Hispanic Heritage Month: Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles

Natalia Melendez is making history.

"I love mariachi music," said Melendez. "I love to be on stage, it feels wonderful."

Melendez may be the first transgender woman in the world of mariachi music.

"I'm just humble and lucky to be a part of it," she said. "Times are changing, and music is always evolving – and you know – we grow as people."

Melendez is a member of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, believed to be the first LGBTQ+ mariachi band.

Ayan Vasquez Lopez loves to wear makeup on stage.

"I am a nonbinary, gender fluid. I'm an activist," Lopez said. "I'm a makeup artist and mariachi performer… Seeing someone being themselves so authentically. It's just, you know it's jarring, I imagine."

FOX 11 spoke with founder and director of Mariachi Arcoiris Carlos Samaniego. He first created the group in 2000 and brought the group back for the second time in 2016. It's been going as strong as ever, despite mariachi music being a traditional music genre, as some may say is machismo in culture.

"I knew I was going to encounter a lot of difficulties," Samaniego said. "How was the Mexican community going to accept this? Were they going to accept those who are the Latino community or the mariachi community? But fortunately through our professionalism, we've been able to gain their respect over time."

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Most of these musicians have played in other mariachi groups but they say they never felt accepted and were often bullied. That’s why Carlos says creating Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles is the best thing he’s ever done because it's become a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ Community.

"I created this group for others like myself so that we can come together perform our music, rehearse the music in an environment that's safe, that's free of the bigotry, that's free of the homophobia and transphobia and all of the phobias that go along with our LGBTQ community," Samaniego said.

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