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Ancestral identity

September 20th, 2013

An eagle’s gold toned pupils dilate as its talons pierce the cactus’s green flesh. Today’s hunt slithers for the last time and becomes a toy snake for the eagle’s enjoyment. At last the Aztec community’s prophecy has been fulfilled for the vision of an eagle with a snake in its beak perched on a cactus, has been achieved. And now the Aztec people will build their empire’s fortress, Tenochtitlan near the area of the vision and become one of MesoAmerica’s greatest native civilizations.

In celebration of Aztec culture, UTPA will host Flower, Song and Dance, a poetic and musical celebration of Aztec culture. The event commences Sept. 21 at the UTPA library auditorium from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brief Aztec History

The Aztecs who called themselves Mexica or Tenocha spoke the Nahuatl and Nahuat languages. During the 14th to 16th centuries the Aztec empire flourished thanks to their accomplishments in architectural, artistic, mythological and religious traditions. However, in 1521 Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes brought the Aztec’s to their knees and with Spain’s victory the majority of Aztec people assimilated to foreign languages and religious beliefs, such as Christianity. Therefore the traces of Aztec ancestry can be found in Hispanics because of history’s intermixing of different societies.

According to an article on the website Everyculture, central Mexico is home to the largest group of “Nahuatl” (generic label for those who speak dialects of the Aztec language) speaking community. The Nahua live in four major regions: the Huasteca, the northern Sierra de Puebla, the southern Sierra de Puebla and Morelos and Guerrero.

The 2010 Mexican Census states there are, 1,544,968 Nahuatl-speaking peoples existing today. Nahuatl speakers, in fact, represent 23.08 percent of all indigenous speakers.

Flower, Song and Dance

During the presentation David Bowles will read from his newly published translations of Aztec verse against the backdrop of Carl Seale’s Toxcatl. The presentation will be accompanied by video of the historic 1989 performance of Toxcatl featuring the UTPA Folkloric Dance company, under the artistic direction of Francisco and Maria Munoz.

Bowles, an associate professor of education leadership at the University, said his poetry readings will emphasize an Aztec warrior’s destiny and how his death on the battlefield or ritual sacrifice assured him a place in the House of Sun (Paradise in the East).

“The warrior upon his death will then transform into a butterfly or bird and accompany the sun to its zenith (upper region of the sky) each day,” he explained. “The price of this reward, of course, is separation from his loved ones and the pleasures of the earth. So many of the poems I’ll be reading extol the virtues of self-sacrifice and honor and underscore the trials and tribulations of earthly existence.”

The backdrop to Bowles reading, the Toxcatl ballet was inspired by the celebration of the fifth month of the Aztec calendar.

According to an article on the website Wired, the Aztecs used two different types of calendars. The calendar used for rituals had a 260 day rotation and 20 divine symbols for each week. Each week was associated with a god and had 13 numbered days. The agricultural calendar had 18 months of 20 days each and was used to keep pace with the seasons. Each month was divided into four market weeks of five days each leading the calendar to 365 days.

Bowles explained that the two interlocking calendars (365-day solar and 260-day ritual) were important because they drove community rituals.

“And the calendars also determined a person’s tonalli or animal soul, thereby determining their likely personality, strengths and weakness,” he said.

However, dance ceremonies also played a major role in the Aztec culture. Dr. Carl Seale’s Toxcatl  ballet focuses on the dance rituals used as a way to call down Huitzilopochtli, chief god and lord of the sun, or his warrior companions to share the divine song with bards and dancers.

According to an article on the website Sacramento Press, the Xipe Colores Company praises Xipe Totec, the Aztec god of spring and new vegetation and also the patron of gold mines. Participants dance with “Codo de Flailer” (ayoyote-seeded) ankle bands with drums for background music.

The Flower, Song, and Dance event is meant to encourage audience members to take time to research their roots and find appreciation for their heritage or other cultures. Bowles noted that the celebration’s purpose is to give deeper appreciation of the philosophical complexity of Aztec culture.

“Although we know a lot, superficially, about Aztec history and their conflict with Spain, few people have been exposed to the poignant musings of that culture,” Bowles said.

Amy Cummins, an associate professor of English literature at the University, hopes to hear some good poetry by Bowles, whose work she admires.

