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Mariachi band family lead music for bi-lingual and multi-lingual liturgies at St. Joseph’s Catholic

Jésus Lopez and his mariachi band—five of his six children—bring a flavor of mariachi as music ministers for Spanish liturgies, as well as for bilingual and trilingual liturgies at St. Joseph Catholic Church at 1503 W. Dean St. in Spokane.

Lopez Family Mariachi Band

David, Carolina, Abraham, Alejandro, Roberto and Jésus perform at Convent of the Holy Names benefit.

Outside church, their Mariachi Arriba Jalisco Band plays at hotels and churches in North Idaho and welcomes whatever people offer to pay.  They are one of few mariachi bands in the area.

When Maria married Jésus nearly 20 years ago, she knew mariachi music was in her future.  She didn’t realize that the band her husband would form would be made up of their children.

She is happy that the mariachi band helps the family stay together and have happy times, both in practicing two to three times a week and in performing.

“The characters and interests of each of our children are different, but this gives us something to do together as a family,” she said.

“I like carrying on the tradition from my family,” Jésus said.  “It sometimes gives me goose bumps and makes me happy to pass it on to my children.”

While some children may sit at home bored, he said that his children go as a band to visit different places.

Jésus, an automobile mechanic from 8 to 5, built his life from his vision of earning a living as a mechanic and spending free time playing trumpet and singing in a mariachi band and a church choir.

Music filled his life growing up in Ameca, 60 miles from Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, the birthplace of Mexico’s mariachi music in the 1890s.

Jésus’ father, who performed throughout Mexico and in the United States, taught Jésus and his brother to play music.  He attended school from 8 to 2 and learned music from 3 to 7 p.m.

Although he loved trumpets, he first played an accordion, one of the mariachi instruments, which has roots in Germany.  He loved trumpets, but couldn’t afford one.  When he was 13, someone gave him an old, bent-up trumpet. 

A mariachi band usually includes Mexican versions of European instruments: two trumpets; three to eight violins; one or more guitars; a vihuela, a round-backed, nylon-string guitar, and a guitarrón or base guitar.  Accordions are used, but are less common.

Jésus said that at first violins and guittaróns were used.  Trumpets were added later.

Soon after European instruments were introduced in Mexico for use in the Mass, they were also used for secular music.  The Mexican folk music genre is played in restaurants and for community and church celebrations.  Although bands were at first men only, now there are women musicians and singers.

Jesus and Maria Lopez
Jesus and Maria Lopez

Mariachi bands became popular in the 1920s when Mexico’s president had a band at his inauguration and bands played on radio.

After nine years of school, Jésus went for five years to a technical school in Guadalajara to learn to be an automobile mechanic.

Despite his training, he was not accepted into a mechanics union or a musical union. Jésus found it hard to find work in mechanics or music in Mexico, so in 1985, he moved with his father, brother and sister to the United States. 

Making money playing at restaurants and parties, he earned enough to buy a trumpet when he was 18.  He started a mariachi band and went from place to place from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. in Hollywood, Santa Ana and Long Beach.

“It was exciting but stressful,” he said.

Maria, one of 14 siblings, first came to the United States in 1980 to care for a sister’s children and go to night school in Los Angeles after completing sixth grade in Totatiche, Jalisco. 

She returned to help her father for three years on his ranch, which was two hours by horse from town and had no running water or electricity. “ In contrast, life in the United States was easy,” she said.   

In 1985, another sister married and asked her to help with her baby.  She returned to Mexico for a year to help when her mother was sick.  In 1988, she joined brothers in El Monte, Calif., working at a swap meet, making airplane parts, cashiering at a 7-11 and working at an insulation company. 

Jésus met Maria in 1993 when both were studying English at Baldwin Park, Calif.  Working as a mechanic in Los Angeles, he had bought a house.  They married a year later in Mexico. 

Both had green cards so they could go back and forth.  In 1999, they became citizens.

They came to Spokane in 2002, because his house in Baldwin Park was crowded with their growing family, his parents and brother.  They wanted to move their children away from schools dominated by gangs.    

Visiting an uncle in Mt. Vernon, they saw Spokane on the map and began driving East.  They spent a month in Moses Lake before coming to Spokane, where he found work at Camp Chevrolet.

In Spokane, Maria supported Jésus’ dream of having his own band—their children.

“Because my brother, father and I had practiced at home while she was pregnant, the children grew up with the music before birth and while playing with toys,” Jésus said.

His father bought David, now 18, a toy guitar when he was a year old.  He played it and people applauded.

“I had not formally taught him, but he knew and played the song, ‘Guadalajara’ when we visited there once,” Jésus said.  

When Carolina, 16, was three, she went with her father to choir practice at the Catholic church they attended in Los Angeles.  So she knew the songs.

When Abraham, 15, was born, his grandfather grabbed his big hands and predicted he would play the guitarrón.

 Jésus plays trumpet and accordion, and sings.  David, who is at the University of Washington, plays violin.  Carolina sings and plays violin. Abraham plays guitarrón. Alejandro, 14, plays the vijuela. Roberto, 10, plays trumpet and wood guiro. Sophia, 7, plans violin.

Although Maria does not yet play with the band, she expects to do so when the children are older. 

When Carolina and David were in fifth grade, Jésus started teaching them mariachi music.

“Soon they were beyond me,” he said.  “I learned from my father and from sitting beside the piano in church as a child.  I learn new songs and music by ear from recordings.  I started to read music, but stopped because, when we play, we walk around or may walk on a stone road, so it’s hard to hold music.”

For three summers, David, Carolina. Abraham and Alejandro studied music at the Plaza de la Raza Music and Art School in Los Angeles, staying with relatives.

The church they attended in Los Angeles had about 10,000 at the six Masses each week.

“I was in the choir, but was lost,” Jésus said.  “I wanted to be in a smaller church.”

After two months in Spokane, they found their way to St. Joseph Catholic Church, which has a Spanish liturgy, along with bilingual English-Spanish liturgies and tri-lingual English-Spanish-Vietnamese liturgies.

“In church, we play ‘Holy, Holy’ as it’s written, but can improvise some mariachi tempos and harmonies.”

On Dec. 12 for two years, the Lopez family has played and led the annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe procession of about 200 people from St. Joseph’s to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral.

Because the children read music, they have learned to play bilingual songs in the Catholic music book, so they also have played for the English Masses at St. Thomas More.

“It gives me joy to share the gift we have, playing and singing at church,” he said.  “We put our feelings into the music.

“Mariachi music is about everyday life—animals, romance, bravery, history, revolution, values and life.  We also use the mariachi tunes and change the words to sing to God,” he said.

For information, call 484-0385 or email