When the phone rang and the Mexican Consulate was on the other end of the line, Emilio Santos didn't think anything about it. Then he heard the congratulations and was wondering why in the world they would be congratulating him. Next he heard these magic words.
"You guys won," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Guys" being the mariachi group Emilio had funded and played with since starting it back in 2004 - Mariachi 7 Leguas.
"What are you talking about?" asked Emilio, at work as a Lone Star Bank Branch Sales Manager in Edinburg and not tuned into his other life of mariachi music.
"You got the big prize. You guys are known as the best mariachi group in the world!"
"I was in shock," said Emilio. "I was speechless."
Claudia Trujillo, coordinator of the Institute of Méxicans Living Abroad, had seen the group at the last McAllen Chamber of Commerce International Food Festival and was delighted. The Department of Méxicans Living Abroad were having a world-wide mariachi competition and wanted the band to submit a video.
"We submitted our video and about a month later the Mexican Consulate called us to tell us we had been nominated as one of the top 33 in the world," he said. "We were excited for that!"
Voting was done on line according to the videos submitted by each band and Emilio saw the results of that voting. A group from Peru came in first and two female groups from Columbia came in second and third. The Mariachi 7 Leguas were simply glad they had made it to the top 33 and thought that was the end of it.
Then the phone call came. It turns out the online voting was just a fun thing. The real judging was done by a panel of experts. They were the ones who made the choice of Mariachi 7 Leguas.
Watching the press conference on national television broadcast from Mexico City, they listened as it was announced the quality, the tradition, and the excitement of the group were the deciding factors in voting the group from McAllen, Texas, the 2010 best mariachi group in the world.
Since the last report on the group in 2007, they have won other awards, begun their annual concerts and made great strides in becoming known around town. But nothing to compare to this elite award.
Their reward will be a two-week all paid tour in Mexico in six states for this 12-piece group. All they have to do is make beautiful music at scheduled festivals and public events. Having been to the International Conferment of Mariachi music in Guadalajara, Jalisco, back in his college days, avidly watching the mariachi concerts, he figures this year his group will be the concert, hopefully with a very special piece of music.
"After this happened a composer from Mexico called us and told us he had a piece which talks about Mexico and the Méxicans who live abroad. He wants us to write an arrangement for it," Emilio said. "He would love for us to play it in Mexico when we go. Hopefully, we can have it ready in time."
The members are from a variety of professions. There's Juan Carlos, harpist, a student at UTPA. Javier Torres, Guitarron player has a commercial signs business. Jaime Ochoa, trumpet, is a college student in Kingsville. Then there are mariachi teachers in various school districts — José Luis Rangel, guitar player, teaching at La Grulla Middle School RGC; Abel AcuÃ±a, violinist and writer and music arranger for the group, teaching at Memorial Middle School La Joya ISD; Eloy Garza, trumpet player teaching at Veterans Middle School RGC and and Victor Galvan, violinist, teaching at HECHS in Hidalgo.
Marco Antonio Torres, vihuela player, works for a company which does translations. Miguel Gutierrez and Joel Ozuna, both violinists, work at Antonio Strad Violin Shop. Finally there is the youngest, about to start college, Orlando de Leon, another violinist.
Will this be the start of another phase of their mariachi career?
"My goal for this group is to do more concerts, more festivals. We'd like to travel and show what talent we have," said Emilio. "Perhaps we'll go all over the United States and the world. With this award we believe it's going to open a lot of those doors we weren't expecting."
Already planning their next McAllen concert on February 5, 2011 at 7 p.m., they've got plans for a unique addition to their already exciting event.
Until then they'll think about their upcoming trip.
"When we got the news that we won, we were worried in the beginning," Emilio said, chuckling. "What are we going to do? What if we don't get permission to go?"
He leaned back, a serene look came across his face.
"Just relax. We'll cross that bridge when we get there," he had told them.
Well, they are there and they have almost all employers excited about the opportunity this will bring to this talented group of men. Hopefully, we'll be able to do another follow up some day and you'll be just as excited to hear of their success as they are to live it.
"Dreams really do come true, don't they, Emilio?"
"Yes, they do. They really do."