Juan Galvez

Sharing a passion for Mexican music and culture
Story by Mary Gallagher

Senior double-majoring in sociology and Spanish and a leader of Mariachi Bahía Azul de Western Washington University. Mariachi made up the soundtrack of Galvez’s childhood in Michoacán, Mexico, but it was only recently that he realized how powerful the songs could be in bringing people with Mexican roots together and finding a sense of belonging.

“My first two years here at Western, I didn’t really feel like I fit into the whole university thing,” Galvez remembers. “When the mariachi club was founded, that was the spot where I felt safe at, the spot where I belonged. The people – it was cool to be around them.” Performing for the first time was terrifying, he says, but when he saw how much people enjoyed the music, he knew there was a place for mariachi at Western.

He’s also sharing his love of mariachi with the next generation: He spends several evenings a week teaching guitar and offering a glimpse of Mexican culture to kids at Bellingham’s Sterling Meadows apartment complex for families of migrant workers, where 95 percent of the residents are Latino.

Some universities host conferences for high school mariachi clubs with space to perform, build community and learn some new skills. Galvez wanted to host a conference at Western show prospective students that mariachi has a home in higher ed.

So Galvez and WWU mariachi club manager Jessica Alvaro organized Western’s first mariachi conference in April, drawing 42 student musicians from University of Washington, Central Washington University, Burlington and Wenatchee. After an afternoon of workshops in Baile Folklórico, Spanish linguistics – taught by Changemaker Fellow and student linguist Maria Jose Palacios Figueroa -- and a panel on “What I wish I knew before applying to college,” the groups performed a free concert in Western’s Performing Arts Center, joined by two of Galvez’s young students at Sterling Meadows.

“It was an amazing feeling to see all the groups come together to perform for the public,” Galvez says. “I could not stop smiling and singing. The part that I enjoyed the most was looking at the people’s faces throughout the concert and seeing how much they were enjoying each performance.”

How you can help: “I just want the whole community to know mariachi is here,” Galvez says. “We need to have their support to make this thing grow. I feel like here in Bellingham, it’s really rare. But there are a lot of (people in the) Latino community who want that and need that just to feel like they belong here in Bellingham.”

is editor of Window magazine

Photo and video by Rhys Logan ('11)