Cultural Straddling: The Double Life of a Mariachi Music Education Major


Margaret E. Schmidt, Arizona State University

Carlos J. Castaneda, Arizona State University


Researchers have suggested that school music offerings often fail to connect with the ways many students interact with music in their daily lives (Hartley et al., 2009; Kratus, 2007; Richerme, 2011; Williams, 2011). Students may respond to the disconnect between home and school musics in several ways: cultural mainstreamers choose to assimilate to the dominant school culture; noncompliant believers adopt markers of their class and race in language, dress, music, and social networks; cultural straddlers identify with both home and school cultures, developing fluency in the cultural codes needed to move between them (Carter, 2006).


This case study involves Carlos, a non-traditional undergraduate music education major, and Marg, a university teacher educator/researcher. Together, we explore Carlos’ experiences in “straddling” the cultures of a traditional music teacher preparation program and his secret life as a passionate mariachi educator. We also investigate Marg’s challenges in helping Carlos prepare for teaching.


Born in Mexico, Carlos moved to the U.S. as a high school student, subsequently learning English. He joined the school band as a beginning clarinetist and enjoyed the experience. At the end-of-the-year concert, Carlos’ parents heard not only his band, but the school mariachi. With a $20 bribe from his father, Carlos agreed to choose mariachi class over band the next year, even though he “hated” his parents’ music. He intended to learn guitar so he could also play his “favorite pop music,” but the teacher asked him to learn trumpet or violin. Carlos chose trumpet. “At first [he] didn’t like it, because it would give [him] a lot of headaches.” Once he started learning to play tunes, “it became more interesting.” The performance experiences, particularly the audience response, “hooked” Carlos and, “little by little,” he came to share his parents’ love of mariachi.


Carlos was highly motivated to continue his education, but was challenged in college by long reading assignments in English. For six years, he experimented with different majors at two universities, earning three associate degrees, while continuing to teach himself to play trumpet. He ultimately earned another A.A. in music at a community college. Mentored by his trumpet professor, Carlos enrolled as a music education major at a university in a neighboring state.

Marg has been challenged to help Carlos prepare for teaching. With no local school-based mariachi programs, Carlos completed classes and internships in strings, band, and general music, while maintaining his passion on the side: teaching mariachi to children at a community music school and in his home, and performing with the university’s non-major mariachi and a variety of local mariachis. Carlos’ senior trumpet recital “straddled” several musical cultures, including western classical, jazz, and mariachi.


Carlos’ persistence and ability to straddle are helping him fill in one of the “missing faces” among music educators (DeLorenzo, 2012). In the process, Marg has come to share Carlos’ love of mariachi. We will present this case together, each giving our own perspectives on experiences with “cultural straddling” in music teacher education.




Carter, P. L. (2006). Straddling boundaries: Identity, culture, and school. Sociology of Education, 79(4), 304-328.

DeLorenzo, L. C. (2012). Missing faces from the orchestra: An issue of social justice? Music Educators Journal, 98(4), 39-46.

Hartley, L. A., Heuser, F., Schmidt, M., Weaver, M. A., & Zdzinski, S. F. (2009). Large ensemble music instruction: A phoenix awaiting cremation or reincarnation? Presentation at the Biennial Symposium on Music Teacher Education, Greensboro, NC, September 10-12. schedule/

Kratus, J. (2007). Music education at the tipping point. Music Educators Journal, 94(2), 42-48.

Richerme, L. K. (2011). Apparently we’ve disappeared. Music Educators Journal, 98(35), 35-40.

Williams, D. A. (2011). The elephant in the room. Music Educators Journal, 98(1), 51-57.