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'They feel represented': Woodburn band students celebrate heritage through mariachi

Student bandmembers represent multiple racial backgrounds, but all celebrate the music and culture of mariachi.

WOODBURN, Oregon — For more than 17 years, Woodburn High School has been offering students a mariachi band class — something few other high schools do. For Woodburn senior Aaron Espinoza, the opportunity is worth much more than the school credit it earns him; it's a way to celebrate his Mexican heritage through musical art.

“It feels amazing to be able to express the music that I grew up listening to,” said Espinoza, who plays the trumpet and sings. “We all have different cultures and backgrounds, we all come from different places and in the end, music brings us together. It's really nice that we can see people in the audience smile and they clap and they cheer and it's like wow, we did that.”

For junior bandmember Kimberly Herrera, mariachi is synonymous with family.

“I think it's very powerful for us to share that,” said Herrera, whose Hispanic culture is shared by many others in Woodburn. 

Even so, she said that doesn't mean they always feel seen.

“People in the Latino community, when they see us perform and see a high school mariachi, I feel like they feel represented,” said Herrera.

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Ten years ago, band director Nadia Maksimov was herself a Woodburn High School student playing mariachi.

“Music — you don't have to know the language, you don't have to know what they're singing about,” said Maksimov. “You can feel it and that's powerful.”

Many parents, including Aaron Espinoza’s mother, weren't sure their kids would embrace mariachi the way generations before them have.

“[Aaron’s] energy!” said Maria Espinoza “I'm so glad he's got that love for our Latino music ... I'm so proud of all of them.”

Woodburn’s mariachi band will perform in the lobby of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 15, ahead of A Very Merry Christmas Concert with Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernández 

Woodburn High School’s mariachi band performs at several community events throughout the year. For information on booking, you can email band director Nadia Maksimov at nmaksimov@woodburnsd.org.

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