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So three kids went with Fogelquist to the Albuquerque mariachi conference in 1995. They came back and told everyone how great it was. The next year, after a rummage sale and a tamale sale and 35 carwashes, he took 27 kids. And the year after that, Fogelquist’s unknown group from a previously un-Mexican part of the Pacific Northwest did the impossible. They won.

“All these groups from Texas that had been playing for 10 or 15 years, they were shocked. Wenatchee? Where did these kids come from?”

Three years later, in 2000, the Mexican government awarded Fogelquist the Reconocimiento Ohtli for individuals contributing to the well-being of Mexicans abroad. Primer Impacto, a daily TV show, did a feature. So did Sábado Gigante.

In the next slide, it’s May of 2001, and Fogelquist is about to open, for the first time, the door of room 1204 at Chula Vista High. He and Ina have put the Wenatchee house up for sale because his mother, recently widowed and frail, needs him to be back in California, and he’s been hired by the Sweetwater School District to do what he did in Wenatchee. When he opens the door, he will find a room full of dirty engine blocks, old wheels, and transmissions. He has not yet been told by the school’s orchestra teacher, “If you take any of my students, I’ll break your legs,” but that’s next.

Fogelquist’s hand is on the doorknob, and a new generation of mariachi lovers is about to hold cracked guitars.

Diamond

Diamante Consuelo Cintrón, for example. She’s a vihuelera in the advanced performance class, which means she plays the small, high-pitched Mexican vihuela not just in room 1204 but on stage when Mariachi Chula Vista plays 150 paid gigs per year.

Diamante is long and thin, wears braces and glasses, a ponytail, the kind of jeans called skinny, and an expression of slightly amused gravity. She looks like a ballerina in disguise, and when she picks up a viheula, it’s clear she’s channeled all the en pointe into her narrow, nimble hands.

Of her introduction to mariachi six years ago, Diamante says, “I wanted to be in guitar class. It was full. And I said, ‘Well, what else has guitar in it? I want to learn how to play guitar.’ And they’re like, ‘We have a great mariachi program!’ and I was like, ‘What’s mariachi?’ and they’re like, ‘Don’t worry, they have guitar in there. You’re going to learn how to play it.’ So I signed up.”

The day she introduced herself to Fogelquist, Diamante used the name she offers all white people.

“When I walked into the class,” she says, “I saw — I know it’s bad, but I saw he was a Caucasian man, so I figured he wouldn’t be able to say my name correctly in Spanish. The usual teacher’s assumption of my name is ‘Duh-mant-ay,’ and I really do not like that at all. So I said, ‘Hi, my name is Diamante, but call me Diamond.’ And he just started laughing because I was pretty assertive. It turns out he speaks better Spanish than I do. He probably knows more Spanish than some Mexicans in this community.”

Diamante’s mother is of Mexican descent, born in Fresno, and her father is Puerto Rican, born in New York, she thinks, but she isn’t sure. “I haven’t talked to him in a while,” she says.

“He played congas,” — she pronounces it CONE-guhs, “and my grandfather played this weird thing from Puerto Rico — you, like, scratch it — and they used to get together, his side of the family, and jam out.”

Diamante’s older sister would dance, and Diamante learned salsa and the merengue, and later on, when her sister danced in the Ballet Folklorico class at Chula Vista High, Diamante paid no particular attention to the music. “I thought she looked pretty in that bright dress.”

Diamante’s sister graduated from Chula Vista High, but one brother dropped out two weeks before graduation, she says, and is now in prison. “He had a lot of theft,” she says, and got mixed up in drugs instead of the alternative she imagines for him: enrolling in the Chula Vista School for Creative and Performing Arts, the magnet program that offers, among many things, mariachi and Ballet Folklorico. “It has requirements,” she says. “You go to school and you have to do something productive. His friends went the wrong way, and he just followed.”

There was another brother, too. When Diamante puts on her long dark skirt with silver chains and buttons up the side and her gold moño and her embroidered jacket and sings “Amor de los Dos” to a room full of veterans or wedding guests, she’s singing, also, for one who would like to be there and isn’t, the young man with close-cropped hair feeding a baby in a photograph in her family’s apartment. That’s her oldest brother, Ricky, who was killed in a car accident at 24.

“We were going on a family trip to Mexico,” Diamante says. Diamante, who was nine then, her mother, her sister, and Ricky’s two children were passengers, and Ricky was driving. Everyone in the car survived except him.

“Since I was little, he always wanted me to sing, no matter what. So I guess mariachi was kind of like, ‘I get what I want,’” which was to play the guitar, “and he got what he wanted: I still sing.”

She sings and sings and sings, in fact. To finance the purchase of embroidered trajes, to pay for plane tickets to Guadalajara and Wenatchee and Washington DC, plus the microphones and the instruments and the sound system and the two vans that carry the band members all over the county, Mariachi Chula Vista plays as many as three times in a single weekend, for weddings, quinceañeras, birthday parties, school ceremonies, Catholic masses, beach festivals, and fundraising dinners. This can make it hard to do homework for AP English, AP History, and AP Music Theory, which Diamante took simultaneously last year, or Algebra II and Honors Rhetoric, which she’s taking this year, or to have a boyfriend, go to Homecoming, see movies, or sleep.

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Comments

obdan Feb. 9, 2011 @ 9:43 p.m.

Bravo! Thank you Reader, for printing such an amazing article. And thank you Laura McNeal, for writing it. What a beautiful and uplifting story. The vibrant enthusiasm, absolute dedication, and radiant spirit of everyone involved with this story rang out as loud and as clear as I can easily imagine does this groups music. I now hope to one day hear it as well.

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vquezada Feb. 10, 2011 @ 8 p.m.

excellent interview, and congrats for Mark for this great program, my family have been enjoying this mariachi for 10 years now and plan to continue to support them. this mariachi is number one in southern California.

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MikeA Feb. 15, 2011 @ 1:30 p.m.

That is the best story I've ever read in the Reader.

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