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Mariachi connects musician with her roots (video)

By Carolina Astrain
April 20, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 19, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.

Miguel Gonzalez steps forward to perform the vocals for a number with the mariachi group Los Serpientes de Oro during a quinceanera at the Victoria Community Center in April. The band, which started as an after-school program at Patti Welder Middle School, has a range of members from high school and college students to high school teachers such as Gonzalez.

Jose Macias sips from a carton of Jumex mango juice before starting practice.

The 18-year-old has been with Los Serpientes de Oro, a Victoria school district mariachi group, since he was 16 years old.

Next to him in the group's usual rehearsal room stands Marisella Pulido, 19, in a black and yellow mariachi outfit.

Pulido has been singing mariachi since she joined Las Panteras Junior Varsity mariachi group about eight years ago.

The group's mariachi director, Robert Rodriguez, 66, and VISD graphic design teacher Miguel Gonzalez, 42, tuned their instruments, ready to play a song.

Las Panteras was started in 2005 by Rodriguez, who had taught a similar program at the high-school level since 2000.

The middle school program ended in 2009, and ever since, Rodriguez said he's longed to figure out a way to get his future mariachi students some experience before high school.

"Now that we don't have kids coming out of the junior high program, it's harder to teach them as fast," Rodriguez said. "The groups were much stronger and much more mature because they had a longer time to learn."

Pulido and Isabella Muzquiz, 18, a senior at Liberty Academy, are some of the group's longest, active members.

"These guys have been making region (competition) since they were in junior high," Rodriguez said. "For the last eight years, I've had the best female vocalists in region because of that."

In February, the group opened for Las Campanas de America, a prestigious group based in San Antonio.

Pulido said she remembers playing a funeral for a prominent area family.

"It was outside, and everybody was crying," Pulido said. "It was hard to fight back the tears."

And since she started playing professional gigs, her family - especially the elders - expects her to sing at almost every family event.

"It's been cool being able to connect with the older members of my family on another level that the other grandkids can't," Pulido said. "Being a mariachi has opened a lot of doors."

She even played at her own quinceanera.

When Pulido first joined in sixth grade, Spanish was not her forte.

Even as a Mexican-American with relatives who speak the language, Pulido knew she was going to need some help understanding the words.

She went to her grandmother, Nelida Pulido, whenever she'd get lost in the translation.

Her grandmother died Thanksgiving Day 2008, but Pulido has kept her memory alive.

Pulido purchased a miniature pig and named it Nellie, after her grandmother, this past December.

"I've always wanted one since I can remember," Pulido said.

Other things are present to remind her of her grandmother. In her hand, she shakes a snow globe with a red cardinal inside - her grandmother's favorite bird.

On her left leg, Pulido has another cardinal tattooed to her ankle.

Her boyfriend bought her the globe as an anniversary present and homage to Pulido's deceased mentor.

"We were always connected with each other over time," Pulido said. "It's always been me and her."



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