MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In this week’s Miami Proud, an inspiring and musical journey to South Miami-Dade, home to a large Mexican American population including many farmworkers. The Mexican American Council has supported these families since 1984, working to break the cycle of poverty through education and access to the arts.

CBS4 visited the afterschool program of the Homestead Miami Mariachi Conservatory.

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In this class, there are beginners, intermediate, and some very accomplished musicians.

Kids as young as six years old are learning to read and play music.

Note by note, and chord by chord, the unmistakable sound of Mariachi music comes to life in this building.

Eddie Garza is the CEO of MAC, which founded the Mariachi program.

“This is high-level arts education music education, here in the heart of the farmworker community at the parent resource center at MAC Redland Farm Labor Center,” said Garza.

It started in 2015 with the support of the Knight Foundation, for elementary kids, and with the support of the Children’s Trust and other donors, the conservatory is thriving and serves students through high school.

There is no cost to the students or families and is led by passionate instructors armed with an array of instruments.

Students learn the piano first then transition to the violin, trumpet, vihuela, and guitarron.

It’s a labor of love for the members of ‘Los Mora Arriaga’- the family of Mariachi virtuosos who teach here.

Garza said it would be impossible without them, stating that “they are the gasoline in our tank.”

And for Garza, the mission is personal.

“I am a proud son of former farmworkers- my mom and dad lived here in this community.”

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“It’s very fun,” said Damian Gallegos, an elementary school student.  “I like the guitar because it is the best thing you could ever think of.”

High schoolers Emily Pedraza and Gimena Arellano have been in the program for several years.

Emily plays the trumpet and said this has really built her confidence. Arellano got a guitar at age seven from her dad but didn’t get to play it until she joined this program six years ago.

“I’m really proud of where I come from connects me more to my culture and that’s something great,” Arellano said.

“This is incredibly important for us to preserve our culture to promote the positivity at what it is to be a Mexican American or Chicano,” Garza said.

“When you see the look in their parents’ eyes, their abuelas, grandparents, and cousins, the looks of joy and love appreciation of their roots, it’s beautiful and it really empowers us to do more.”

The kids have performed on stages all over, from the Day of the Dead celebration to a Super Bowl event and even from the fields, in a 2020 virtual concert with some really big names.

“As 99% of them have never ever picked up an instrument, much less read music, to see that group grow, progress, and to then perform at the Altissimo live with Mana and J Balvin and some of the top acts in this world, it was the best thing happen in my life outside of my son being born!”

David Velasquez plays vihuela and is a vocalist. He just loves to perform. He cannot stress enough what this program means to him.

“It’s a big impact in my life.”

“It feels like family here,” said Velasquez.

Right now, there are 80 kids on the waiting list. The conservatory will soon be moving to a bigger location in downtown Homestead, where they plan to expand the program.

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Lauren Pastrana