Mariachi Huenachi on Capitol Hill
The month of October is National Hispanic Heritage Month. Mariachi Huenachi from Wenatchee High School was invited to perform in Washington, D.C., for the members of United States Congress. What an honor for my program and also an honor for our small rural town of Wenatchee, WA!
This was one of the biggest things to happen to our town. As a music teacher, I look for those big opportunities for my program. I was able to meet with my U.S. congressman, who has been a big supporter of my mariachi music program. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) has visited my classroom at least once a year for the past four years. It has been our program’s dream to go to Washington, D.C. So the plans began.
Tuesday, October 11th, is a day I will never forget. This was the day my students, my principal, and my parents went to Washington, D.C. I met with my principal the day before to make sure everything was set; he told me that he was going to do something special for the WHS Mariachi program. Mr. Anderson, the Wenatchee High School principal, told me, “I will have all students and all staff be dismissed at 2:55 and be in the hallway on Tuesday. The Wenatchee High School marching band and the cheerleaders will lead Mariachi Huenachi to the bus for Washington, D.C.” This was a big surprise for me because we are the first non-athletic team in our school history to have a send-off; they usually only do send-offs for the football team.
The next day we made it to Washington, D.C. I am 40 years old, and I have never been to Washington, D.C. I was thinking how lucky my students are, who are going to Washington, D.C., at age 16. What a dream come true. When we arrived, we went straight to our White House tour. I could not believe my eyes that this is the house of our 45 great presidents. I could see the students taking pictures, videos, and many selfies. This was just the beginning of our journey.
The Wenatchee High School Mariachi had the honor to perform at the United State Capitol. October 12 will be an unforgettable day in my teaching career. This was the day my students performed in the halls of Congress. My congressman Dave Reichert had his entire staff there to help us with the whole day. We also met with top leaders on the Hill.
Photo courtesy of Ramon Rivera
One of the most unforgettable moments was when my students met with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA-1). Rep. Scalise just returned to Congress, and he was doing an interview with Fox News on the Hill, and Rep. Reichert asked him to take a picture with us. Rep. Scalise came in his wheelchair and stood up to take a picture with my kids. That was the really touching moment for me.
One of biggest highlights of the trip was the meet-and-greet Rep. Reichert set up with the Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1). What a big deal for the kids and a big deal for music education. My students were lined up for the picture. My principal Mr. Anderson was ready for the picture. I was wondering, “What do I say to the top leader of Congress?” Speaker Ryan came out with his secret service and Capitol police. He came and shook my hand and all the kids’ hands, and told me, “I heard about your program from Congressman Reichert, and I’m proud of the work you have done with these kids.”
Photo courtesy of Ramon Rivera
Speaker Ryan took his traditional picture with us. Then I asked him, “Will you take a selfie with us?” I was getting my phone ready and told the speaker I can do it when Speaker Ryan said to me, “I will do the selfie; my hand is longer.” My students laughed and took one of the most unforgettable selfies ever. He also tweeted the picture on his Twitter account.
That night we gave a Capitol Hill performance. The group was introduced by several people, including Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, who traveled to D.C. just to support Mariachi Huenachi. This past year in April I was one of the 31 national teachers to be recognized as a 2017 CMA Music Teacher of Excellence. Mike Blakeslee, Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for Music Education, delivered his remarks both in Spanish and English. The performance was also introduced by Rep. Reichert and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4). We performed for over 30 members of Congress. The performance was broadcast on Facebook Live by CMA, NAfME, Wenatchee School District, and many other Facebook pages. We have had more than 30K views of our performance! The best part of the performance is that we got to perform the Star-Spangled Banner in the U.S. Capitol.
Here is a note I got from one of my students the week after the trip:
Dear Mr. Rivera,
I am so thankful that we were given the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. This was definitely something for the books and will forever be unforgettable; I got to see so many memorials and monuments that were beyond beautiful and powerful.
I want to thank everyone in the community and everyone else who made this possible; totally worth all the effort that was put into this trip.
Ashley, Violin, Mariachi Huenachi
This trip opened my student’s eyes to a whole different world. I’m even more proud to be an American after this trip. To represent the Wenatchee Valley and our Hispanic community nationwide, to be chosen and get this invitation—what an honor!
Ramon Rivera is the Mariachi Program Director for Wenatchee School District in Washington state. December 19, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)