“I also hope to enjoy and learn from seeing the recording of the ballet Toxcatl,” Cummins said. “I expect the audience may be amazed by the beauty of the poetry and the ballet.”

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‘The Valley’s soundtrack’

April 18th, 2013

Each weekend, artists across the Valley plug in their amps, set up their mics and prepare to perform for anyone who will listen. But while they’re playing their tunes in the limelight, empty seats in the venue don’t go unnoticed.

A headcount of about 50 people attended the RGV Local Musicians Showcase April 13 at Barlow’s Rock Venue in Pharr. According to event promoter Waylon Magallan, that’s a large number when it comes to Valley shows.

RGV Showcase is meant to expose local artists on the rise and get them known in the Valley community, Magallan said. A total of eight acts performed, ranging from rap and metal to acoustic.

“I’m from San Antonio. They have a very good music scene there. When I came here, I was expecting it to be the same,” the 21-year-old said. “Over there you have a show and you’re like, ‘Man, only 200 people showed up.’ Over here you’re like, ‘Oh I had a good show, 40 people showed up.’ It’s just really different.”

Magallan moved to the Valley in May 2012 and eventually began organizing live music shows with promoting company Ace’s High Productions. According to Magallan, he noticed a struggle in the local music scene, motivating him to get involved. As a musician himself, he said he wanted to do his part.

“We wanted to do a show for artists who are barely starting – some people’s first shows – just to help them out and get some exposure, ” Magallan said of RGV Showcase. “Before I moved down here, everyone would say that McAllen had a very good scene and the local music had support. But when I moved down here, everyone said the scene was dying. I just wanted to help it out.”

According to Magallan, artists in the Valley don’t promote themselves well, resulting in a less-than-packed house, discouraging the artists. Lack of self-promotion is one of the factors in the “struggling” scene, according to the promoter.

Barlow’s owner Dante Becerra can attest to this theory.

“As a venue owner, I feel bad for bands if they don’t have people. At the same time it’s the band’s responsibility to promote their show,” said Becerra, the singer of local band 22 to None. “A lot of bands, when they get booked, they assume that the promoter is going to promote for them, but the bands have to bring in their own people.”

Tucked away in a plaza, next to Taqueria Jalisco, lies Barlow’s Rock Venue, which opened in January. Becerra explained that he opened the venue because bands didn’t have many locations to play.

“Too many local venues closed down, and since I’m in a band, it was hard to find places that let you play if you don’t bring in 50 to 100 people,” 34-year-old Becerra said. “I wanted a venue for the locals. The ones who don’t get to play anywhere.”

While Magallan said he believes support is lacking from fans and artists, Becerra thinks it’s because there aren’t enough venues to play.

According to Becerra, bars such as McAllen’s Simon Sez and Cypress Lounge are popular with bands, but many are ages 21 and up, leaving out the younger demographic. Barlow’s, however, doesn’t sell alcohol or allow smoking indoors, leaving that particular crowd to potentially seek other locations.

Along with the venue, bar battle, Becerra explained that audiences get discouraged when they have to pay to see local bands perform and will complain about a cover fee. The RGV Musicians Showcase charged an entrance fee of $4 with 10 percent of the cut for Ace’s High. There are reasons for this. As opposed to bars that use drink funds to pay bills, places like Barlow’s, which don’t sell alcoholic refreshments, rely solely on the cover charge to stay in business.

“You’re not paying for a local band. You’re paying for the place to stay open so you can watch local bands,” Becerra explained. “We don’t sell anything, maybe water for a dollar. Cover pays the lights, the AC. It pays for the venue to stay open and a lot of people don’t like that.”

Regardless of the attendance, for some artists, the show will go on – a mentality that Secrets Told In Silence guitarist Melissa “Bones” Martinez follows.

“As a person who has seen it all and has been struggling for years, it doesn’t matter to me,” the 30-year-old Weslaco native said. “I can be playing in front of like three people and I would still have brought the whole getup. It’s fun to me. This is what I do and I’m not going to half-ass it.”

Martinez, whose band played at the RGV Showcase, explained that she’s been involved in the music since she was 12 years old, performing with bands and as a solo act. Although she said she will play music regardless of crowd size, she understands the importance of audience involvement.

