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'If I could have, I would have hugged them': Family surprises Portland woman with Mariachi Band

Erica Perez's birthday was on Cinco de Mayo. After a canceled 50th birthday party, her husband surprised her with something even more memorable.

PORTLAND, Ore. — These past months of social distancing have led to a lot of cancelled celebrations. But from those cancellations have come stories of how loved ones made those occasions even more memorable.

For Erica Perez of Northeast Portland, her big celebration was to center on her 50th birthday—Cinco de Mayo. A birthday befitting Perez’s love for her Mexican heritage and traditions. As a child growing up in Pasadena, her family would always have pinatas on her birthday and eat out at Mexican restaurants with special music.

“We'd all hail the Mariachi over to come sing for me and it was such a special momentous experience,” recalled Perez. “That's very close to my heart.”

Perez, a public relations specialist, spent months planning a special celebration for her 50th birthday.

“It was going to be the epic birthday party of all birthday parties and then COVID-19 hit.”

There are many things to complain about during a global pandemic, but Perez decided a canceled birthday party was not one of them.

“I just thought, we’ll just celebrate when COVID is over,” said Perez. “I expected nothing, I wanted nothing.”

Perez’s husband of 18 years, Scott Igl, had different plans.

“I'm grateful to him eternally,” said Perez. 

Igl ordered traditional floral crowns for Perez and their 13-year-old daughter, Monica. He adorned their backyard with Perez’s pinatas and invited three friends to celebrate with their family at a safe social distance.

“I thought, ‘This is a great treat, I'm happy to have this, I'm lucky to have this.’”

Perez said her husband told her their 16-year-old son Anthony was going to play Happy Birthday for her on his saxophone, but then came a surprise.

“I hear guitar and singing and in walks in this authentic, beautiful, Mariachi band of four players, and I just lost it!” said Perez. “I was shaking and tears were streaming down my eyes and I just couldn't imagine that this was happening for me.”

The gentlemen had driven up from Salem and played songs Perez’s mother used to request at her childhood parties.  

“If I could have, I would have hugged them the entire time,” she said of the band.

None of it was part of Perez’s original birthday plans, and that led to a special moment of reflection.

“As a Type A person who is dialed into controlling everything,” said Perez, “the transformation for me was learning that controlling nothing was a blessing.”

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