Alicia Villarreal at the Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival
Blanca Garcia

The 23rd Annual Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival had a full house of attendees singing along to old classics and new releases on Saturday night at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Always a popular event among Fiesta festivities, the Mariachi Festival, cofounded by the late Al Pizano and Congressmember Salud Carbajal, strives to preserve and promote Latino culture and promote higher education. In that respect, the festival partners with the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation to provide Latino students with scholarships. Since its creation, the festival has awarded more than $650,000 in scholarships, largely to first-generation, low-income, Latino students. This year, 20 students from the Central Coast region were selected; they were brought onstage by event emcee and radio personality Eddie “Piolín” (Tweety Bird) Sotelo.

“Their parents came here and have worked so hard for the next generation of America,” Sotelo said, gesturing at the students. “Why do we come to the U.S.?” he asked the crowd in Spanish. “To triumph!” they responded. Piolín reminded the crowd of the struggles Latinos face coming to the U.S. “Her dad,” he said about a recipient, “couldn’t make it today because he’s working — it’s the same story.”

The students expressed their gratitude for the scholarships onstage and in letters to the Mariachi Festival Annual Scholarship Fund. “This scholarship means a lot to me as it will allow me to attend a four-year university,” wrote Nayeli Abigail Casas Mejia. After being accepted into Seattle Pacific University, Mejia thought she wouldn’t be able to attend because her parents could not afford it. “This scholarship allowed me to accept and enroll in my top choice in school,” she wrote. Recipient Andrew Herrera is the first person in his family to go to college. “This is important because I feel like someone believes that I will succeed and is willing to help me,” he wrote. Herrera will attend UC Merced in the fall to study biological sciences. Another recipient, Anna Guadalupe Artiaga, wrote, “You are funding the American dream and an overall better future for the world.”


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