“If you have support and they show interest in you, it kinda adds motivation for the band to get out there and practice as much as they’re supposed to,” she noted. “If they see that people are starting to show interest in them then it kind of builds them up.”

For shows such as RGV Musicians Showcase, Becerra and Magallan explained that it’s all done for the locals, and it’s something that they will continue to do while they can.

“This is all we have. We don’t live in a big market city where there’s stuff to do all the time,” Becerra said. “It’s like, every movie has a soundtrack, this is our soundtrack. We need the support. I mean, we’ll play with or without it. Even if it’s playing in a garage for two people, we’re still going to play. This is the Valley’s soundtrack.”

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Strumming international strings in the Valley

April 15th, 2013

Lively music poured out of the guitars and led the dancers in their dancing in Weslaco and at UTPA for the fifth annual Guitar Festival and Cuadro Flamenco April 9-13.

Flamenco is a spirited Spanish dance that is performed to guitar playing and Spanish singing. Cuadro Flamenco is an ensemble that gives students the chance to learn a variety of flamenco dances. According to Kurt Martinez, a UTPA guitar professor, UTPA is one of the few universities in the United States to offer this Spanish dance as a part of a curriculum.

Artists from around the world, such as Luis Quintero, gave guitar performances to the Weslaco public and free guitar workshops for students at UTPA.

“The invited artists hold workshops at the University for the students so they get to learn from the best,” said Martinez. “And I feel things like this help bring the guitar program to an international level.”

Martinez, who has been teaching at the University for nine years, created the festival five years ago with his students and the community in mind.

“The main goal is to expose the community and University to world class guitarists,” Martinez explained. “So everyone can see what playing guitar is all about and gain an appreciation for it.”

Three performances were held at the Braught Memorial Theater next to the City of Weslaco’s library.

The first performance was by Flavio Apro, a Brazilian guitarist who never played in the United States prior to the festival. The following day, Apro gave a workshop at UTPA where students attended to learn new playing techniques among other things.

Venezuelan guitarist Luis Quintero took the stage in Weslaco April 10. Quintero has been playing guitar since his childhood and made his debut at 14 years old in Carnegie Hall, a concert hall in New York City.

Quintero held a workshop at the University the day after his performance as well, in which students played alongside him, an experience that Martinez said is a great learning opportunity.

“They get to see these artists and that inspires them, and makes them work harder,” he said.

The UTPA Cuadro Flamenco joined some UTPA guitar students April 12 and 13 to perform with artists like Japanese Flamenco guitarist Jose Tanaka, singer Vicente Griego from New Mexico and Spanish dancer Maria Bermudez.

Martinez said festivals like this give students the chance to work with international and local singers, guitarists and choreographers from across the country and the world, as well as with each other.

“It’s an opportunity for students from different disciplines to play together and to play with accomplished performers,” Martinez said. “I’m glad they have the chance to experience things like this.”

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‘Come Together’

April 11th, 2013

If any were sad about the fact that this generation might never get to experience The Beatles, think again. Rain, a Broadway show and band dedicated to representing the iconic English rock band, will pay a visit to the State Farm Arena April 11.

Rain started out as California bar band in 1970 with founder and now manager of the band, Mark Lewis, as their frontman. Originally named Reign, they changed the name once they acquired national fame, according to their website. It was then Lewis, who molded the band into a more professional and nationally acclaimed group as he recruited some of the most talented musicians to join the band.

“I first saw that Rain was coming when I decided to snoop around the web page for the arena. I am continuously attending music shows and festivals and this one definitely caught my eye because I have listened to the Beatles since I was a kid,” freshman Stephanie Zepeda said. “I am just too excited.”

The Beatles originated in Liverpool in 1960. They started hitting fame in Great Britain, but ‘Beatlemania’ hit the United States in 1964 when the band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Beatlemania refers to the intense fan frenzy directed toward the Beatles. In the eight years they were together, The Beatles made movies and impacted pop culture, music, clothes and art.

The band produced 15 No.1 hit singles in America in a span of six years. They remained No. 1 in America for 175 weeks. They are the artist with the highest total album sales in the U.S. with 107,000,000 albums sold.

