The music, the colors, the vibe of LA draws me in as I make my way down a well known boulevard in Los Angeles, one camera and a small satchel bag hanging from my shoulder. I’m on assignment for Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in search of the spirit and influence of Latinos in America. It’s a beautiful late winter evening, the kind that feels more like spring, and I’m feeling drawn in by my surroundings, lucky to have been given the freedom to discover and interpret what I see and feel. There is life here on Cesar Chavez Boulevard that reminds me of small, Mexican cities I’ve visited where people walk to their favorite restaurant, shop at the local market and greet the street musicians by name.
Ah, yes, the street musicians, or better known in these parts as mariachis. As I lean against a tree I take notice of the young man sporting pointed snakeskin boots and a crisp cowboy hat strumming his over-sized guitar. Across the street, I notice an older set of mariachis sharing a wooden bench where they belt out melodies on their accordions. East LA is home to the mariachis, young and old, as well as Candela’s Guitars, one of the world’s most renowned craftsman of fine guitars, many of which end up in the hands of mariachis everywhere.
Tucked in rear of a tiny shop, Tomas Delgado, the affable family heir who took on the family tradition, sits in a small room putting the finishing touches on a guitar. He knows the family name is synonymous with the best, so no one else is allowed to put the final pieces in place for each guitar. Musicians come from all over the country to buy his guitars, to choose from the hundreds of handcrafted instruments lining the walls. A small lamp and an open door provide the only illumination as Delgado slowly wipes a stain on the neck with care and precision. He explains that he has enough of the best wood to continue making guitars for years to come and he’s happy to keep creating them one by one. After a couple of mariachis from over a hundred miles north step into his shop, I take my leave and head back outside.
A couple miles down the road in Boyle Heights is a gathering spot for mariachis. The Mariachi Plaza provides a place for the musicians to gather in one place, play their music and visit with colleagues while waiting to be hired for a party, wedding or restaurant gig. “Mariachi, mariachi,” one musician calls out to passing motorists in hopes of landing a job. Nobody stops for him this afternoon, but he said he would be back tomorrow.
As I make my way back north, I feel as alive as the music that reverberates down Cesar Chavez Boulevard. I’ll be back.
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