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Migrant education students from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties connected with their cultural heritage Saturday afternoon during a performance from Grammy award-winning mariachi band Los Camperos de Nati Cano at Guadalupe’s City Hall.

As part of Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara, the group traveled across the Central Coast in an effort to link migrant students with mariachi music, a central part of Mexican culture since the 19th century, with several performances in Santa Barbara and North County.

The migrant education students typically attend Saturday school, aside from their regular school week, nearly 25 weekends out of the month to ensure they are prepared for their future and adjusting well to their surroundings.

“Aside from STEM education, we try to always do some art, things that they consider fun,” said Maria Garcia-Cacique, director of Migrant Education for the Santa Barbara County Education Office. “Many are familiar with mariachi but not in an academic way.”

Garcia-Cacique described the students’ morning as learning about mariachi history through reading and writing.

“Music is another subject students need to learn,” she said.

The students, who came from as far as Shandon and San Miguel, came up with a multitude of questions for the performers, including one that asked, “What did your parents say when you told them you wanted to sing?” 

Los Camperos answered the student’s questions in Spanish and engaged them in several call-and-repeats in between songs. The members of the group explained that in anything they wish to do, success takes much practice, recalling the times they have spent learning and perfecting their knowledge of and ability to play mariachi.

Their message was that academics are just as important as pursuing passions and art, and that often times they can intermix.

“They’re telling kids how they got there,” said Cathy Oliverson, director of education for UCSB’s Arts and Lectures department.

“They’re cultural role models, and adults who have worked hard to get somewhere,” Oliverson added. “Kids have the opportunity to hear art and music as a way to express themselves. It gives them culture and it gives them a voice.”

The childrens' faces were visibly fixated on the performers, who played instruments including the harp, trumpets, violins and guitars to upbeat mariachi songs.

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Garcia-Cacique pointed out that not every student has just migrated from Mexico, and that some of them have migrant lifestyles and need extra education and cultural experiences.

“This is creating awareness of themselves and others,” Garcia-Cacique said. “All cultures have traditions and art. It’s something that makes them who they are and gives them a sense of identity.”

Los Camperos has existed for over 50 years, during that span earning two Grammy awards. Most recently, their fifth CD, titled, “Tradicion, Arte y Pasion,” was released, hinting at the spirit of the “golden age” of mariachi music dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Mariachi music, recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage in 2011, has been widespread throughout the world since it originated in Mexico in the 19th century. Jesus Guzman, music director of Los Camperos, said he knows of mariachi players in countries like Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia and Venezuela.

In addition to Guadalupe, Los Camperos also visited Juvenile Hall in Santa Maria Saturday afternoon to play mariachi music for youth in an effort to tie them to their roots and remind them that with hard work, they can create opportunities for themselves.

Krista Chandler covers education in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast News. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KristasBeat.