'World's first LGBTQ+ mariachi band' finds expression, freedom through music

Music is expression and for Mariachi Arcoíris De Los Angeles. It’s also freedom.

Arcoíris means "rainbow" in Spanish, and the group proudly wears the rainbow flag on their bow ties and outfits. Founder Carlos Samaniego says it was the first openly LGBTQ+ mariachi band, and the first group he’s played with where he wasn’t derided for who he is.

"I had to endure the bullying, homophobia, harassment because I'm openly gay," he said, adding that he was pushed to flirt with women even as an 18-year-old when he joined his first mariachi. He said his credentials were often questioned, and he was told that the genre was for "real men."

"I grew up in a Mexican household, this mentality isn't new to me," Samaniego said. "I grew up knowing and thinking I wasn't going to be accepted." That’s why he created a group where he would be accepted. Two decades and three albums later, he’s proud to be bringing Mexican folk music to people of other cultures. 

"A few years ago, we were invited to play at the U.S. embassy in Spain; that was during the Trump administration," he said. That was a pleasant surprise, but he admitted there had also been expected ugliness, especially online.

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"You see all the bad things people say about us, that we’re going to hell, That we're condemned," he said. "What would we know about mariachi music, or how disrespectful we are to the suit."

Now, though, he plays through the negativity with others, including Yaya Vasquez-López, who uses she/they pronouns, and takes pride in switching up makeup looks.

"I have played events here and there where we get one or two haters," Vasquez-López said. "Sour faces, but that's also what I get walking down the street."

But the group says the support and love they also get bolsters their message, that they will defy tradition and perform without apology for those who also feel judged.

"One trans teenage girl from Texas who plays mariachi says we are her role models, " Samaniego said. "It’s more than I could imagine."