February 10, 2016, radio interview about Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles with Miguel Gandert, Enrique Lamadrid, and Catherine Kurland on Melanie Harth’s show, “Living from Happiness.”
“Overall, the book is a beautiful visual and historical tribute to the musicians who still work and live in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. It also gives a brief but concise glimpse of early California history, capturing the significance of mariachi music in the transnational Mexican community and the heartfelt love for the music among musicians and local residents.” Paulina Guerrero, Indiana University, Journal of Folklore Research, May 8, 2014.
Journal of Folklore Research
An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
By Catherine L. Kurland and Enrique R. Lamadrid. 2013. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 120 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8263-5372-6 (soft cover).
Reviewed by Paulina Guerrero, Indiana University, May 8, 2014
Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles is about the preservation and history of the Mariachi Hotel housed within the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block located in East Los Angeles. For over half a century, mariachi musicians have stayed at the hotel, which is located across the street from Mariachi Plaza; it is a sort of gathering space for musicians for hire. For the last half a century, people looking for mariachi music for baptisms, quinceañeras, and holiday parties have gone to the plaza to find their musicians.
Written by Catherine L. Kurland and Enrique R. Lamadrid and beginning with an introduction by Evangeline Ordaz-Molina, the story begins with the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) purchasing the Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block. Ordaz-Molina explains that the purchase of the hotel was what in real estate jargon is called an “emotional purchase” in that the hotel was completely run-down by 1995. However, Ordaz-Molina co-founded ELACC specifically to renovate buildings to provide affordable housing to low-income residents in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.
ELACC’s purchase coincided with Catherine L. Kurland’s re-discovery of the hotel. Kurland is actually a descendant of one of the original owners of the block. The account of her family ancestry is an interesting depiction of early Californio history and the beginnings of development in the section that is now East L.A. She also writes of her campaign in collaboration with ELACC and local residents to restore and preserve the hotel, which for a time almost failed, but eventually the hotel was voted to be recognized as a historical cultural monument. Kurland brought in Enrique LaMadrid and Miguel Gandert to help record and preserve the history of the mariachi plaza and hotel.
The book features stunning black and white photography by Gandert. The photographs show the daily lives of the mariachis, capturing moments of waiting on the plaza, local clothing shops working on outfits, impromptu dance sessions, children’s groups, and festivals of Santa Cecilia. Gandert’s photographs encapsulate the sense of cultural community that mariachi music brings, but it also shows the day-to-day work of being a mariachi musician–the inside of a musician’s room shows his clothes drying for his next gig, mariachis sit outside on the plaza with their instruments waiting to be hired, and musicians take a break to grab a bite to eat and chat with each other. The photographs also show the supporting economies for the musicians, such as tailors who make mariachi clothes, vendors who sell buttons and boots outside, and instrument stores. Throughout the collection of photos, the sense of space that defines the book permeates the images, enabling viewers to feel like they are themselves walking around the East L.A. neighborhood. The photographs also beautifully showcase the sense of joy that mariachi music brings through its performances and festivals.
Enrique Lamadrid’s chapter, “A Paean to Santa Cecilia, Her Fiesta, and Her Mariachi,” artfully weaves together the history of mariachi music, the significance of Santa Cecilia, and the shifting cultural spaces of mariachi music. He often uses mariachi song lyrics to demonstrate the meaning and poetry that infuses mariachi culture. Most importantly, Lamadrid captures the soul of mariachi music, both in terms of its locality and transnationalism, which is at the heart of the California Mexican heritage.
Overall, the book is a beautiful visual and historical tribute to the musicians who still work and live in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. It also gives a brief but concise glimpse of early California history, capturing the significance of mariachi music in the transnational Mexican community and the heartfelt love for the music among musicians and local residents.
Here’s the link to the September 12, 2014, interview with Catherine Kurland and Anne Petersen from Elizabeth Stewart’s Arts and Antiques radio show on the Santa Barbara radio station KZSB. Thanks to the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for making this recording available.