World's first LGBTQ+ mariachi band offers safe space to perform – KCRW

Carlos Samaniego, (front row, center), is the founder and director of Mariachi Arcoiris. “It’s an incredible feeling to be able to show this city and the world that we exist, and that we’re not afraid to express who we are, and still perform traditional music at the same time. It’s beautiful,” he says. Photo by Victor Samaniego.
Mariachi Arcoiris is the first LGBTQ+ mariachi band in the world. Carlos Samaniego, its founder and director, talks about walking the fine line between belonging to the LGBTQ+ community and the Mexican community. 
Samaniego started the band shortly after college. As an openly gay man, he says he experienced bullying and discrimination, especially in Mexican culture and the mariachi world, where there is an emphasis on machista, which he says translates to “toxic masculinity.” 
Traditionally, the genre of mariachi included “manly men” who serenaded women. And the machismo was embedded in the songs and lyrics because it was already part of Latino culture in general, explains Samaniego. “Unfortunately, being openly gay [was] a no-no in this culture [and] in this community. And so nowadays, it’s better, but when I was younger, it definitely was something that I struggled with.”
He created the band to embody the opposite of all of that. He says, “I felt a personal need for there to be a safe space for mariachi musicians like myself. So that we can come together and rehearse our music, perform our music in a space or an environment that’s free of that bullying and this discrimination. I thought to myself, well, I can’t be the only one going through this.”

Mariachi Arcoiris performs at an Angel City Football Club game in Los Angeles, June 2022. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW. 
When the band plays at a traditional wedding or an LGBTQ+ event, they feel a duty to represent both the Mexican community and the LGBTQ+ community. In some instances, Mariachi Arcoiris will play for an LGBTQ+ event where the audience isn’t expecting to hear from a mariachi band. 
“We get this opportunity to show them what beautiful mariachi music sounds like,” says Samaniego. “And even though they may be from Southern California, and they have an idea of what mariachi is, they may not know what a big group sounds like and what beautiful arrangements we have to offer.”
He adds, “It’s an incredible feeling to be able to show this city and the world that we exist, and that we’re not afraid to express who we are, and still perform traditional music at the same time. It’s beautiful.”

Carlos Samaniego, (second row from the front, farthest right), started Mariachi Arcoiris so LGBTQ+ mariachi musicians could rehearse and perform in a safe environment without bullying or discrimination. Photo by Victor Samaniego.
Mariachi Arcoiris will play at The Broad’s pride event, “Now We’re Here,” on Saturday, June 18. 
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