By Ian Torres – Contributor

The immense culture and traditions that Oklahoma offers were captured on the walls of the OCCC Visual Performing Arts Center when witnessing the Mariachi Anita Martínez Festival on Feb. 26.

The Mariachi Anita Martínez Festival began in 2006. It is held every two years. 

It has the purpose of demonstrating two things – the ability of our community to create spectacular shows and to be able to provide kids from schools around the metro education on their culture and traditions.

“This year, we are going to highlight one of our local Mariachis who is about to celebrate 20 years of anniversary here in serving Oklahoma. Mariachi Orgullo de America has performed many concerts accompanied many artists, and they are the ones involved in starting the very first mariachi school programs,” said Roberto Ruiz, President at Scissortail Community Development Corporation and also a proud founder of Mariachi Orgullo de America.

In 2005, Mariachi Orgullo de America took on the task of providing public school children in Oklahoma with an opportunity to learn about their traditions in a more intimate way than just seeing it through a video. 

So the vision was for children to be a part of it, and with the help of funding, they were able to do that. Students received a music education that also reinforced the culture and traditions of their homes.

“Here in Oklahoma, it’s been very challenging to maintain these programs because there is not a lot of support for arts programs in general, but then really when you talk about cultural specific art programs, it is very difficult to find support and resources to continue these programs,” Ruiz said, with a tired look, as he has suffered in keeping these programs alive. 

Not long ago, in the 2017-2018 school year, they had a program that was offered as a class in three middle schools. 

Ruiz says it was similar in funds to a sports program since it had the full support of an artist in residence, in conjunction with teachers of each instrument, who taught the students in the last class of the day and an hour after school.

“Students learned very quickly and were able to start performing music within a few weeks. When we started to have parent meetings, they were also very well attended, I mean full houses!” Ruiz said about the programs these three metro schools ran.

Unfortunately, Robert and many kids saw an end to it. “During the summer, we got a call that this new source of funding that we had found for this Marichi programs, through what’s called Tittle IV dollars, were going to be shifted into professional development.” So the efforts of many went along with the money.

Although today, Academia Okc, a teaching group, is in several schools serving the purpose of promoting the culture and traditions that many of these children seek to be part of, the work of seeking these funds to keep programs alive only becomes more creative. 

El Festival de Mariachi Anita Martínez helped with these efforts by fundraising for the programs.

Although Mariachi Orgullo de América was the main attraction, the festival was absolutely emotional, as it had extraordinary guests like Grupo Folklorico Norahua, Jabee Williams, Theresa Zaizar, Grupo Estrella Chapina with marimbas and a song dedicated to the people of Guatemala, Edgar Cruz, David Hooten and many other guests who represented not only the culture of their respective countries but also the culture of our state of Oklahoma.

“What an amazing night! Tonight was just beautiful, and I was so proud to be invited by my classmate from the University of Oklahoma, Robert Ruiz. I enjoyed every single moment. Just a beautiful celebration of culture. I was very proud to be here to have engaged and just enjoyed every bit of it,” responded with a smile, OCCC president-elect Dr. Mautra Jones, who was one of the distinguished guests at the event. 

Jones also shared that one of her favorite moments was the presentation made as a tribute to the people who are no longer with us, which had many crying in the auditorium.

The high-caliber event included excellent music and presentations that raised the name of Hispanic, American and Oklahoman culture. 

The night also served as a reminder of the need for the arts, especially the cultural arts. They promote the roots of origin and serve as a learning essence for the rest of the world.