Family Fiesta: Moms and music come together for Oxnard’s Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival

Mariachi Jalisco ES Mexico will go “mano a mano” with the Estrellas in a mariachi “battle of the bands.”

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Rorberto Garcia is in many ways a pillar of his community. Born in Mexico City but a resident of Oxnard for 46 years, he has gotten to know numerous locals…through more than one generation…as the founder of two businesses located on the 600 block of A Street, right in the heart of downtown. He started Garcia Mortuary in 1978. Later, in 2001, he opened up Tomas Cafe across the street.

“It was just a small little place — coffee, bread, a bakery,” Garcia recalls fondly. Many members of his family have been (and continue to be) involved with both businesses, but he credits his son Tom with building the cafe into the breakfast and lunch institution it has become. Fun fact: Garcia says that the restaurant’s name is only partially inspired by the name of his son. It’s also a play on the expression ¿toma café? meaning “drink coffee?” in Spanish.

With decades in the area, a large and close-knit family, and the hearty and delicious cuisine Tomas Cafe has been serving up for over 20 years, it’s easy to see how the Garcia family has become so deeply rooted to Ventura County in general, and Oxnard in particular. But it is Garcia’s involvement with the Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival in which he takes particular pride. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, May 11, at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.

Continuing a Tradition

Garcia is not the founder of the festival, which celebrates its 34th year in 2024. But he’s been a fan of the event, and close to the original organizers, for a long time.

“Bobby and Sally Ramirez, they started the festival in 1991,” Garcia clarifies. “They came to me — I’d been helping them with functions for years and they became very good friends. And they asked me to take it over in 2005.”

He and his crew (which includes friend-of-the-family Anna Zaragoza) have been putting on the cultural extravaganza for nearly 20 years, minus a few missed due to the pandemic. But when it returned in 2023, it was with great excitement and much fanfare. Zaragoza estimates that around 1,400 people showed up to enjoy an afternoon of live professional mariachi music and dancing.

“We came back very strong,” Zaragoza says.

She and Garcia have equally high expectations for this year’s festival, which will feature for the first time an all-female group —Mariachi Femenil Estrella de México out of Guadalajara.
“This year I went to Guadalajara and saw an all-female group,” Zaragoza explains. Before long, she’d brought the world-class entertainers on board.

The theme for this year’s festival is “Mano A Mano,” and will feature a battle of the mariachi bands in a special musical “duel.” The Estrellas will go up against Mariachi Jalisco Es México for some good-natured competition…although with the quality of the sounds being produced on all sides, the true winners will no doubt be the audience.

Garcia notes that other musicians will also take the stage, including Oxnard’s own Mariachi Inlakech, run by cultural arts educator Javier Gomez of the Inlakech Cultural Arts Center.

“People come from all over,” Zaragoza says. “Some even say that the event is better than something you might find in Vegas. It’s a big, quality production with world-class mariachi groups — top of the line.”

Mariachi Femenil Estrella de Mexico is an all-woman mariachi band that will be featured at this year’s Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival.

Mariachi for Matriarchs

The energy of mariachi is a crowd pleaser any time of year, but this festival’s association with Mother’s Day is something the organizers have been committed to from the beginning. Plenty of local restaurants come up with special menus for Mother’s Day, but the Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival is meant to be a full-scale celebration full of music, dancing and family-friendly merriment.

“Mother’s Day in Mexico is May 10,” says Garcia, explaining that the date is the same every year — unlike in the U.S., where Mother’s Day is held on the second Sunday in May. Nevertheless, both traditions put Moms in the spotlight. Zaragoza hopes that all mothers who come out on May 11 will feel special.

“Mother’s Day is the one day that Mom can get dressed up,” says Zaragoza, herself a mother of three. “It’s her day; she can do what she wants. Just her knowing she can go out and get a new dress…it’s all about the moms. So, the festival is for them to feel appreciated and to know that they are acknowledged. Without them, we don’t function.”

Cultural Connection

Garcia’s entire family — including wife Martha (a mariachi afficionado who often helps pick out the bands), sons and daughters, and even grandchildren — are all enthusiastic festival attendees, year after year. Connecting them and others to this traditional Mexican art form is something that gives him tremendous satisfaction.

“What I really appreciate is providing an opportunity for the young people to be part of the events…it’s an investment in the community,” Garcia says. “The music, the culture…the musicians in these groups, they were kids also, and now they’re professionals. To provide this kind of cultural education to young people — it’s very valuable.”

Zaragoza agrees, adding that students in local mariachi and ballet folklórico ensembles often get a chance to perform with the professionals during the festival.

“Being up on stage with famous mariachis kind of gives them a push to keep up with it.”

Martha and Roberto Garcia

Feeling Social

New to this year’s festival: a social hour (more like three) in the OPAC courtyard. With live music from local cover band Instone, it’s the perfect way to get the party started.

“Different businesses will bring their services, too,” Zaragoza confirms. “There will be art, music and dancing in the quad area.”

Kicking up those heels is sure to work up an appetite. Guests can stay refreshed with delicious appetizers courtesy of Tomas Cafe and Cabo Seafood Grill and Cantina.

With tasty bites, hot tunes and premium cultural entertainment, Oxnard’s 34th Annual Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival just might be the hottest ticket in town for fun-loving madres, abuelitas and their families. It’s guaranteed to be an occasion they’ll never forget.

34th Annual Mother’s Day Mariachi Festival
Saturday, May 11, 2024
Social Hour: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Festival commences at 2 p.m.
Oxnard Performing Arts Center
800 Hobson Way, Oxnard
Tickets: $55-$85