Mariachi is a beloved musical tradition, the cheerful music that marks celebrations ranging from birthdays to weddings throughout Mexico and the American Southwest.

But for Chapman University students Erandi Sanchez ’22 and Lino Sanchez ’25, it is also family, life and heritage. In addition to their classical music training, the sister and brother have studied and performed the traditional folk music since childhood, grateful to continue a beloved tradition from their culture.

“When I play mariachi it’s a completely different feeling from when I play classical music or jazz. I have some deep emotional connection to it,” Erandi Sanchez says.

For Lino Sanchez, “Playing it fills me with a sense of honor … It makes me proud, it makes me happy.”

Now that passion is helping shape a new student performance ensemble in Chapman’s College of Performing Arts. The group performs under the name Mariachi Panteras, a nod to Chapman’s venerable Pete the Panther mascot, and is Orange County’s first collegiate mariachi ensemble. They debuted in May at Heartbeat of Mexico.

“The students are very proud to see their cultural heritage reflected in the music curriculum and to also create an inclusive space for students,” says Assistant Professor Tammy S. Yi, a violinist, strings specialist and orchestra conductor who teaches music education and is a finalist for the 2022 GRAMMY Music Educator Award.

Indeed, Yi envisions the ensemble as a way to help grow campus diversity. Through a partnership with the mariachi program at Santa Ana High School, she occasionally lectures there and their instructor assists with the Chapman class. “This is all part of a bigger goal. I want Santa Ana High School mariachi students and Chicanx students to see themselves at Chapman and to continue playing mariachi,” Yi says. “I love the fact that we can build community with mariachi.”

“It’s important that students of color and those who come from immigrant families feel seen, valued and have their traditions recognized. For students who may not come from a mariachi background, they still benefit from learning about the rich culture of Mexico,” she says.