All of the instructors in the Mariachi Youth Program are experienced, bi-lingual, professional artist-teachers, driven to pass on the art forms that they love to a new generation.
Juan Francisco Diaz (Musician Instructor)
The founder and director of Mariachi Azteca is Juan Francisco Diaz also known as El Pato. Born in Santa Maria del Rio, San Luis Potosi, he came to the U.S. through an invitation by Los Lupeños de San José, mediated by Armando Quintana with the University of San Luis Potosi.
Pato began his career of mariachi in the United States working first with David Kilpatrick at University of California Santa Cruz, where he taught classes in Mexican music. He eventually joined Mariachi Tepatitlán de Manuel Aguilar, where he apprenticed with musicians such as Francisco Rodríguez and El Chato Zamora, developing his skills as a mariachi musician and a cancionero-someone that maintains an immense repertoire of songs.
Pato started Mariachi Azteca in 1980 with members of Tepatitlán and became the musical director. For many years, Mariachi Azteca has acted as the resident mariachi of Mexican Heritage Corporation’s San José Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival, performing in the concerts and teaching the workshops for the conference.
Mariachi Azteca represents the best in mariachi in any location either as teachers in the classroom, as a working group performing at weddings, Birthday parties, or at Tacos al Carbon, and as a “show group” representing San José. Many members of Mariachi Azteca have either come from or gone on to play with some of the top show groups in Mexico or the United States such as Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, Mariachi de America, Sonidos de America, Mariachi 2000, Los Toritos, Nuevo Tecalitlán, Los Tecolotes, Sol de America, Sol de Mexico, Los Camperos, Mariachi Imperial and most recently Mariachi Mujer 2000.
Juan Francisco Diaz II (Musician Instructor)
Juan Diaz first remembers starting to like music around the age of seven. His father played guitar and his mother played the violin. His father noticed this curiosity towards mariachi developing and one day gave him a cassette filled with mariachi music. To this day he can still remember some of the songs that were on it.
Soon after, he had the opportunity to listen to Mariachi Vargas live for the first time. What made it extra special was seeing his mother’s group performing at the same event as Mariachis Vargas de Tecalitlan, Los Camperos de Nati Cano and Los Galleros de Pedro Rey.
A few years later, Juan had the opportunity to attend his first mariachi conference in Tucson, Arizona. From then on his family started to attend mariachi festivals regularly, seeing other big name mariachi groups, such as America, Cobre and Sol de Mexico.
Juan started assisting his father in his teachings in 1995. In 1998, he started playing with his father’s group, Mariachi Azteca, on a permanent basis, where he has made his greatest strides as a musician and performer, playing and learning with some of the very best, at times sharing the stage with the some of the groups mentioned above. Music continues to be as interesting now as it was when he was a child. He still learns new things every day and passes those things on to his students.
One of his greatest satisfactions now is that those who saw him a child and student years ago now see him as a colleague.
Sofia Fojas (Musician Instructor)
Sofia Fojas has twelve years of experience teaching mariachi music in the San José Unified School District. She has also taught in the Fremont Unified School District and the Lincoln Unified School District. Mariachi youth groups under her leadership have performed for the San José City Council, the Santa Clara Office of Education, the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department, and the San José Police Department. She is a member of the American String Teachers’ Association and the California Music Educators’ Association.
Sofia is also a working professional violinist in a variety of genres, including chamber music and symphony, in addition to mariachi. She is a member of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 153. It is her mission to teach children the joys of performing music so that they may grow to be enriched, fulfilled participants of a global community.
Maria Luisa Colmenarez (Folklórico Instructor)
Maria Luisa Colmenarez, Mexican Folk Dancer/Artist, has served as Artistic Director for Grupo Folklorico Mizoc de Sacramento, Danzantes del Alma de UC Davis, Folklorico Latino de Woodland, Los Lupenos and Alegria de San Jose. She has appeared as a performer in six seasons of the SF Ethnic Dance Festival. Performance highlights include touring with Linda Ronstadt’s Mas Canciones, the pro-omnibus performance in Candlestick Park for Pope John Paul II and the Ethnic Dance Festival of Hawaii.
She is a National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts grant recipient, former California Arts Council, Artist-in-Residence and CAC Dance Grant Panelist. She has been a member of the Asociacion Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos (ANGF) since 1974 and has served as a California Representative and as Co-Director for the international ANGF Conference XVI in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico and Conference XXXV in Tepic, Nayarit.
Ms. Colmenarez has been a multi-cultural dance specialist in the Conservatory of American Musical Theater of San Jose and, Statewide Coordinator for Danzantes Unidos’ Folklorico-On-Wheels Project and a panelist for the prestigious San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival Auditions. She is a member of the National Association for Latinos in Arts and Culture (NALAC) and has attended their Leadership Institute in 2001 & 2003 and represented the folklorico dance community at the NALAC Summit in Florida in 2004. For over twelve years, she served as a faculty member of the Las Cruces International Mariachi Festival in New Mexico and currently serves as a folklorico consultant for companies throughout California. She has been a member of the dance faculty for the San Jose Mariachi Festival Conference since 2005.
Ms. Colmenarez is also the current president of the federal nonprofit, Danzantes Unidos de California, which yearly convenes the largest celebration of folklorico dancers in the world. As a visual artist, she has received various awards and honorable mention for her work in ceramic, glass and bronze. She is mother to budding young artists Luis Xavier and Diana Victoria and partner/wife to the wickedly handsome physicist/inventor/folklorico dancer/musician and author–Rudy F.
José Hernandez (Music Education Consultant)
One of the nation’s most respected mariachi ensembles, Mariachi Sol de Mexico was founded in 1981 by Jose Hernandez, and is one of the nation’s premier concert mariachi ensembles, performing international concert venues such as Davies Symphony Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City. Jose Hernandez is a sought-after music director, arranger and producer and has performed with such internationally renowned artists as Lola Beltran, Rocio Durcal, Linda Ronstadt, Vicky Carr, Shaila Durcal, Juan Gabriel, Wille Nelson, Vincente Fernandez and Selena. He is a leading proponent of mariachi music education, and teaches at workshops, conferences, as well as at his own mariachi institute in Los Angeles.
Marcia Neel (Music Education Consultant)
Marcia Neel is a prominent music educator and music education advocate at the local, state, and national levels, with expertise in curriculum development. She is currently President of Music Education Consultants, Inc., a consortium of music education professionals working with a variety of educational organizations, arts associations, and school districts to foster the growth and breadth of school-based music education programs. In the past, she has served as Western Division President of the National Association for Music Education, President of the Nevada Music Educators Association, and President of the Nevada Choral Directors Association and co-chaired the team that wrote Nevada’s Content Standards in Arts Education. Her National Mariachi Workshops for Educators have been instrumental in developing mariachi programs across the nation. Her articles have been published by the National Association for Music Education, School Band and Orchestra Magazine, Strings Magazine, Parent Magazine and Leadership Magazine.
If you are a San José educator interesting in learning about bringing the Mariachi Youth Program to your school, please contact: