Mariachi culture’s deep roots in Central Washington

Wenatchee's Mariachi Northwest Festival is celebrated every year and hosts students from the Pacific Northwest. (Courtesy:



Have you ever heard of “El son de la negra?”

You’ve probably heard this song during Hispanic and Latino heritage events.

In central and southeastern Washington, mariachi culture reveals special strengths with decades-deep roots. 

Jason Dormady is a professor of history at Central Washington University.

“A lot of the Tejanos who came early in the 20th Century, they brought a very strong musical culture with them. But also, the later bracero and post-bracero migrants who came [also brought musical culture,]” said Dormady.

For years, individual performers, professional ensembles, festivals, universities and even high schools have kept this cultural heritage alive, passing it on through generations.

Mariachi Culture in Washington State.

Aaron Camarena (left) and Eduardo Cortes prepare backstage to accompany the mariachi artist Lupita Infante at the Grant County Fair in August 2023. Cortes and Camarena direct Wenatchee High School’s Mariachi Huenachi program. (Credit: Annie Warren / NWPB).

Christina Torres Garcia is the Latino and Latin American Studies program director at Central Washington University.

She says no matter where you are, mariachi is a symbol of universal belonging. 

“I was going into a conference. And in the corner of one street, I start hearing mariachi and I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m in Paris. What in the world?’ I thought it was just the most beautiful way of celebrating diversity. It really made me feel like I was connected somehow,” said Torres.

Dormady says mariachi is also bringing communities together.

The performance of mariachi is a great way to remember home, to preserve songs that remind people of who they are, and the families, their connections,” Dormady.

Wenatchee’s Mariachi Northwest Festival is the main mariachi event in Washington. It started in the late 90’s with Mariachi Director Mark Fogelquis, an ethnomusicologist from Los Angeles. 

Eduardo Cortes-Solorio is the current chair of Mariachi Northwest. 

“The mariachi festival is a three-day workshop, where students are learning from professional mariachis. Students are able to participate in showcase during which they are showcasing the music that they’ve learned those three days from these instructors. We also provide folklorico workshops,” said Cortes-Solorio.

The festival also hosts a big gala. 

“Depending on the year, we have a headliner. Last year, we had Shaila Durcal perform,” said Cortes-Solorio. “In the past we’ve had Ana Barbara, Beatriz Adriana. Sometimes we have just a specific mariachi: Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Los Camperos.” 

The Wenatchee High School Mariachi Huenachi, one of the top high school mariachis in the country, opens the gala each year. The group was also founded by Fogelquist.

Wenatchee’s Mariachi Huenachi won second place in the high school category during the Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque showcase competition, last July.

Torres says mariachi music has entered even the smallest corners of the world.

“It has been quite successful to create that identity of being a Latino, especially in the U.S., right? When anyone hears mariachi, it drags you into it. And it is a sense of pride,” said Torres.