PILSEN — Ibet Herrera’s relationship with mariachi has come a long way from when she was first introduced to the genre at 15.
“I actually hated mariachi,” the 30-year-old Chicago native said.
As a first-generation Mexican-American and the oldest daughter of her family, she had a “love-hate relationship” with her immigrant roots and was sometimes frustrated “not having the same luxuries or privileges that other teenagers around me had.”
But over the years, mariachi took on a different meaning for Herrera, becoming a medium for learning more about her Mexican heritage.
“It’s how I fell in love with my Mexican culture again,” she said. “I was accepting of who I was and where my family came from.”
Falling in love with mariachi music led Herrera to start Mariachi Sirenas in 2017 with friend Eréndira Izguerra, becoming Chicago’s first and only all-female group in the male-dominated world of mariachi music.
The Sirenas will be closing out the Sonido Sets music series 7 p.m. Friday at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St.
Mariachi music dates back hundreds of years in Mexico’s history and has been popular as a musical movement in the United States since the onset of the chicano movement in the 1960s.
“Mariachi wasn’t really a huge thing here in the Midwest back when I was starting,” Herrera said. Unlike in parts of the country closer to the Mexican border, she said, mariachi was not a part of her musical or historical education growing up in Chicago, which made it difficult to find other musicians to join her all-female group.
“There were not that many of us, let alone girls. It was mostly men and boys at the time,” Herrera said.
It was particularly hard to find women who knew how to play or were willing to learn instruments that are particularly “male-coded” within the genre, such as the guitarron, a large bass-guitar, she said.
Eventually, through connections, Herrera and Izguerra were able to find enough women to pull a group together.
“Luckily, I’ve always had people wanting to join,” Herrera said. “We’ve been pretty solid with a group of eight to 10 of us after COVID. It’s been rocky, but we’ve held it together and really enjoy what we’re doing. I hope that translates when we’re performing.”
In the six years that the group has been together, they have played on a wide variety of stages, including WGN, Michelada Fest and Sueños. They performed the national anthem at a Chicago Bulls game this spring.
They will close out Sonido Sets tonight at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Sonido Sets is a month-long festival put on by the museum to celebrate Mexican-American music in Chicago.
Activist and singer Rosalba Valdez will perform with Mariachi Sirenas alongside a number of other performers from the community that Herrera invited as a demonstration of the many people who have been a part of the Mariachi Sirenas journey.
“This concert I wanted to make about the people we’ve met along the way,” she said. “Building these relationships with other local artists is very important.”
Beyond the stage, Herrera takes pride in the way that the group has created a safe and encouraging space for women and girls who want to play mariachi music.
“I have younger girls wanting to do this because they see that this looks like fun and they’re having a good time,” Herrera said. “It makes me proud of what we’re doing.”
Sonido Sets featuring the Mariachi Sirenas takes place 7 p.m. Friday at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. in Pilsen. Tickets for the 21-and-older event are $25. For more information, visit the museum website.
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