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Napa schools are starting to wake up to mariachi.It’s a piece of home for American Latinos. Mariachi is a cheerful and unifying genre, and its popularity spans generations.“There’s a sense of identity with (mariachi) as they mature, it’s uniquely Mexican and you can relate to it,” said José Hurtado, a trustee for the Napa Valley Unified School District. “It’s just fun, I’m tongue-tied when I talk about it.

Some Napa educators want to see more mariachi events and programs that may speak to Latino students and Spanish-speaking parents. River School, Napa’s only charter middle school, has a 20-student mariachi group. During Thursday’s lunch hour at Redwood Middle School, hundreds of students gathered to watch Mariachi Real de Oro with Steeven Sandoval, a popular Mexican mariachi group.

More than 60 percent of Redwood Middle students are Latino or Hispanic, according to state statistics from the last school year. Students at Thursday’s performance sang along with the mariachis, Snapchatted clips and snapped videos for their parents. They craned their necks to see the performers. Some said it reminded them of music they heard at home or at parties.“It’s cheerful,” said sixth-grader Riley Juarez. “It’s very exciting.

Icela Martin, a school district trustee who attended Thursday’s performance, said she would love for one of her kids to see such a show at school. “A lot of people can’t go back home,” she said. “And so bringing a little piece of their country ... that’s important.

Hurtado’s commitment to mariachi started with a Dallas wedding 15 years ago.Trustee Hurtado’s son was getting married. He scanned a roster of local mariachis and ultimately hired a high school group.He learned the school’s music teacher wanted to prevent Latino students from dropping out of school.Hurtado took every chance he got to advocate for mariachi in the schools when he joined the school board. He wanted to change the way people thought of music and performance art in the schools. “(Children) all need art that speaks to them. Mariachi music will speak directly to them,” he said. “This is who they are, it’s where they came from. It’s all about pride.

It’s important to teach kids about mariachi and keep it alive, said Luis Perez, teacher of a mariachi class River School.

“You grow up listening to that music, dancing to that music and it just becomes a part of you,” he said.Mariachi offers his Latino students the opportunity to learn about their roots, Perez said. Mariachi originated in the Mexican countryside and was passed down by ear. It’s thought that mariachi originated from a word that means party, he said.For the non-Latino students in his class, mariachi offers the chance to learn about another culture and an art form that’s spreading around the world. Mariachi is now more popular in some other countries than it is in Mexico, he said.“I think eventually it will become just another genre that people … (will) learn and play and make it their own, and not just say ‘Oh, it’s Mexican music,’” Perez said.

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Courtney can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can send her an anonymous tip, and follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook.

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Public Safety Reporter

Courtney Teague is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook, or send her anonymous tip at: tinyurl.com/anonymous-tipbox-courtney.