Mariachi Vargas Surprises Ajijic Moms

by Judy King 12. May 2010 13:08

vargas  Wow…All over Lakeside today, folks are shaking their heads in disbelief at the wonderful surprise some of mothers of Ajijic received yesterday when they showed up at their children’s annual Mother’s Day school program.

Most school programs for Mother’s Day feature kids in costumes reciting poems, singing “Las Mananitas” and performing traditional folk dances. During the afternoon events, the mom’s are often entered in a raffle and awarded sets of coffee mugs, or drinking glasses, along with the occasional small appliance.

So you can imagine the shock and amazement to moms and grandmothers arrived for their annual salute at the  school above the highway in Ajijic and to find that along with the kids, they were being treated to two hours of music by Mexico’s best and favorite mariachis – Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan. Those women are still reeling with pleasure and surprise today – and most of the other women of Lakeside (along with many of the men) are green with envy.

When Mariachi Vargas played in concert to a full house earlier this year in Ajijic, not only did the tickets go for a whopping $350 pesos ($30US), the famous band didn’t take the stage until after 11 p.m. for a two-hour show.

Mariachi_Vargas_Con_Lázaro_CárdenasNo One is as Special as a Mexican Mom

We told you a couple of days ago that no one is as special as a Mexican Mom…and these special moms watched their own private two-hour concert – free! No wonder they are still breathless with excitement!

Mariachi Vargas is one of the oldest mariachi groups in this state of Jalisco, which is the birthplace of the familiar groups of 10 or more musicians. It was Don Gaspar Vargas who gathered the first ensemble of musicians in his Jalisco hometown of Tecaltitlan – still the modern groups home base. (Here’s a shot of the group about 50 years ago with Mexico’s then president, Lazaro Cardenas)

No All Mexican Music is Mariachi – Not by a LONG Shot!

Not all Mexican music or musicians are mariachi – traditional mariachi features five violins, 2 trumpets, three guitars in varying sizes and sometimes a Jalisco harp. Most musicos (musicians) today, especially those who perform in top notch groups like the world famous favorite – Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan – are so well-trained and proficient that they could play in any symphony orchestra.

Good Mariachis are VERY Good Musicians

Here’s proof – this UTUBE video shows Mariachi Vargas performing in concert with the Philharmonic Symphony of Queretaro. In this bit, you’ll hear a good sampling of the incredible voices of this group, and their professional musicality.

Next, there’s a PBS video clip of Mariachi Vargas performing “Cascabel (The Rattlesnake) in concert. If the violins and trumpets don’t impress you, the guitars and voices will!

Vargas white

Ah the Mexican Song We All Know – Cielito Lindo

Here’s a Mexican song beloved by everyone – Mexicans and foreigners – love “Cielito Lindo”. We’re betting you’ll seldom hear it done better than this UTube rendition which includes a short medley of other favorite Mexican tunes. (See the running Japanese script across this video? that’s because mariachi is exceedingly popular in many countries around the world, including far-flung places like Japan, Switzerland and Croatia

visav3Linda Ronstadt with Mariachi Vargas

You probably already know the sound of Mariachi Vargas. Have you heard Linda Ronstadt’s Grammy-winning 1986 CD of traditional Mexican music? Not only did “Canciones de mi Padre” feature Mariachi Vargas, Linda Ronstadt and the group toured the US. Here, from the DVD of the same name, is Linda explaining and introducing Mariachi Vargas performing the song you know as rock and roll from back in our day, which actually had it’s roots as a courtship song from Vera Cruz -- “La Bamba.”

Linda and her niece Mindy sing “Y Andale” with Mariachi Vargas on the same DVD. Listen to old Mexican drinking song (and Linda’s introduction of it)from the DVD “Canciones de mi Padre” from UTUBE.

This is Why I Love Mexico and Mexican Music

I suspect it was polka-flavored songs like “Y Andale” that helped cement not only my love of Mexico, but my love of Mexican music. in this song you hear the influence of Mexico, mixed with the polka band rhythms and moving bass parts brought to the border by South Texas’ German settlers. As a child, I fell asleep on summer nights hearing German bands playing in the town’s Polka Hall  four blocks away; songs like this still take me right back to that carefree time and cozy place.

You Should Own this CD or DVD!

Linda-Ronstadt-photo If you love Mexico you owe it to yourself to own this classic CD and/or DVD (whether you love Mexican music, and especially if you think you’ve heard it and don’t like it.) Hearing Linda’s explanations of the various songs, turning on the DVD’s translated text and lyrics (or reading the lyrics in English in the liner notes) helps bring a new appreciation to these old songs, many of which were popular in the early days of Mariachi popularity – the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

With this year being the centennial of that hard-fought civil war, (and the bicentennial of Mexico’s fight for Independence which began in 1810, it’s time to learn a bit more about Mexican culture.

