LOS ANGELES - For fifth generation musician Jose Hernandez, mariachi is more than the music of his motherland Mexico. It is ingrained in his heart and something he needs to listen to or do everyday.
Hernandez attributes his love for mariachi to his father and five older brothers. When he was 15, he began playing mariachi music with his brothers in Frontierland at Disneyland.
In 1981, Hernandez founded Mariachi Sol de Mexico. The group has recorded 15 albums and has performed all over the world from New York's Madison Square Garden to Pyongyang, North Korea.
"People around the world love mariachi music so much because it touches them also," he said. "There's just a certain passion about the music when it's played correctly, when it's sung correctly."
In 1991, Hernandez created the Mariachi Heritage Society, a music education nonprofit, and in 1994, he founded Reyna de Los Angeles, America's first all-female mariachi group.
As a young girl, Susie Garcia was influenced by Laura Garciacano Sobrino, a former member of Mariachi Sol de Mexico. At the age of 12, Garcia began learning mariachi music under Sobrino to perform at her grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. She soon discovered that mariachi was the love and passion of her life.
"I started playing it and really had this epiphany of: 'Wow, this makes me feel so good, this makes me feel so part of who I am,'" she said.
Garcia is the director of Las Colibrí, an all-female mariachi group based out of Los Angeles. Named after the Spanish word for hummingbird, Las Colibrí uses the traditional instrumentation of all strings, but also breaks tradition by wearing assorted bright colored skirts featuring the bird.
Her passion for mariachi has helped her feel a deeper connection to her Mexican heritage and has even led her to learn Spanish.
Hernandez appreciates the younger generation of mariachi musicians. As a pioneer of the genre, he remembers in the 1980s when Mariachi Sol de Mexico was excluded from certain festivals for singing in English.
"It's a form of expression of...Mexican-American culture, the new kids that are doing their stuff now," he said. "But I love the kids doing their thing. I would never criticize."
Hernandez has a simple summary for the music of his heritage: "Mariachi is the heart, the soul and the passion of Mexico."