Members of UTB’s Mariachi Ocelotetlán set off Monday on what might be the trip of a lifetime.
A half-dozen members of the University of Texas at Brownsville’s Mariachi Ocelotetlán said goodbye to their families, friends and professor as they got ready to board a plane at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, departing for Saint Petersburg, Russia. The venture is a chance for them not only to enjoy the history and culture of Russia, but also to share their music with the country.
The students will travel to the city on the Baltic Sea to participate in a cultural exchange with their counterparts in Russia. They will perform at the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in St. Petersburg, according to a UTB news release.
Diana Olivares and her daughter Natalie have been preparing for the trip since last fall. Olivares and Natalie’s grandmother have helped the group raise funds by selling cookies, cakes and banana bread.
“You think you have a lot more time and before you know it, it’s here,” Olivares said. “So we are excited.”
Natalie, a 19-year-old freshman at UTB, plays the violin. She said she was looking forward to going to the opera in Saint Petersburg.
The trip is a first for almost all of the musicians.
“International? Well, geez, Mexico is where we’ve been,” Olivares said. “Across the ocean is something bigger.”
Trumpet-player Jose Molina said he looked forward to new experiences.
“Being able to go to another country and teach them our ways of music,” Molina said. “It’s going to be different for them and for us.”
Molina, a freshman music education major at UTB, said he did not know what to expect from the trip.
The group of musicians raised $15,000 to finance their trip.
Javier A. Martinez, dean of the UTB’s College of Liberal Arts, said the group raised the money by playing at city events, weddings and quinceañera parties.
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez was one of the well-wishers who spoke to the students.
“Travel is education,” Martinez said. “What you’re going to find about this is not only are you excited now and you’ll be tired later, but it will be interesting because you’ll be able to share a different culture, a panorama, a whole different set of things that are going to be happening in your life. Treasure them forever.”
Tears flowed freely at the airport as concerned parents and family friends bid adieu to the students.
Molina’s grandmother brushed tears away from her face as he walked toward the terminal.
“She’s raised him since he was a baby,” said Molina’s aunt, Patty Vallejo. “We’re nervous but happy for him. I hope he sees everything he’s never seen before.”
Natalie said she was excited to share her love for the mariachi style of music.
“It’s my heritage and I know it makes my family proud when they hear me playing,” Natalie said. “It makes me proud to be Mexican and we have a wonderful culture, and just being able to share that through music. ... I never thought I’d be able to do it in Russia.”