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LGBTQ + mariachi band is trying to broaden acceptance on Cinco de Mayo

As a gay mariachi musician, Carlos Samaniego grew tired of the discrimination and harassment of other mariachi in the macho world of the Mexican folk genre.

So he formed his own group, still focused on the music, but with a full LGBTQ + line-up. Thus, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles was born, billed as the first LGBTQ + mariachi band, to play three gigs in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday on the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo as part of an acceptance campaign promoted by a Mexican beer company. 

Samaniego, who studied classical singing and violin, said he formed the band’s first iteration with gay men 20 years ago, and got an early boost from performances at a gay Latino cowboy nightclub. The band faded, and as Samaniego continued his mariachi career, machismo became overbearing.

He started over in 2014 and formed a more diverse group. The 10 members identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual and pansexual, Samaniego said.

“I wanted to create an environment for musicians like me where we can be free, and we can just be who we are authentically and perform our music without worrying about the bullying,” said Samaniego.

Samaniego said he sometimes sees resistance from hardcore mariachi fans, especially when playing at weddings. Older relatives coming from Mexico are often shocked, but will drop by as soon as the music starts, he said.

Natalia Melendez, a transgender violinist and singer, said she often heard from queer and Latino musicians who see her as an inspiration. “When I switched, I didn’t know I would be a mainstay for others,” said Melendez.

“I feel like I have to take responsibility. I owe it to my community and to show the world that we are to be respected. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, edited by Rosalba O’Brien)