Fed up with discrimination in the LGBTQ community, two passionate musicians formed the first-ever LGBTQ mariachi group in Los Angeles as a safe space for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. What began as a gig at a club flourished into an empowering musical movement that is known today as Mariachis Los Arcoiris de Los Angeles, founded by Carlos Samaniego and Natalia Melendez, who is known as the first transgender female in the history of mariachis.
With Hispanic Heritage Month just around the corner and an upcoming show on September 15 at El Grito Festival in LA, Billboard caught up with founding member Natalia to talk all about Mariachi Arcoiris.
When did you first discover your love for music?
At the age of 8. I’ve been a musician for over 26 years. I studied violin and vocal. It’s my passion and my love.
How was the idea of forming an LGBTQ mariachi born?
The idea came from Carlos. He called me up one day when he was fed up with discrimination in the work field and we decided to give it a shot. I was about 19 years old when we had our first gig in a club. The manager at that club owned a gay club and he offered us a job to perform there. We were very young, still in college, so we faded out after a couple of shows. About 10 years later, in 2014, we picked up the group again. We have a vision. This is our baby.
As the first transgender woman in mariachi, what’s the message you want to give to others?
I pour my heart out when I perform, representing myself. I want what I am to make a statement for the next generation. To let them know that you can be a role model. To show them you can be a transgender woman and be successful without letting society bring you down. I took a lot of shots at the negativity and have a bigger vision now, to be visible and positive in people’s lives in general. Life is hard, but when you have a dream, you can be whatever you want.
What can we expect from Mariachi Arcoiris’ performance at El Grito?
We have an amazing show prepared. It’s about an hour long and we’re catering to not only Latinos, but also millennials outside of the Latino community. We’re going to give what we represent: an LGBTQ mariachi group that is on fire, sharp and tight. We’ve got an amazing performance.