“I first heard of the band when I was 9,” Zepeda said. “I remember listening on as my mom played her favorite songs, and thinking to myself that I really wanted to see this band live.”

Even though The Beatles disbanded after eight years in 1969, their music continues to influence people born in the 90s like 21-year-old Karissa Gutierrez.

“Their music just puts me in a really good mood,” the Pharr native said. “it reminds me that whatever I’m going through there’s always good to come.”

Zepeda plans to attend the concert with her boyfriend, freshman, Carlos Cortez who is also a great fan of The Beatles.

“I am so excited that there is a band that plays their music,” the Harlingen native, Cortez, said. “The best part for me is that I have read reviews on them that mention how much they really do sound like them.”

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Together for FESTIBA

March 30th, 2013

Monday night, the hands of violin player and University of New Mexico professor Carmelo de Los Santos worked quickly and smoothly, hitting high and low notes with ease before an audience at the Student Union Theatre.

Throughout the week of March 18, UTPA hosted various events such as a violin and viola performance titled Together! in celebration of the Festival of International Books and Arts.

Violas and violins are closely related instruments, the main differences between the two being that a viola is slightly larger, can play higher and has a different tone quality, according to Joel Pagan, a violin and viola professor at UTPA.

University’s music faculty joined Violist Timothy Deighton and Violinist De Los Santos on the stage of the theatre perform a concert, open to the public.

“We believe it’s important for our students to see other performers because it raises their interests in music,” explained Pagan. “It makes them want to practice and want to be like them.”

Deighton, a viola professor at Penn State University, shared the stage with pianist Yu-Chi Tai to play Morpheus, a song composed by twentieth century violist Rebecca Clarke.

After his first performance, Deighton played Lament for Two Violas with Pagan. The duo created a sound that echoed throughout the theater as members of the audience listened.

De Los Santos took the stage next. First he played three songs on his own, then an intermission followed.

Pagan, who has been teaching at the University for eight years, organized the event with help from Daniel Andai, a visiting assistant Professor of violin at UTPA, who played in the concert as well.

“Doctor Andai is an endowed chair,” Pagan explained. “That’s how we could afford to have these guest artists and pay their hotel fees and things like that.”

When a university has a professor as an endowed chair, they bring with them valuable financial support which can aid in research or other activities, like the FESTIBA performances.

After a short intermission, Pagan and Deighton returned to perform a four-part Two Viola Concerto in G major. Both men’s playing flowed together, bringing Georg Philipp Telemann’s work to life.

“I loved having (Deighton) here. He’s a great person and I like that his playing and my playing are very complimentary,” Pagan commented about the performance. “The way one blends with the other is a match made in heaven.”

Lastly, De Los Santos played the three-part Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor with Andai. Both violinists ran their bows over their strings powerfully, creating melodies that the audience stood and cheered for as the performances came to an end.

“It was a blast for me and it was a blast for those who participated,” Pagan said with a smile.

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Festival of International Books and Arts promotes literacy and college readiness

March 21st, 2013

A Texas Book Festival was held Tuesday and Wednesday to promote literacy to students. The festival brought The Jumping Tree author Rene Saldaña Jr., to six Valley elementary schools where authors presented their works to students.

Saldaña was among seven authors that presented their works to schools in McAllen, Mercedes Mission, and Peñitas. Each student walked away with an autographed copy of their book. This was one of the many events held during the Festival of International Books and Arts, a weeklong celebration by the College of the Arts and Humanities that started March 18 and aims to promote culture through literacy.

Dean of College of Art and Humanities Dahlia Guerra said she believes that such presentations give students a rare opportunity to read.

Guerra explained that this year’s theme, Literacy: Inspiring Healthy Minds and Healthy Bodies, reflects the main theme of FESTIBA.

“The skill of reading is forever going to impact someone,” she said. “It leads to writing and critical thinking which will prepare for a new generation of students who will be college ready.”

Aside from pushing literacy among children, FESTIBA also promotes the College and the University as a whole. FESTIBA bring in guest speakers who range from authors, poets and scholars.

“We try to mirror who the students are,” Guerra said as she explained why so many speakers are Mexican-American. “Most people are inspired by people who come from the same environment that they’re from, aspired for greater things and succeeded.”

