For three years in a roll the San Diego High School mariachi band, Mariachi Azul Y Oro, has placed first in their division at the Area Texas Association Mariachi Educators competition that was hosted in Robstown Saturday, Jan. 28.

The 15 mariachi competition students, composed of all high school grade levels, will now advance to state competition Feb. 3 and 4 at the Southwest High School in San Antonio.

“It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and lots of sacrifice to reach this point,” said Mariachi Director Hector Cantu. “Students are meeting during class and afterschool, but it's not easy with several students in several (extracurricular) activities.”

According to Cantu, practice is now more intense as they take the judges' critiques to fix any issues.

Gilbert Pena Jr. is a senior in the group and loves how fun and exciting mariachi is. He plays the violin and sings for the group. This is Pena's fourth year in the group. Pena and his fellow musicians warm up, get in line and on the stage to perform.

“It's time to push ourselves twice as hard,” Pena stated. “We must clean up our music and give a better performance.”

Cantu has 18 years of teaching experience with 15 in Premont ISD and the last three with San Diego ISD.

“Mariachi, to me, is about the culture here,” he stated. “For many years our founding fathers of mariachi played at weddings, quienceras and at parties. Educators are bringing the music back in the area.”

Mariachi Azul Y Oro's success is attributied to the students who practice on their own, how learned to work together.

“I can teach it, but it's the kids who perform and do a fantastic job,” Cantu stated.