The controversy over a program that protects young, undocumented immigrants from deportation didn’t keep Wenatchee High School’s predominantly Latino Mariachi band from playing in Washington, D.C., this week.
Earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan personally invited Mariachi Huenachi to play a concert at the U.S. Capitol as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month. And this week, 31 students were there to play their instruments and sing.
But Ryan supports President Trump’s decision to do away with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Many of Ramon Rivera’s students have personal connections to some of the more than 35,000 DACA applicants in Washington state.
“My focus is to teach the kids that we are above that and that we are going to show that our Hispanic music is important to the nation,” Rivera said.
In Oregon, there are currently more than 21,000 approved DACA applicants. Rivera said the Wenatchee community raised more than $35,000 to help his band travel to D.C..
For many of the kids, it was the first time traveling by air.
“Some of them have never, ever been on an airplane, so when we got on there, they didn’t know how to go through TSA, they didn’t know how to go through security, so it was just the whole learning experience,” Rivera said. “It’s huge. It’s huge for our community and huge for the Northwest and huge for Wenatchee Valley. I’m just so excited that these kids have this huge opportunity,” he said.
The band also spent the week touring national monuments, including the Air Force Memorial, where kids happened upon three busloads of World War II, Vietnam and Korean War veterans.
“The kids went up to them and said 'Thank you for your service’ and then they took pictures and we had a great interaction, and it was totally organic,” said Rivera.
The students also visited the Smithsonian. Currently, there are calls from at least 100 organizations to develop a Smithsonian National American Latino Museum.
“I think that would be a great honor. I think there would be a great deal of interest and great deal of excitement from our Latino community to have that, to be recognized by our nation,” Rivera said.
National Hispanic Heritage Month—celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15—was created by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.