The Mariachi Miracle film and book

$5,695 of $50k goal

Raised by 53 people in 12 months
Daniel Buckley  TUCSON, AZ
There’s a musical revolution catching like wildfire across America, becoming almost as ubiquitous as the Suzuki violin method.

It’s the youth mariachi movement, riding on joyful and emotional layers of dancing rhythms and tuneful, harmonious music from the heart.


The mariachi has long been the soundtrack of life in Mexican culture from the cradle to the grave. But in places across America over the last 50 years, it has become something far deeper. It has become the sound of equality, economic prosperity, academic achievement, social change, political empowerment and artistic prowess.


The Mariachi Miracle is a film and book project that documents how the youth mariachi and folklorico dance movement has transformed the social, political, economic, artistic and educational fabric of Tucson, Arizona over the last half century.


We need your support to make The Mariachi Miracle a reality and share this fantastic untold American story. In total we need to raise another $250,000 to take the project through the goalposts, and we’re depending on the support of people like you to raise at least $50,000 toward that end.


In particular we need to raise funds quickly to pay for the filming of high school and college graduations, travel to interview key subjects who have left the area, and to finish roughly 60 more interviews with mariachi and folklorico pioneers, parents and family members, teachers and administrators, program graduates  and more, all of whom have played an part in the evolution of the youth mariachi movement.


We ask your help to shed light on a vital chapter in American history that has yet to be told, and which holds so much promise for our nation and the world. Our gratitude to all of you who have supported this project from the beginning, sharing your stories and photographs, as well as your economic support is huge. This simply could not be done without you. Nor should it have been. This is your story. It’s America’s story. And it needs to be told to the world.


From the seed of Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos – the Ugly Little Monkeys – in 1964, the movement has used cultural engagement, educational advancement and community service to combat racism, sexism, stereotypes, drug addiction, gang involvement and more.


Los Changuitos Feos became a touring group that performed across America and beyond for mayors and presidents, congressmen and tribal chairmen, captains of industry and community members of every stripe. They saw the world in a different way as a result of that experience. And the group’s founders had a secret weapon. They charged for the performances and invested the money so that the graduates of the program would go on to college.


The first crop of graduates would go on to become the youngest state senator in Arizona’s history, a University of Arizona Vice President, a world-renowned martial arts specialist and one of the engineers who designed and built the Hubble Space Telescope. Fifty two years later, the organization continues, and still provides college scholarships to the program’s graduates. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, educators, administrators, scientists, engineers, artists and musicians and more have emerged from this and subsequent mariachi and folklorico programs that bloomed throughout the city.


That germ idea that youth music programs can become vessels of transformation carried over into the schools as they developed curriculum-based music and dance programs, spurred on by the success of Tucsonan Linda Ronstadt’s "Canciones de Mi Padre" and "Mas Canciones" recordings, as well as the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.


Along the way gender boundaries were smashed, communities were empowered, and the seeds of true community transformation took root.


Despite the fact that the film focuses on Tucson, it really is pertinent to the whole youth mariachi movement that has popped up all over the United States, from San Antionio and El Paso to Georgia, Nashville, Los Angeles, N.Y.C., Chicago, Washington State, San Francisco, Cleveland and far beyond. With Hispanics rapidly becoming the dominant component of public schools in the United States, these programs are a vital investment in America’s future.


Mariachi and folklorico programs in schools and private programs have evolved into effective strategies to keep kids in school, get parents involved, improve academic success, raise graduation rates and send kids on to college. They teach young people teamwork, discipline, public speaking skills, critical thinking skills and more – all applicable not just to music making but to the practical skills they will need to succeed anywhere in life. Moreover they connect kids with their culture, unite families and communities, and raise the level of economic and social equality for the participants and their support groups.


This project has deep implications for programs in various states of development all around the United States, many of them going through the same growing pains Tucson experienced as it developed these programs.


An award winning journalist and artist, producer/Director Daniel Buckley has covered the youth mariachi movement since the early 1980s, first with the Tucson Weekly and later during his 23 year stint as music critic and multimedia manager for the Tucson Citizen daily newspaper. He was the chief video producer for the Arizona Centennial celebration and has produced 8 documentary films to date. In 2013 he was inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, and in 2014 was named Artist of the Year at the Governor’s Arts Awards.


When the Citizen closed in 2009, Buckley created the Cine Plaza at the Fox documentary series to continue to tell stories of the living history of Southern Arizona’s Hispanic and Native American populations.


All the while, Buckley has developing the filmmaking skills and depth of historic understanding to take on this project.


“This is the most important story I’ll ever get to tell,” Buckley says. “But even after covering this for 30 years I had no idea how rich and deep a story of transformation this was until people started sharing their stories with me. I find myself constantly moved and humbled by the stories being shared.”


Principal filming began in 2012 and will continue until mid-October of 2016, after which a first draft of the film will be created. From mid December to mid January, Buckley will focus on the book which will expand upon the film’s themes, add statistical support data and analysis and afford the inclusion of many more moving stories of the movement’s rise as well as its individual and collective impact on Tucson and beyond.


In mid-January Buckley will return to more refined edits of the film, then on to post production and mastering, as well as the final edits of the book. The plan is to present a sneak preview of The Mariachi Miracle at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in April 2017 before taking it on to the film festival circuit, mariachi festivals,  book festivals, and beyond.


Thank you so much for your vital help in making this dream a reality. Please come by the film’s website at to watch as we lay the bricks to finish this monumental effort.


With deep love and gratitude to all,

Daniel Buckley
The Mariachi Miracle
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Update 20
Posted by Daniel Buckley
4 days ago
If I could have a dream folklórico dance day, this past Saturday was it.

The title of this film and book project is The Mariachi Miracle. But folklórico dance is as much a part of the story as mariachi music. The two are intimately intertwined, reflecting the rhythms, traditional dress, music and dance of the various regions of Mexico that have fueled the diverse mariachi sound.

The project is about how youth mariachis and folklórico dancers have transformed the political, economic, social, educational and artistic face of Tucson. On Saturday morning I filmed an example of change in progress as former mariachi and folklórico dancer Carissa Grijalva and a team of undergraduate biotech engineers at the University of Arizona worked out the kinks of their senior project – a mechanical elbow that they hope to patent.

The same skills that made her a remarkable dancer in her days with Ballet Folklórico Tapatio were in play as they identified potential issues and solutions – teamwork, discipline, critical thinking skills, communications skills and more. It was awesome to see in action what so many former youth mariachis and dancers have described as the keys to their success in a variety of fields. On May 1 this young team of engineering students will show its finished project at the University of Arizona Student Union as part of the school’s Engineering Day presentations.

This past Saturday evening was another historic double-header. At the Berger Auditorium of the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind, Ballet Folklórico La Paloma was celebrating 35 years together. Founded by a group of the early folklórico program that started at Tucson high over 40 years ago, their presentation was as much a Tucson dance community celebration as a Mexican regional dance display. Along with its own presentation of choreography and costumes from various states of Mexico, the group invited members of the Fred Astaire Dance Company, the Lajokonik Polish Folk Ensemble and the Chinese Cultural Center’s Lions Dance group to share some time on the stage.

Ballet Folklórico La Paloma, which has been invited to perform at its fourth Olympics (this time in Japan in 2020), wasn’t beating folks over the heads with the connections between these seemingly dissimilar cultural expressions, but they were interwoven on a variety of different levels. On one level the fact that Tucson has come to recognize the value of dance in all of the cultures that live here together today. On another, how Poles, Chinese and many other cultures came to share communities with the indigenous people along what is now the U.S. / Mexico border, and how they intermingled and intermarried, trading elements of their homeland cultures as they did so. There would be no polkas, mazurkas, Schottisches and the like in the cultures of the Mexican border states were it not for Poles, Germans, Czechs and other European cultures who settled alongside. Likewise the accordions of Mexican norteño music and the woodwinds of the banda tradition were elements of European culture adopted by Mexicans and adapted to their own tastes.
Simultaneously to La Paloma’s anniversary showcase a few miles away at Tucson High School’s auditorium a cultural meeting of a different sort was taking place. For a number of years now Tucson’s Ballet Folklórico Tapatio has been assisting instructors from the Universidad de Colima at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference’ folklórico workshops. Friendships and collaborations have been taking place in recent years with Colima maestro Juan Carlos Gaytan Rodriguez coming to Tucson as recently as last Thanksgiving to work with Tapatio’s Grupo Oficial members, and Tapatio’s director, Jose Luis Baca.

