Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights is not just a street named after Boyle Heights founder Andrew Boyle. It’s a street filled with historic homes and apartment buildings. It’s a street filled with migrant troubadours, dressed in full gear, ready for the next gig, the next “chamba.” Walk down 1st & Boyle and find yourself surrounded by mariachis of all ages, single and married men alike coming, going or waiting for work. They do it all, weddings, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, divorces, quinceañeras, graduations, funerals, even the occasional spot on some music video or T.V. show.
Back in the 90’s you could find from 30 or 50 of them standing around, catching up, tuning up the guitar or passing around the good neighborhood gossip. As the Mexican community in the Eastside grew, so did the plaza. The state of Jalisco, Mexico, birthplace of mariachi music, donated a large kiosk like those found in the center of Mexican towns. At the top of the kiosk is a small statue of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Every year, mariachis and musicians from across the city gather at midnight to serenade the saint: every hour a new group, all the way through the night to the next day.
In 1990, mariachis and local businesses gathered to create the Mariachi Festival. But times have changed, the economy is crazy, and the Metro has built a new Metro Subway stop in the old plaza, naming it Mariachi Metro Goldline Stop. Today you’ll find only about 10 or 12 mariachis walking around and a large kiosk. It’s a beautiful plaza, full of colors, full of old fashioned streetlights and sometimes full of birds. It’s a bittersweet feeling to go there: I feel it’s lost its magic, but it’s a wave that comes and goes. Life is still beating in the plaza, music can still be heard, mariachis can still be seen and the culture is still around because it’s in our hearts, in our roots. Que vivan los Mariachis de la Boyle!
Header photo by Neon Tommy, used under a Creative Commons license.