SAN JUAN — Sister Rose Garay said that at the heart of the Mariachi Concerts at the Basilica of Our Lady San Juan del Valle, there is one purpose: to open doors.
“Mariachi is loved by everyone, it draws people in,” Garay said, who had the idea of starting the annual concert nine years ago. “At this time of the year, we get a lot of Winter Texans to come to Mass.
“So we open our doors to them, no matter their religion, and we also open our doors to mariachi groups from across the Valley to play for them.”
Mariachi Concerts is a two-show series that started last Friday with groups from Roma, La Grulla and Sharyland. And Friday evening, Mariachi Juvenil Azteca of Edcouch-Elsa High School, Mariachi Los Lobos of Palmview High School, and Mariachi Aztlán of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley performed.
Garay, the shrine’s pilgrim outreach coordinator, smiled Friday as she saw Winter Texans laughing amongst each other as they were in line to buy their tickets for the show.
“Winter Texans, they tell me that our Hispanic students and youth have the gift of music, something they have never seen before,” she said. “And so I asked the directors what they do, how do they get their students to perform so well together.
“And the directors told me: ‘Sister, all I do is open the door for them. The students know what to do and how to use their talents, I just open the doors.’”
The Mission Parks and Recreation folklorico started the show, dancing at the steps of the altar and making their way down the church’s aisles. The clicks of heels and gritos of the students echoed across the full sanctuary. Attendees, a majority of whom were Winter Texans, clapped along and recorded the show on their phones, most likely to share with friends and family at home.
Mariachi Los Lobos were next to perform, and principal folklorico dancer Itzel Gomez, 17, was seen practicing in the hallway. Behind her was a sculpture of Santa Teresa de Ávila holding a rose.
“I feel really honored to be here, to be dancing in this church,” said Gomez, who started dancing folklorico in 6th grade. “I usually dance on a stage, but dancing here feels special. There is so much positive energy here and I want to soak everything up.”
Gomez said that her mom was born and raised in Nuevo Leon, and learned how to dance folklorico there. After moving to Mission and attending high school there, her mom continued to dance.
“So, dancing is a huge part of my life,” said Gomez, a senior at Palmview High School. “Dancing makes you feel like you are in a whole other reality, it’s a break from everything else that is happening.
“It’s also the way I carry the culture of my family.”
Rev. Oliver Angel of the basilica emphasized that the event is important because of how it melds culture and religion together.
“Religion should always be interconnected with culture, it should not be separated,” he said.
This was Beverly Stevenson’s first visit to the basilica. It was also her first time listening to mariachi music live.
“People tell me about how amazing the mariachi is here, and I have always wanted to go inside this building, so why not do two wonderful occasions at the same time?” Stevenson said.
The winter visitor from Iowa came to the concert with her mother, Pat Rhodman, who is also a Winter Texan. Rhodman has been coming to the Rio Grande Valley for 20 years, and this is her daughter’s fourth year here after retiring.
Stevenson said that what brings her here is the warmth of the area — of both the people and temperature.
“We love the weather here, and people are just so friendly and warm,” she said. “To have somebody open the door for you, you don’t get that so much in the northern states. But down here, what gentlemen and what sweet ladies, to open the doors for you.”