About four years ago, Jeff Nevin of the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation was tired of competing for funding and resources against other San Diego mariachi groups instead of collaborating with them. Then he helped coordinate what has become one of the top mariachi festivals in San Diego.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of Jeff Nevin who brought it all together,” said Jacqueline Reynoso with the National City of Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m not the master mastermind. No,” Nevin said. “The National City Chamber of Commerce hosts the festival. I just made the initial introductions and the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation partners with chamber.”
At the time, the chamber was looking to bring a professional mariachi festival back to National City.
Serafin Peredes, an instructor at University of San Diego, was simultaneously struggling to find funding for his mariachi workshop program because donor funding had dried up during the recession.
Nevin, who knew both sides, suggested Reynoso and Peredes collaborate, leading to the National City International Mariachi Festival and Competition.
The festival is back for its fourth year, March 13, with competitions and performances from some of the most popular names in mariachi. Student workshops are held earlier in the weekend as part of the event.
Nevin is a founding member of the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.
He discovered mariachi growing up in Tucson, Ariz., after a group of mariachis who needed a trumpet heard him play and invited him to join a session.
“I never really played mariachi before,” Nevin said. “But there was a moment when I was playing with those guys. I looked around and right away I thought, man these guys are all my best friends.”
He played mariachi through college and earned a Ph.D. in music composition from UCSD. Nevin said playing mariachi on the side helped him get through his tough doctoral music studies and still enjoy music.
Nevin wanted to help others have the same positive college experience through mariachi.
The foundation started with the simple concept that mariachi in high schools would help engage the large population of Mexican students in South Bay schools and encourage parents to visit the campus when they might have been too shy in many cases because they don’t speak English.
“We saw that there was a real barrier, since so many parents in these particular schools didn’t even feel comfortable walking onto their kids’ campus,” Nevin said.
The foundation now focuses on its guarantee of scholarships to any students who play mariachi for two years, keep a B average and go straight to college in their first year out of high school.
“When I see a student who has turned their grades around and they’re really making something that is a better part of their life, I sort of wonder, what would this kid have done if he hadn’t had this,” Nevin said.