Now, in part thanks to that relationship, Gaytan was bringing the youth he teaches in Colima – Ballet Folklórico Infantil de Colima – to present its first ever showcase in Tucson.

The talent shown at such young ages (mostly middle school aged kids) was beyond impressive. The combination of lithe precision, skillful ensemble execution, sheer athleticism and supple grace was everywhere in the dancing. It should come as no surprise, given the high pedigree of their teaching.

But in a broader sense, hosting these young dancers was a little bit of payback on Tucson’s part for all it owes to the Universidad de Colima. Many are aware that Gaytan and Maestro Rafael Zamarripa of the Universidad de Colima have been leading the folklórico workshops at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference for decades. But fewer are aware that it was Zamarripa’s old college roommate – Angel Hernandez – who did so much to ignite Tucson’s love affair with folklórico dance back in the 1970s when he was hired by Pima College to start its program.

Hernandez wasn’t Tucson’s first folklórico teacher. The art form goes back at least to the 1940s in our city. But his enthusiasm, charisma and charm, as well as his lofty artistic demands stand tall in the memories of the numerous Tucson dancers, choreographers and directors who performed with him or saw his work. And his untimely death at a young age inspired his dancers to do their best to carry on that tradition.

What The Mariachi Miracle film and book project is ultimately about is putting together the big picture of the youth mariachi and folklórico movement, from the regional cultural roots of the art forms to the living history of their being transplanted and re-seeded in Tucson, and the societal branches that grew from that solid trunk. In turn the history of Tucson’s Mexican American cultural expressions will become a point of reference by which other communities that began such programs around the country might more clearly see themselves, their accomplishments and the strengths that they have evolved from their own cultural realizations.

To witness three important and very different folklórico milestones in one day was a treat, even in a book and film project in which so many of the hundreds of interviews and performance contain revelatory kernels.

All of this is why this project has taken so long, been so involved and ultimately will be so powerful. There are still pieces of the puzzle that need to be found and put into place. We need the help of people like you to make this happen. We ask your support so that we can wrap this project up, deliver the book and film, and offer the archives created as a community resource for Tucson and America.

As we head into the 35th annual Tucson International Mariachi Conference and the avalanche of upcoming student and cultural moments in the weeks ahead, this support is critical. Please help if you can.

– Daniel Buckley, producer/director/author, The Mariachi Miracle

Ballet Folklorico Infantil de Colima
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Update 19
Posted by Daniel Buckley
11 days ago
And so we go again.

It’s been 35 years since the Tucson International Mariachi Conference began. And in that 35 years so much has happened.

La Gran Lola Beltrán was the headliner that first year. No one had ever heard of a mariachi conference. They were giving away tickets. But there in the audience with her father sat a woman who had loved Lola Beltran since childhood.

Raul Aguirre was the emcee. And as the crowd settled in and microphones were being set, and after securing around to ensure an adequate supply of Johnny Walker Red for Lola, Aguirre made the rounds of the crowd, acknowledging members of the audience.

He spotted Gilbert Ronstadt, owner of Ronstadt Hardware, and announced his presence to the crowd. But when the spotlight fell on the Ronstadt patriarch, it spilled over to reveal his daughter, singer Linda Ronstadt.

The crowd went nuts.

A year or two later Linda embarked on creating an audio legend – “Canciones de Mi Padre” – her tribute to the mariachi ranchera songs she heard Lola and the stars of the mariachi world sing when she was a little girl. She had patterned her own belting country rock style after those huge voices that poured from her dad’s hi-fi. And soon she herself was headlining the Tucson conference with those stars.

Every young mariachi girl and boy in Tucson learned that first disc, and the follow up – “Mas Canciones.” The participant showcase concerts at the mariachi conference were packed with covers of those songs.

