By Edgar Lopez
A group of mariachis seeking better pay held a forum at Mariachi Plaza on Monday afternoon to address concerns about how a proposed union would affect the Boyle Heights plaza, which has long served as an informal hiring hall and hangout for the Latino musicians. Arturo Ramirez, president of the Organizacion de Mariachis Unidos de Los Angeles, said the main goal of the group is to represent the plaza mariachis and to regulate fair payment as a weak economy has cut demand and rates. Members pay $10 monthly dues and get a badge; in return, members promise to receive no less than $50 an hour from clients. The union would also come to the assistance of members who go unpaid by clients or booking agents.
But it was clear that not all of the 70 mariachis who gathered on Monday were in agreement, with the group appearing to be evenly divided on the matter of whether the union would be good or bad for the plaza.
The concerns and complaints made by brothers Jorge Rafael and Javier Flores of the group called the Monargas served as an example of the challenges facing the union. The brothers argued that some clients would not pay $50 an hour in tough economic times. Jorge Rafael said that they sometimes have to settle for $40, $30 or even $20 an hour. At this, members of the crowd ridiculed Jorge for giving in to economic pressure.
Javier Flores said the group leaders only created the union because they are accustomed to earning $50 per hour. But he said that not all mariachis can earn that much.
Jorge Rafael said that Mariachi Plaza has become a big part of his daily life after he was laid off from his job. Since then, playing mariachi music at parties has helped him pay the bills, and he said he has been doing fine because of the plaza’s freedom.
In response, union leader Ramirez said that the plaza was not a place for laid off workers but a place for musicians where they can be respected. If a mariachi does not want to pay the membership dues, they should leave, he said.
The Flores brothers might have resented the union regulations but others were more supportive. Some of the musicians signed a sheet and paid their membership fee even as others still felt skeptical of the greater good that the union promised.
- Nace asociación de mariachis en Los Ángeles. Univision 34
Edgar Lopez is the Editor in Chief of Campus News, the student newspaper of East Los Angeles College.