LONG BEACH, Calif. - It’s a beautiful day in Long Beach and Mariachi Arcoiris is lifting spirits at Hotel Maya where they’re performing for Sunday brunch crowd. With over 250 sold reservations, they’re an attraction that draws an audience.
Carlos Samaniego is the band's director. Born in El Sereno, he’s the son of Mexican immigrants and first got into music back in middle school.
“The reason for even creating Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles which means Rainbow Mariachi of Los Angeles is because I felt that there needed to be a safe place for mariachi musicians who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum,” said Samaniego.
After being bullied in other mariachi bands, Samaniego joined with Natalia Melendez, the first transgender musician in the history of mariachi. They first started the group back when they were 19-years-old, but paused when life and college got in the way, but that wasn’t the end.
They got the band back together five years ago... And they now play with a passion that comes from representing multiple cultures.
This is my passion. This is what I love to do and it makes me happy,” said Melendez. “I’m the type of girl that likes to live in the moment and absorb everything because tomorrow is not promised. We like to think of ourselves as adding a little bit of extra to the mariachi history. To the genre of music.”
Traditionally performed by straight cisgender men, Mariachi Arcoiris evolves the music and audience as well.
“I like to think of myself as doing a little something, a little bit to help my community in progression of being visible to the rest of the world and letting the rest of the world know that we are human beings just like everyone else,” said Melendez.
As the only mariachi band featuring LGBTQ+ musicians, Mariachi Arcoiris is more than their music. They are cultural ambassadors.