistic powerhouses like Lola Beltrán, Pedro Infante, José Alfredo Jiménez and Miguel Aceves Mejía.
Mariachi Vargas' appearance comes through a generous partnership by sponsors Sames Motor Company, Ford Motor Credit, Ford Salute to Education, the Laredo Entertainment Center and TAMIU.
Proceeds from ticket sales benefit student scholarships. Tickets are $10, $15 and $25 and can be obtained at the Laredo Entertainment Center's box office or at ticketmaster.com.
The concert caps off the University's two-day Fiesta de Mariachi, an annual mariachi competition scheduled at TAMIU April 25-26. The Fiesta de Mariachi, which includes mariachi workshops and a competition, is expected to draw 20 high schools and 10 middle schools from throughout Texas and the nation.
Sandoval said the ensemble is excited to visit the Gateway City and meet Laredo fans, as well as future mariachi musicians who are in middle, high school and college.
"We feel very excited," he said, "Wherever we go, people treat us so well and we cannot wait to start the show."
Sandoval, who served as one of the judges at the Mariachi Extravaganza in San Antonio in November, said he admires young mariachi artists such as Mariachi Internacional for preserving Mexico's culture and tradition.
"I'm in awe because in Mexico, you don't see the degree of support that schools here get to maintain a mariachi group," he said, "I think some schools in the United States even have a class in mariachi built into their curricula. I think it's very important to continue this tradition because it is a part of our roots. We have the responsibility to pass this on to new generations."
But perhaps Sandoval's biggest admirer is his father, a mariachi musician whom Sandoval surprised when he was chosen from countless musicians to join the elite 12-member Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
"My father, who was traveling to Puerto Rico for his group's performance, didn't know that I had been chosen to be a part of Mariachi Vargas, much less, that I was coming to visit him there on my own business trip," Sandoval explained. "When I got to the place my father was working, he was playing the trumpet as usual and I covered his eyes from behind with my hands. When he finally saw me with five other members of Mariachi Vargas, he put two and two together and congratulated me with the tightest hug."
Sandoval said his exposure to Mariachi Vargas began when he was a child.
"Even since I was a kid, my father would take me to a place in Guadalajara called El Troje, a usual venue for Mariachi Vargas," Sandoval said, "Back then, I was so shy I didn't even have the courage to say hello to them. Every time I would see them, I would leave wondering, 'Would I ever be good enough to play with them?'"
But today, Sandoval has grasped his long-cherished dream and when he arrives in Laredo, will take the stage with a mariachi group that encourages others to realize their dreams.
For further information on the Mariachi Vargas concert, please contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at 326-2180, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org visit offices located in the Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library, room 268.
Spring semester office hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.