Mexico’s Mariachi music is a great place to start!

Visit the Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan section of your CD store or of your favorite online outlet of Mexican music and give yourself a purely Mexican treat—hurry home, pour an icy margarita, settle back, gaze into the distance – envisioning sunset over Lake Chapala. Ooooh, now that’s Mexico!

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

No One is as Special as Mexican Moms

by Judy King 9. May 2010 12:06

mother-daughter Mother's Day is the high point of May, the month of back-to-back holidays in Mexico. In fact, Mother's Day is the high point of the year in this land of fiestas, holidays and events. It's a day of music, family, gifts, flowers, dance, and an intense adoration for Mom.

Mother's Day is always May 10 in Mexico, and while business is brisk for gift shops, florists, musicians, restaurants, and card sellers, no one in this land would ever dream of suggesting that Mother's Day is commercialized.

Mother's Day is A Gift of Flowers
Those who can afford to purchase flowers or gifts or a special meal always buy the best they can and the most they can—and like the boy in the photo, they'll spend their last peso with joy, for their mother. Watching him was as good as a Mother’s Day gift a few years ago. He gathered the cast-off flowers with broken stems that the florists set aside and grouped them into a bouquet. Then he counted his coins and made the clip_image003vendors an offer that included a "good rose" to place in the center.

The children who don't have enough for a bouquet and who haven't made a gift at school for their moms find a few pesos for a single clavel (carnation) or rosa (rose) or importantly take their mothers to the plaza where they buy them a paleta (popsicle). Teens pool their resources at the papelería so they can buy enough paper to make huge crepe paper flowers, or a dozen balloons and some string to create decorations, and markers to draw flowers on hand made cards.

The young women of the family spend the day shooing mom from the kitchen where they are laughing and singing along with the radio, making dozens of tamales and cool aguas frescas (fresh fruit drinks) to feed the whole family that will gather by mid-afternoon.

No matter the level of the year's budget, there is always enough money to make a fiesta for mamá, with the whole family working on the plans together.

Mother's Day is a Gift of Familyclip_image004
Mexican families plan far in advance to be at home with their mothers on their special day. Many men who work North of the Border come home in May to be with their own mothers and the mothers of their children.

I wondered at breakfast yesterday why my favorite waiter wasn’t on duty, until he showed up at the restaurant, all dressed up, and with his mother on his arm. After introducing his mother and father to his co-workers, employers and regular customers, they settled at a table and ordered breakfast. These parents had come from Tjuana to spend Mother’s Day with him in Ajijic.

Mother's Day is A Gift of Dance
Mexican schools plan enormous fiestas for the students' mothers. When Mother's Day falls during the week, the event is held on the holiday. Just watching as the mothers and children walk to and from school is fun. Most of the mothers are all dressed up and many of the children arrive at school wearing costumes in which they will perform Mexico's folkloric dances.

clip_image005Children learn a new folk dance in each new grade, beginning in kinder when the little boys learn Michoacán's “Dance of the Old Men.” As they grow up, they learn increasingly difficult dances like the Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance), and the dances of other states as well as traditional indigenous dances.

As the Mother's Day program continues, children read poems they have written, teachers give speeches about the wonder of mothers, and the mothers are presented with the gifts their children have made in class.

Periodically, mothers are awarded prizes from an ongoing raffle. Sets of drinking glasses, plastic containers, and insulated coffee mugs are well received with murmurs of pleasure as the tension builds leading to the announcement of the winner of the grand prize. Weeks earlier the mothers sold raffle tickets for a DVD player, now it turns out that the tickets allow them to win one of the smaller gifts, too.

Two Mother’s Day Program Videos

I particularly enjoyed the following UTube videos of the littlest school kids performing in their Mothers Day programs. In the first piece a class of young children perform the Mexican Hat Dance – it’s the state dance of Jalisco. 

In the second, once the kids had finished singing “Las Mañanitas” for their moms, they did a heart-felt “SSSSSSS, Boom Bah, Rah, Rah Rah, Who do we love? MOM!”

clip_image009Mother's Day Is Not Only for the Living
Anna Jarvis' original concept was to honor the memory of her own and other deceased mothers on Mother's Day. Fifty years ago North of the Border, deceased mothers were honored by their children wearing white flowers in corsages or boutonnieres on Mother's Day. Those whose mothers were alive wore red or pink. That custom has now faded away in most areas. .

