CHICAGO — Daily mariachi lessons could become a reality for select Chicago public schools due to one man’s push to bring Mexican folk music into the classroom.
As a kid growing up in Brighton Park with non-English speaking parents, investment banker Cesar Maldonado said he had difficulties within the public school system.
“Growing up, I didn’t have my family participate in my school life that much just because of the language barrier. And a program like this allows students with Spanish-speaking families to get better access to the school,” he said.
Last summer, Maldonado, 29, founded the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit with the sole purpose of expanding mariachi music education in Chicago Public Schools.
His goal is to target public schools with heavy Hispanic populations — he currently has his sights set on Pilsen’s Benito Juarez and Orozco Academies, Gage Park’s Irene C. Hernandez Middle School and Back of the Yards High School, among others.
Schools would not be responsible for raising any funds for the program, according to CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman.
“We look forward to partnering with the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, as this will allow us to offer students further diverse experiences in music education, exposure to multicultural content, and access to a well-rounded arts experience that is essential to a high-quality, 21st century education,” Huffman said via email.
The program comes as many music teachers were laid off at several schools when more than 3,100 teachers and staff were let go earlier this year.
Still, several schools around the city already have extracurricular mariachi programs. But Maldonado said the full-time classes — which would take the place of an elective — give non-English-speaking parents a chance to more fully engage with their child’s school experience.
Orozco Academy already has a mariachi program, but it takes place after school, and Principal Nancy Paulette-Aguirre said there’s consistently a list of students waiting to get into the class.
“Each time you incorporate culture in extracurricular learning, the students are more engaged because they identify with whatever they’re learning,” Paulette-Aguirre said. “In this case, they are totally engaged because many of my students are from Mexico, so they value a lot how to play violin and being a part of the mariachi group."
By Maldonado’s estimate, mariachi instruments can cost upwards of $60,000 per school. Through a combination of private and public fundraising, he said he expects to support the full-time curriculum at two or three public schools every year, beginning in February.
The group will also hold a concert fundraiser at Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Sunday at 3 p.m. Featured artists include the “Queen of Ranchera” Aida Cuevas, Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernandez, and the Chicago-based Sones de México Ensemble and The Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago.
See the Harris Theater website for ticket information.