Guests for the week of FESTIBA range from musicians such as acclaimed conductor Alondra de la Perra, NFL star Roberto Garza of the Chicago Bears, and Women’s Water Polo Olympic gold medalist Brenda Villa.

Guerra notes that several FESTIBA events, such as an art exhibit that will be held in the UTPA Visitors Center all week, are examples of America and Mexico working together.

“The exhibit is sponsored by the Mexican Consulate,” Guerra explained. “It’s two countries working together to bring two cultures together in the name of education.”


When it started in 2006, it was only a music festival named FESTIBA Musical. Guerra was serving as the chair of music then but became dean the following year. She decided to include the arts and humanities college in the next FESTIBA to model HESTEC, a weeklong event held in the fall.

“I felt that it was the next logical step, to include the actual art and academic presentations of the University to represent UTPA, similar to how HESTEC represents the STEM fields,” she said.

Music is still an integral part of FESTIBA, evidenced by a free mariachi competition and concert that will be held at the UTPA Field House Saturday, March 23.

The last event March 25 is a string concert featuring UTPA music professors Daniel Andai and Joel Pagan with guest artists Carmelo de los Santos of the University of New Mexico and Penn State music professor Timothy Deighton. It will be held at the Student Union Theater at 8 p.m.

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Galax Z Fair brings the far-flung to the far South

March 14th, 2013

When the Los Angeles band Bleached hit the road for Galax Z Fair in McAllen, a music and art festival they had never heard of in a town they didn’t know existed, the members didn’t realize they would be playing the same show with other familiar faces.

“When we were actually driving over here today, we were looking at the set list of the bands playing and it was like ‘Oh my God we’re playing with bands that we’re friends with,’” Bleached bass player Jessie Clavin said. “When we pulled into here…everyone was outside and we walked in and I was just like ‘Whoa this is bigger than I thought it was going to be. Way bigger.’ So it was really awesome.”

Bleached was one of 13 bands that performed at the second annual Galax Z Fair festival. Of the 13 bands, 11 traveled from other states and countries to play at the event hosted by event promoters Tigers Blood and Ouch, My Ego!.

This year the festival was split between two locations, Cine El Rey Historic Theatre and a bar just around the corner of 17th street called the Thirsty Monkey. Throughout the night, crowds herded back and forth between the two stages as the bands performed.

Mac Demarco, who said he classifies himself and his accompanying band as jazzy, pop rock, was one of two acts that made their way down from Canada. Demarco, like most of the bands at GZF, admitted he had never heard of the festival either.

“My booking agent said someone contacted her and said, ‘We’d like to have Mac.’ And I was like, ‘McAllen? Where the hell is that? Oh it’s way down there,” he said with a laugh as he took a drag from a cigarette while sitting curbside. “It’s cool though. I’ve never been here and I had no idea because you drive through nothing forever and then there’s a city. It’s kind of sick.”

Among the acts was Boston, Mass. band Pretty & Nice. The quartet with scruffy beards and “fun pop” music were the first to take the Thirsty Monkey stage at the start of the festival. Pretty & Nice was familiar with GZF because they played at the afterparty for last year’s event.

Bass player Roger Lussier said he was friends with Ouch My Ego! executive George Dean and was always invited to play a show in the Valley. After experiencing GZF last year, they wanted to return.

“We had a blast; we had a great time. So this year we started a little bit earlier– begging George. This is the way we get things done sometimes,” Lussier said as lead vocalist Jeremy Mendicino spoke simultaneously.

“Please let us drive to your town,” Mendicino said pretending to beg to Dean, “Which is hours and hours away from everything else. C’mon guys, really? Does it have to be this far South? What is that all about? Who founded this town? Show me to your leader.”

In spite of the show being “off beat and path,” according to the Pretty & Nice members, they said it was an event well worth playing.

“Anywhere where people are excited to see some rock and roll or any music at all, we’re happy to be there,” Mendicino said. “It’s really cool to know that even just a few festivals are occurring in a place like McAllen. We definitely would have driven 14 hours to get here and back to where we’re going, but it’s cool because we knew that it would be a good time.”

As other festivals go on during the spring break week, such as Austin’s South By Southwest, most of the bands said they had places to be the next day for another show. But the promoters wanted to give the locals a festival to attend right at home.

