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Abel Acuña

Mariachi Teacher

Teaching mariachi to young people, to boost their pride in their heritage and expand opportunity.

Headshot of Abel Acuña

Abel Acuña has been a mariachi musician for three decades. Born and raised in Edinburg, Texas—located in the Rio Grande Valley, less than 20 minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border—he fell in love with mariachi in high school, forming a club with friends to learn the music of their parents and grandparents. After studying music at the University of Texas-Pan American and playing with ensembles like Mariachi Nueva Generación, Mariachi Aztlán, and Mariachi Continental, Acuña started teaching at Edinburg North High School, the school that inspired his love of the form.

Acuña’s life was transformed by music, and he aims to do the same for future generations—sharing his passion, serving as a mentor, and running championship-winning scholastic mariachi programs. The dazzling 2023 Sundance documentary Going Varsity in Mariachi follows Acuña and Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed mariachi team as they prepare for the state championship.

The Rio Grande Valley is a place where immigrants from all over Latin America come together, creating a unique mix of cultures. And yet, says Acuña, “there was always a narrative that people from the Rio Grande Valley didn’t amount to much. It is my duty as an educator to change that narrative, by lifting students so they can connect to the culture of their ancestors and keep it alive.”

With the Emerson Collective Fellowship, Acuña will host a series of regional mariachi workshops, culminating in a weeklong mariachi festival in June 2025. Students from across the Rio Grande Valley and beyond will have the opportunity to learn new music, study the history of mariachi, and create lasting friendships. They’ll hone their solo, ensemble, and concert pieces while celebrating their culture. The goal is to offer something beyond competition: a shared sense of purpose and possibility that lifts the entire region.

More about The Emerson Collective Fellowship.

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