Mexico's mothers who are deceased are remembered by their children and grandchildren who visit the cemetery with flowers and attend special Masses there on the evening of May 9, Mother’s Day eve. Other Masses for the dead mothers are held during the day on Mother's Day.

clip_image010Mother's Day Is For the Mother of Mexico
A remarkable Mother's Day custom in Mexico is the celebration of Masses to honor The Virgin of Guadalupe. After the special services  held on Mother's Day in churches all across this country and in many cities across the United States for the Virgin Mary in her role as the Mother of Mexico, her images are banked with floral gifts.

Mothers (and fathers) gather with their children to honor the Virgin Mary who appeared on a mountain top near Mexico City in 1531, saying, "Am I not here, am I not your Mother?"

Since that day, Mexicans have loved not one but two mothers. One mother is shared with their brothers; the other is shared with God and their countrymen.

In a variation of "Las Mañanitas" sung to the Virgin of Guadalupe the last verse says it all for most Mexicans:

For the moon I’d give a peso, For the sun, I’d give a half

For my mother, and the Virgin, My life and my heart!

With sentiment like that, is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is Mexico’s biggest celebration of the year?

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Mexico Mother’s Day is a Gift of Music

by Judy King 8. May 2010 08:23

calendar-trioMother's Day in Mexico is always on May 10 in Mexico – no matter what day of the week that is. While restaurants are packed for the mid-afternoon meal and florists sell every arrangement they can design, nothing says “I Love You” or “Thank You Mom” like the serenada de las Madres (serenade for the mothers) featuring “Las Mañanitas”.

For Mother's Day, the music begins early, very early—well actually this popular remembrance for mom keeps local musicians criss-crossing the streets of Mexico’s villages all through the night of May 9. and lasts all day long. (See mariachis surprise a family of women in this UTube video.)

"We have to start very early, it takes so much music to show how much we love our madres," said my grinning friend Miguel.

In reality the musicians begin sometime not long after midnight on the night before Mother's Day, making their rounds to first one house and another awakening mothers with the familiar strains of “Las Mañanitas” Mexico’s lovely all-purpose song for serenades, birthdays, saints day and other celebrations.

clip_image001 “How beautiful is the morning

On which I come to greet you

We all come with delight

And pleasure to salute you.

These are the sweet morning songs

That King David used to sing

To all the pretty maidens,

We now sing them for you.”

Do They Only Know One Song?

One year I was having lunch with friends in mid-May, when the newcomers in the group began complaining about hearing bands in their neighborhood all night long. After a few questions, we established that the music they'd heard had been late on May 9, the night before Mother's Day. They liked knowing that the bands were playing for the mothers in the neighborhood. We were about to explain that serenades always begin with "Las Mañanitas" when Cathy asked, "But why do all the bands only know one song?"

Families pool resources to hire the best band possible to play a serenade for mamá, even when that means that the only time the band can come is sometime between three and four in the morning or really isn’t that good at all. Quality makes little difference – it’s better to have some music than no music at all!

(Want proof of that theory? – here is a pair of a delightful videos of groups of men and boys saluting the women in lives. The first video appears to take place during a program for the moms, perhaps in a church. The next was filmed in Southern California and while the guys need copies of the song’s words, their enthusiasm and prowess builds as they sing – looks like they’ve been cooking, too. )

The families that can't afford to hire even a has-been trio for their mother's serenade do the next best thing. They bring out the old guitar and play and sing the song themselves, the way their mom loves it best, in their own sweet harmony. Or…they carefully align a CD in the boom box or turn up the volume on the  cell phone so that they can press "play" just as mom snaps on the kitchen light to prepare the family's breakfast.

“I wish I could be a sunbeam

To shine in through your window 

And say to you, “Good Morning, Happy day”

While you were still snuggled in your bed.

Some years I've been roused from sleep a dozen times or more during the night of May 9th, as various musical groups with varying levels of expertise, talent, and inebriation visited houses in my neighborhood to begin Mother's Day with music.

mariachi04 153 The Origin of this Custom?

I have a nagging suspicion that this romantic way to celebrate Mother’s Day may have had a more practical origin. Can’t you just see it? Years and years ago, the bartender was trying to get the last patrons out of the cantina at closing time on the night before Mother's Day. Just as José staggered through the door, he said to his compadres Chuy, Pepe and Juan, “Ay! I didn’t remember to buy anything for my wonderful wife for Mother’s Day, and now I've spent all but a bit of my money on tequila.”

Chuy, Pepe and Juan commiserate, noting that without gifts for their wives and mothers, they have just hours until they are in big trouble. José saved the day (and his happy home) with a brilliant idea—they hired the cantina's trio to go with them to serenade each of their wives, just like when they were courting. I don't know that this is the way it happened, but I’m willing to bet that mothers didn’t establish a tradition that would wake them up at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning for a bit of romantic music, as sweet, wonderful, and considerate as it may be.

(Javier Solis is one of Mexico’s old-time favorites – you’ll love his mellow voice in  his version of the country’s favorite song.)

