Mexican mariachi art is the focus of US postage stamps

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – There are few corners of the world where the echo of mariachi music has reached, filling street corners with the sounds of the blaring trumpets and strumming guitars that form the backbone of Mexico’s traditional genre.

Now all the festive fever is packed into one tiny US postage stamp.

The US Postal Service celebrated the release of a new series of postage stamps honoring Mariachi on Friday. The first release ceremony took place in New Mexico’s largest city as musicians and fans from around the world gathered for a weekend of concerts hosted by the 30th Annual Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque.

The five graphic stamps are by artist Rafael López, who lives and works in both Mexico and San Diego. Each shows an individual performer in traditional clothing with his instrument. While the outfits are ornate, the backgrounds are simple and bright, inspired by the palette of another Mexican craft—papel picado, the ornate paper-cut banners often hung for parties and other events.


While the origins of mariachi are shrouded in mystery, López said there’s no doubt that the beats and rhythms that evolved over centuries in tiny Mexican villages are now known around the world. There’s something special about the celebratory nature of mariachi, and Latinos pride themselves on being able to share that with other cultures, López said.

And that it’s now recognized on the stamps is a bonus, said Robert Palacios, executive director of the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, held in the border town every November.

Palacios, 32, plays guitarrón and credits the music with keeping him out of trouble in middle school.

“It just turned things around for me,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do and now 20 years later I’m the director of the mariachi conference and just working to keep it alive. So for me, being a student has come full circle and now being able to share this passion.”


The effects of mariachi can be magical, Lopez said, putting people in a festive mood and turning strangers into quick friends. But whether it’s the beat, the outfits, the singing or all of them together, he can’t explain.

“It’s a universal thing that mariachi has and it’s hard to explain,” he said during an interview from his studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

“We all need a little moment every once in a while to relax and feel happy, and this music does it,” he added. “I think that’s something that makes us Latinos very proud, to see something that started in this region of Mexico and suddenly becomes part of the culture of the Southwest, it’s also becoming part of the United States. Before you know it, it’s universal, it’s international.”

López grew up surrounded by mariachi music in Mexico City. He plays guitar, violin, and the six-string guitarrón that provides the bass line for a mariachi ensemble.


He knows where each band member needs to place their hands to create that special tone. And that is reflected in the images on the stamps.

The imagery was also inspired by movie posters from the golden era of Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s, and travel posters issued by the US government in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

“I wanted to have that kind of nostalgia,” said López, who also created the Latin Music Legend Series merengue stamp and illustrated a children’s book by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “I didn’t want it to look modern, but like something we remember from our childhood.”

For the next generation, Palacios said he hopes this new wave of attention will spur more inspiration.

“It’s a big step for our culture, a nice step,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Mexican mariachi art is the focus of US postage stamps

Sarah Y. Kim

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