Just as some of the bands hadn’t heard of Galax Z Fair, Tigers Blood founder Patrick Garcia explained that some Valleyites hadn’t heard of a lot of the bands either. It was for that particular reason that the bands were booked in the first place.

“I’m just so bored with festivals that book a bunch of bands three or four times that have played the past three or four years. It’s just like paying to see a rental movie. Where is the fun in that?” Garcia said. “So I figure people drive up to South By Southwest…for the most part just to experience it and hear new music. So I’m bringing the new music down here.”

One of the things Demarco acknowledged that he liked about GZF was that it was an all ages show, allowing for more people to participate.

“A lot of the shows we play, kids can’t come. It sucks because rock shows are places where people drink and kids can’t come. if kids don’t come to the shows then there’s not going to be any…new bands,” 22-year-old Demarco said. “You’ve got to share the love.”

Edinburg native Rick Partida was one of the Valleyites that had heard of some the bands beforehand. The sophomore studio art major said he appreciated the festival being close to home and that it offered a little something for all crowds.

“I think it’s something you have to come to if you’re from around the area because I think it’s really cool how they feature people from upstate and out of the country,” 22-year-old Partida said. “You have to see it.”

Although many of the bands were newcomers to the Valley and Galax Z Fair, many said they enjoyed the festival and would gladly return to the place they once knew nothing about.

“I forget how big (Texas) is and how many little cities there are. There are probably a lot of people in those cities that want (festivals) in their own homes,” Clavin said. “It makes me really happy for Patrick that he’s like ‘I want to do these festivals for the experience.’ It just gives me hope for the future that I’m sure this festival will expand. For this being the second one, this is pretty awesome.”

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Coffee House Series

February 26th, 2013

Texas native Claire Fowler performs at the Student Union Commons as part of the Coffee House series, which provides local and popular entertainment for students. Fowler, an accomplished singer and songwriter, sang tracks from her latest album “My Quiet Riot.”

 Coffee House Series

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2013 Ultimate Music Experience

February 25th, 2013

The Ultimate Music Experience celebrates its third year as one of the Valley’s largest electronic music festivals. From 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. 11 artists will drop their beats at South Padre Island’s Schlitterbahn Water Park for the festival that welcomes back Grammy nominated DJ Tiësto.



March 13 (Pre-party)

Dillon Francis


March 14

Calvin Harris


Chris Lake

March 15

Flux Pavilion

Major Lazer

Bro Safari

March 16



Danny Avila






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Past the Checkpoints

February 24th, 2013

UTPA’s Mariachi Aztlán is on tour with The Houston Grand Opera, performing a mariachi opera about the struggles that one teenager had to overcome because he was undocumented.

Past the Checkpoints was composed by David Hanlon, a Music Director for HGO, and is based on the challenges faced by David Moreno, a trumpet player from UTPA.

The new kind of opera has the usual opera singers, but they’re performing to the music played by mariachi instruments. Moreno plays the trumpet in Past the Checkpoints while actor Gabriel Gargari sings to what he plays.

When Gargari’s character is distraught, Moreno plays slowly and quietly while Gargari sings in despair, his head hanging low as he kneels on the ground. When Gargari’s character is happy with his friends, he sings joyfully and Moreno plays just as upbeat.

In the opera, Gabriel (not to be confused with Gargari), the character based on Moreno, is the top trumpet player in his high school and has auditions coming up for Baylor University. His fellow students and band teacher say he is a shoe-in, but Gabriel is apprehensive about heading up to Waco because he must pass the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias.

Coming from a family of undocumented workers and being an undocumented himself, Gabriel is afraid to be discovered by the authorities or to bring suspicions on his family.

Ultimately, Gabriel decides to skip the auditions and begins to feel that his options for a successful future are running out. When he’s close to giving up, his music teacher tells him that he could join the mariachi at UTPA, which gives him hope once again.

“I felt trapped and I was frustrated, but UTPA helped me feel free,” Moreno said. “It gave me a future and I didn’t have to live in fear anymore.”

Past the Checkpoints will be performed in other cities including Houston before performing Cruzar La Cara de la Luna, or To Cross the Face of the Moon in Chicago in April. More information about the future performance can be found on

Extended article coming soon

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