And at Tucson Unified School District, the excitement those recordings generated was being noticed. A young graduate of the Davis Bilingual mariachi program named Richard Carranza, now a social studies teacher at Pueblo High School, was tapped, along with Juan De Dios Noperi and others, to create a curriculum for a mariachi music program in the schools. Carranza had grown up going to the Tucson conference and others that sprang up in its wake. Now he was creating one of the crown jewels of the Tucson youth mariachi scene – Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School.

What had been a handful of youth groups in our city when the Tucson conference started suddenly exploded in popularity. Young mariachis from Tucson and around the country had been coming since the first year of the conference to study with the masters of the mariachi and folklórico dance worlds. They not only learned music, technique and showmanship, they learned they were not alone. They saw that they were part of something huge that was sweeping the country.

They grew in pride of their culture. They became disciplined and accomplished. And whether they went into music or anything else, they were prepared for what life might throw at them.

As the 35th anniversary quickly approaches, it’s impossible not to wonder if the young talent that will shape the next generation of the mariachi and folklorico worlds will be in attendance. Perhaps on the stage, maybe in the audience.

That is the excitement of being there.

And so it’s extremely important that the Mariachi Miracle be there to capture as much of it as possible and use it in the story telling that will follow in the film and book.

For that to happen I need your help. We need to raise between $1,500 and $3,000 to cover the conference and plunge on into wave after wave of school-year-end programs and concerts, Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day celebrations, high school and college graduations and all of the educational, social and cultural milestones coming in the next six weeks.

And we need to do so quickly. The mariachi conference starts ONE WEEK FROM TODAY on April 26.

Please help if you can in any way. $5 and $10 donations add up in a hurry.

This is just a tony slice of the story about to be told in The Mariachi Miracle. Please be part of it in any way that you can. And thank you so much for your help, and your inspiration.

– Daniel Buckley
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Update 18
Posted by Daniel Buckley
12 days ago
In the age of Trump few things are more important than showing the power of Mexican Americans to transform their communities. That’s exactly what The Mariachi Miracle is about – illustrating how, beginning in days of segregation, the Mexican American community turned to its own culture to create solutions to its own problems. And in the process they transformed the social, economic, political, educational and artistic fabric of Tucson.

We’re heading into the most intense and critical phase of the final months of production on the film and book project. Ahead is more documentation of mariachi music and folklórico dance programs in schools, filming of school performances, shooting graduations, summer mariachi camps and covering the year’s big event – the 35th anniversary of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference. The big events come in rapid succession from here out.

And just as we enter this critical phase we are WAY short on funds to hire extra help, rent gear, keep transcriptions of interviews rolling and acquire the basic hard drive space to store and back up what’s being shot.

More than ever we need the help of folks like you to tell this vital story of self reliance, creativity, transformation, pride and place.

Every little bit helps, and if you aren’t in a position to provide financial support, please share this link with your friends. And visit to learn more about the project and the wonderful things going on, not just here in Tucson but throughout the United State.

Thank you so much for your help! Know that your contribution will aid in telling one of the most vital and underreported stories in U,S. education today.

Donations to the GoFundMe campaign are not tax deductible. But there is a way to give that is. Go to for more on that.

And to learn more about the overall scope of this film and book project go to:

Thank you again for your support at this critical time.
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Update 17
Posted by Daniel Buckley
4 months ago
Mil gracias to all who have generously supported The Mariachi Miracle in 2016, especially Emily Basham who recently contributed. Without all of you it would be impossible to move forward. This year has been so critical in tying up loose ends and putting together the broader picture. And as we head into 2017, we still need to catch up with a few folks who have moved away from Tucson and then begin the arduous task of film editing and book writing. With luck, by this time next year both will be out i the world. I can't thank you all enough for contributions of all sorts – not just money but so generously sharing your stories, photos and more. All the best in the new year!
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$5,695 of $50k goal

Raised by 53 people in 12 months
Created April 19, 2016
6 days ago
Krista Vink
10 days ago

Have fun at the conference! Neat story!

10 days ago
Jim Turner
11 days ago

It's about time Daniel, your book is needed now more than ever. Very proud to know you.

Lois Miller
11 days ago
Andrea Dalessandro
11 days ago
4 months ago
Tina Curtis
5 months ago

Wishing you great success Dan

Susan Williamson
5 months ago

So inspiring.

Teodoro Ted Ramirez
5 months ago
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