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If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of art. Whether it’s illustrations, theater, or music, art makes us feel more connected to humanity. That’s why being without live performances for the past year and a half has been so difficult for some people. For many, places of worship are where they go on a weekly basis to experience live music. But since the pandemic, that luxury hasn’t been an option.

Luckily, the country is recovering, and so are the arts. And after over a year of being absent from Catholic churches, mariachis have finally returned.

In the U.S., and especially in the Southwest, mariachis at mass are a sacrosanct cultural tradition. The folkloric Mexican music is a beautiful marriage between faith and culture. For over 50 years, Mexican-Americans have enjoyed hearing mariachis play at mass as part of their weekly ritual. They play songs like “Pescador de Hombres” and “Ave Maria”.

And the tradition didn’t happen by accident.

In fact, it happened by papal decree. In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council approved the use of mariachi music in mass. Thus, Misa Panamericana (Pan-American Mass) was born.

“Syncretism is the reality of this land, the ‘ambos’ reality,” said Reverand Alan Valencia to AP News, referring to the dual or “ambos” worlds of Mexican-Americans. “Syncretism,” for that matter, means the coming together of different beliefs and ideologies. And what is Mexican-American identity if not the blending of different worlds? “That’s what we see in these mariachi Masses,” he continued. “Faith and culture come together and grow.”

Indeed, faith and culture side-by-side is the reason that so many Catholic, Mexican-American church-goers appreciate mariachis at their mass.

Mexican-Americans see mariachi and Roman Catholicism as a beautiful symbiotic relationship that elevates each other. “They bring unity to the church. It’s more spiritual,” said Arizona woman Diana Pacheco to AP News. “Without them, it was very empty-feeling for us here.”

Tucson, Arizona, was the foremost American city to embrace Mariachi Mass with gusto. And still, the tradition was going strong. Although mariachi at mass slowed down (if not outright halted) this year, they are now back to bring joy and solace to church-goers. Mass mariachis — who are all volunteers — perform in different churches throughout Tuscon. In fact, Tucson was where the first youth mariachis were created: Los Changuitos Feos (The Ugly Little Monkeys). Los Changuitos Feos still exist in Tucson, and regularly play at Roman Catholic Churches throughout the city.

Mariachi music at mass is a way for parishioners to connect the gospel with the universal themes of folk songs — love, hate, family, betrayal, and yes, faith.

Mexican-Americans who appreciate mariachis at mass say that the bands’ presence there reminds them that mariachis are not all bars and barbecues. They are a fundamental element of Mexican culture. As mariachi musician Alberto Ranjel told AP News, “It is a representation of my culture.”

“They bring to Mass culture and art, together with the presence of God,” said church-goer Leilani Gomez to AP News. “They make you feel the presence of God.”