Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles is the first LGBTQ+ Mariachi band in the world.
They have performed at Los Angeles and Long Beach Pride every year since their reformation in 2016. They have also performed at Transgender Pride at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, at same-sex and traditional weddings, among other venues.
Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles — which translates to The Rainbow Mariachi of Los Angeles — was formed in 2000 by Carlos Samaniego. He was a sophomore at Cal State Los Angeles when creating the group and is now the manager and lead singer of the band.
Samaniego said that he came out in 2000 and joined the Gay and Lesbian Alliance at CSULA. Since Samaniego performed Mariachi professionally, the club offered him the opportunity to perform at mock weddings for gay and lesbian couples during a time where same-sex marriages weren’t legal. This would bring a sense of Mexican tradition to weddings that wouldn’t be able to otherwise experience it.
He suggested the idea of creating an LGBTQ+ Mariachi band which was met with nothing but encouragement. After putting together musicians comprised of artists in the LGBTQ+ community, Mariachi Acroiris performed for the first time at a same-sex wedding at CSULA.
Samaniego explained that their performance during “Pride week” at CSULA opened many doors for him and Mariachi Acroiris.
“After that one performance, we were offered work,” he said. “But I was really young and inexperienced, so after a few months it fizzled out.”
Samaniego said that the performances with Mariachi Arcoiris remained with him, while he went on to perform with other mariachi bands.
In February 2016, Samaniego decided to restart Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles after he heard a homophobic remark that made him want to create a space for LGBTQ+ mariachi members.
“I needed to start Mariachi Arcoiris again,” he said. “I wanted to have that safe space where I didn’t have to face discrimination and toxic masculinity.”
Samaniego said the band faces many challenges, one of them being toxic masculinity, especially within the Mariachi culture.
“When people hear of the group, without experiencing the music, or they may see an image of the group, the tendency is to create these negative opinions,” he said. “Machismo is embedded in our Latino and Mexican culture.”
Samaniego added that the perception around the band changes once people see them perform or listen to one of their albums, such as Los Arcoiris.
Apart from their influence in the LGBTQ+ community, Samaniego said that Mariachi Arcoiris wants to teach others the meaning of Mariachi music.
“Here comes Mariachi Arcoiris, representing the LGBTQ+ community, but also representing a folk tradition of Mexico and we get to show how beautiful Mariachi music is,” he said.
Their growth in popularity became apparent when the band got invited to be a part of Pride events in different cities.
“Nowadays, Pride events are popping up all over the place in small towns that you’ve never heard of,” Samaniego said. “Someone from the Mayor’s office of Las Vegas, New Mexico called me because they want to do their first Pride in 2022 and they want to bring us.”
Success continues as the group was part of a Hulu Docuseries titled “Acentos Bienvenidos” that was released in September during Hispanic Heritage Month. The group was able to be in the docuseries after the producer, Marie Alyse Rodriguez, reached out to them.
“One of the producers had been following us and has been a fan of Mariachi Arcoiris, so when the opportunity for this Hulu docuseries to celebrate Latinx heritage, they thought a series about Mariachi Arcoiris would be fitting,” Samaniego said.
Mariachi Arcoiris will be performing at the Citadel Outlets on Oct. 9 and 10 to promote the Hulu documentary.