Hispanic Heritage Month: UH's Mariachi Pumas quickly leave an imprint in the Bayou City

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022
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The University of Houston has its own mariachi group where students learn the art and history of music from an award-winning performer and educator.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For more than a century, mariachi music has evolved and become popular around the world.

So much so, that you can find groups all over the United States and even Europe.

For the first time ever, the University of Houston has its own mariachi group where students learn the art and history of music.

Mariachi music is a genre that echoes throughout generational Mexican homes. It's a distinctive style of singing and unmistakable sound unlike any other heard around the world.

For the first time in its 90-plus years, the University of Houston has its very own mariachi ensemble under the direction of award-winning performer and educator Jose Longoria.

"Even if you don't understand the language, you can feel the music right because the mariachi is being transmitted what is being sung," Longoria said.

"I'm a third-generation mariachi," he said. "So it's something very special to me to pass on to the next generation."

For the last two decades, Longoria taught mariachi music at Houston ISD. Now at the collegiate level, he's honored to teach this traditional Mexican musical style.

For some, like Stephanie Horton, this is a new, unique experience.

"The style of playing, the style of singing was brand new to me," Horton said.

Other performers have been a part of mariachi groups for as long as they can remember.

"I started playing mariachi at Crocket Elementary," Nicolas Reyna said.

The Mariachi Pumas offer students like Reyna an opportunity to learn and perform music they and their parents grew up with, continuing Mexican traditions.

"It's very special and valuable to keep that history going because history can be easily forgotten," Reyna said.

For the last three years, Longoria has made it a point to make sure the rich history behind the music lives on, handing down his knowledge and passion one note at a time.

The Pumas are quickly leaving an imprint in our city, performing everywhere they're requested, from weddings and quinceañeras, to even the most intimate and heartbreaking moments in life.

"We've done funerals before, and those can get quite emotional," Reyna said.

Since the 1800s, mariachi music has been in the spotlight of the Mexican people's triumphs and struggles, so it's no surprise they're called upon to play at funerals.

"It's a performance of love for the community," Horton said. "A great way to bring people together to celebrate life."

To be a part of the University of Houston's Mariachi Pumas is to be a part of a close-knit family.

"This has been the highlight of my college experience, the highlight of my career right now," Horton said.

Longoria said they are just getting started and big plans are in store.

"Our next goal is maybe to travel abroad and perform," Longoria said. "We're ready to represent the University of Houston in other parts of the world to let them know what we are doing."

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