Singing to the Mother of Mexico

A lovely Mother’s Day custom in Mexico includes special Masses all across the country to honor Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. The Virgin Mary appeared as a young dark-skinned woman glowing with light near Mexico City in 1531 and said, “Would I be here if I were not your mother?” Since that day, Mexicans love two mothers. Their birth mother is shared with their brothers; the other mother is shared with God, all their countrymen and the world.

DSC00868 “For the moon I’d give a peso

For the sun, I’d give two

For my mother, and the Virgin

My life and my heart!

“Of the stars from the heavens

I should like to take down two—

One with which to greet you

And another to say good-bye.”

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

A Preview of Holidays in the Merry Month of May

by Judy King 29. April 2010 08:18

clip_image003For those of us who are spending some of our third age at Lakeside, learning new customs and traditions are an important part of our adventure. The month of May gives us plenty of opportunities to learn—after all there are seven holidays this month—most in just in the first two weeks of the month.

During these celebrations, there will be a wide range of activities—including everything from pre-dawn serenades special Masses and school programs to fireworks, parades, gifts and the decorating of area crosses and altars with colorful spring flowers and streamers.

We have the opportunity to honor the country’s workers, builders, farmers, and mothers; plus, teachers are honored by their schools and students and then the students are feted by their teachers  -- all during the month of May. 

We’ll even have some special blogs honoring some of these days – Come back on May 3 for our view of how the construction workers came to celebrate on the day of the holy cross. 

Here is a bit of advance warning about the scheduling of government offices, schools and businesses – when they will close and when they’ll remain open during this month of holidays.

  • May 1 – Labor Day closings will include schools, government offices, some small businesses. All employees are entitled to the day off with pay.
  • May 3 – Day of the Holy Cross and Day of the Construction workers. On their day, many of the construction workers and their suppliers (paint stores, hardware stores, plumbing supply stores) take some or all of the day off work. Expect businesses in the village of Santa Cruz de Soledad to close, this is the culmination of their annual fiesta.
  • May 5 – Cinco de Mayo doesn't affect businesses here.
  • May 10 – Mexican Mother's Day doesn't close most businesses, but many women need to take off some of the day to attend special school programs or to be taken out for lunch.
  • May 15 – The Day of the Teachers  
  • May 15 – Feast Day of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers
  • May 23 – The Day of the Students.

(Left:) Bands will take to the streets early on May 3, roaming through Lakeside villages to play at the homes of construction workers and at the workers uncompleted building sites. (Right:) Construction workers pile into a truck with the crosses they will erect on the top of each of their unfinished projects.

 Cinco de Mayo

While we've listed Cinco de Mayo in the above list of holidays, it is not celebrated in this area of Mexico. Students of Mexican history will remember that on May 5, 1862, a war-weary Mexican army won a valiant battle against the French Army in the city of Puebla. There are plenty of celebrations in the US and Canada where it is assumed that May 5 is Mexico's Day of Independence, not just the anniversary of one battle out of decades of wars and battles.

Here’s the short version: In 1861, years of fighting the United States and a lengthy civil war had left Mexico bankrupt with large debts owed to England, Spain and France. When President Benito Juarez suspended payment of the loans for two years, all three countries invaded Mexico, intent on collecting however and whatever they could. By 1862, Spain and England had withdrawn, but Napoleon III continued his war in Mexico. On May 5, 1862, the small, worn and untrained Mexican army defeated the stronger and more modern French troops at Puebla. This was only a temporary victory for Mexico, because a year later, France was victorious and made Maximillian Emperor of Mexico for a short time. The Battle of Puebla was a moral victory that encouraged and united the people of Mexico.

Mother’s Day

May 10 is always Mother's Day (Dia de la Madre) in Mexico.  While Gringo moms are often awakened with ominous sounds and smells emanating from their kitchens, many Mexican moms are awakened sometime between 2 a.m. and dawn by the musicians hired by the family to serenade them. Trios, bands and mariachis wander Lakeside streets by the dozens, playing first at this house and then at that, always starting the new serenade with the traditional song for all happy days, "Las Mañanitas." While not an official paid holiday, many businesses close and maids who are mothers often have the day off to attend the program at school.

Teachers and Students Days

The Dia del Maestro on May 15 is set aside for students to honor Mexico's teachers. Special gifts, programs and songs honor the teachers, and some schools  close at mid-day; others are closed all day. A week later the tables turn and the teachers honor the students. There’s often refreshments, dancing, programs, little gifts, and parties to mark the day. Children seem to be double dipping this time of year…Children’s Day on April 30 is another opportunity to dote on the nation’s kids – enough so to inspire stores to gird up and prepare huge displays of toys and gifts –  it looks a good deal like Christmas!

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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