Mariachi For Gringos II, a book by Gil Sperry

by Maestro on March 24, 2011

in Mariachi, Special Report

Mariachi for Gringos II

Mariachi for Gringos II by Gil Sperry

Diversity is good, isn’t it? To me this seems self-evident, so I’m sometimes confused by the resentment I see from people who are afraid of their world changing around them. Maybe they’re just being protective. I suppose that’s understandable; it’s natural to fear what one does not know: “Take this, eat it, don’t ask me what it is, just eat it, you’ll like it, trust me.” Yeah, right. Ramp that up to a societal level, and sure, I understand the anxiety. When you grow up in a neighborhood where 90% of the people have your same skin color and everyone speaks your language, who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable being told they should learn Spanish if they want to shop at the farmer’s market on the corner? “Really? Why am I the one who has to learn their language? If they want to speak Spanish let them go to their own country!”

Okay, so I understand the anxiety over seeing your world change around you, and I even understand the fear that grows out of that anxiety, but I don’t feel the same resentment. I guess I’m just wired a little differently. I say, who wants to eat the same kind of food every day, or live where everyone looks more or less the same? Don’t you think it’s fun to listen to people converse in a language you don’t understand? All right, that eating-fried-grasshoppers-thing I could do without, but isn’t it cool that some people like to eat cactus, and don’t you love seeing little kids dressed in traditional clothing, singing and dancing? Witnessing more and more of this lately, from more and more countries, I am continually struck by the similarities: little kids proudly dressing up like people in pictures in books, fulfilling this rite of passage, and their parents tearing up over seeing the embodiment of their homeland in their children’s faces. Whether it’s baton twirlers tap dancing to Yankee Doodle Dandy dressed in red, white and blue, or children in sarapes and sombreros dancing El jarabe tapatío, the effect on the parents, the children, and their society is the same.

Mariachi For Gringos II

Mariachi For Gringos II

So where some see only differences, others find commonalities. And I would like to think there are many more people who are like me in this regard – in fact, I’m sure there are; the book you’re holding is a case in point. Like tacos and salsa, mariachi music has crossed the border in the best way, seeping into the fabric of countless Americans’ lives. Even Elvis Presley sang with mariachis in the movie Fun In Acapulco – in Spanish! – and the great Nat King Cole recorded three albums with mariachi in the 1950’s.

Then there’s Gil Sperry, who has been unlocking the secrets of mariachi for the American aficionado (i.e. “gringos”) since Mariachi For Gringos was published in 2006. And now, with Mariachi For Gringos II, Gil introduces the world to six Americans whose lives have been transformed by mariachi – and who are themselves transforming mariachi today. You’ll meet Cindy Shea, founder and director of the Grammy winning Mariachi Divas; Mark Folgelquist, arguably the best high school mariachi director in the country; Jonathan Clark, considered the foremost authority on the history of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán; Tim Pollard, aka “Timoteo, El Charro Negro” who has found his niche as the only African-American ranchera singer of great renown; child prodigy Maya Burns, born in the US, raised in Mexico, and equally at home singing in either language; as well as yours truly.

I bet that if you would have asked any of our parents when we were born, “do you think this child will grow up to be President of the United States or a mariachi?” they all would have said President of the US was more likely, but you never know what a person will encounter that will change their life. Which brings us back to diversity: Had there been less diversity in my high school growing up (had I gone to a different school), then I never would have studied music in college, I may never have overcome my stage fright, and my life would certainly be less rich. Each of the people featured in this book have similar stories, as you’ll read.

Now, you don’t have to become a life-long mariachi like us, or even an “out of your mind mariachi fanatic” like Gil. Our exposure to mariachi inspired us to become mariachi musicians, teachers, historians and composers, but who knows where this encounter with mariachi will take you? Even if you just gain a little more understanding and appreciation of mariachi – so you’ll know what songs to request, or want to attend a mariachi concert – that’s enough. Just as countless people in Mexico and the US will say they need mariachi in their lives, we mariachis need an audience! And to cultivate this audience in America, mariachi needs an advocate: someone to unlock the mysteries, illuminate the details, and tell the stories.

This is what Gil Sperry has done with Mariachi For Gringos I & II. These books, along with hundreds of Gil’s “Mariachi 101” presentations around the US, have opened thousands of eyes to the exciting world of mariachi, transforming casual interest into surefire enthusiasm. So sit back and enjoy the ride. Next stop: fried grasshoppers.

Jeff Nevin, Ph.D.

* Jeff Nevin is currently Chair of Performing Arts and Director of Mariachi Activities at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA, where he devised and is now offering the world’s first college degree in mariachi music. In 2008, he was named California Multicultural Music Educator of the Year. He is also Musical Director of Mariachi Champana Nevin and Mariachi Garibaldi.

** If you need more info on the Book or about the 2nd Annual Rosarito Beach International Mariachi & Folklorico Festival to be held at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, September 28th- through October 2nd, contact Gil Sperry, Official Goodwill Ambassador for Rosarito Beach and Teacher/Author via e-mail at: or via phone at (619) 887-9288, (619) 400-3292, or in Rosarito Mexico at (661) 614-0335

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam Jamieson Yarwood March 27, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Very nice introduction to Gil’s latest book! America needs more acceptance of diversity, and books like this will make steps toward that goal.


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Hosting August 29, 2017 at 10:44 am

In addition, a poll of the leading mariachi experts in both Mexico and the United States has produced a consensus ranked list of 50 More Requested Songs for you to use, sing, or play.


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