Guide for Parents
At eight years old, Mateo Lopez loves pizza and his grandmother. He’s learning division and fractions in school. He goes to parties and plays soccer in the front yard of his San Antonio home. In many ways, he’s just like any other kid his age. But then he picks up his guitar and starts singing.
It’s not just Mateo’s booming voice that turns heads. It’s his ability to evoke emotion through the mariachi music he plays. Mateo can stir up joy, sadness or longing in those who listen.
Recognized at age four as the youngest mariachi by the Guinness World Records, Mateo has traveled around the world doing just that. He competed on “Mexico´s Got Talent” and was featured on NBC’s “Little Big Shots.” He even sang the Mexican national anthem at the 2022 Major League Soccer All-Star Game for the Mexico national team.
But for Mateo, his mom, Janelle and his dad, Adalberto, mariachi is a family affair.
“It’s not just me. It’s a team. It takes a village to do this,” says Adalberto. “The family that you see is not just in these four walls. It’s the family that this ‘traje,’ which is the traditional Mariachi costume, represents. It’s the mariachi culture and everything that stands behind it—the traditions and the hundred years over that this music represents. Mateo represents all of them at an international level.”
A family heritage.
A fundamental element of the Mexican culture, mariachi refers to a group of musicians dressed in silver studded charro outfits with wide-brimmed hats who perform songs about love, betrayal politics and more on stringed instruments.
Mateo’s grandfather, who he never met, was a mariachi. His older sister, Daniela, is also a mariachi musician and talented violinist who now plays in an all-girls band. Mateo grew up around music. He started memorizing songs at two years old. By the age of four, he was singing at a local restaurant, microphone in hand. When he first saw the famous Mexican singer Marco Antonio Solís, on television, he announced to Janelle and Adalberto that he wanted to sing and play the guitar.
He even suggested they ask Gino Rivera, the musical program director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, to teach him. Today he plays the vihuela, a traditional instrument used in mariachi music, guitar and piano. He is also teaching himself to play the harp.
Ask Adalberto and Janelle what it feels like to watch their son perform and they will say there are no words.
“There are so many mixed emotions,” says Adalberto. “For us it goes back to not just seeing him but what he represents. The legacy that my dad left behind for me.”
The legacy is an emotional one for Adalberto, who grew up a first-generation Mexican American. He says his father came to the United States for a better life. He brought the music he once played in the Mexican fields with him. Once in San Antonio, he worked at a recycling plant during the day and at a bakery at night. He performed mariachi when he could. But Adalberto couldn’t appreciate the music.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the music because of where I grew up. The people I was around, it wasn’t a cool thing to be a mariachi or to be Mexican at the time. After my dad passed away, I think he felt that he took that music with him.”
He did not, of course. Mateo prays to his grandfather sometimes.
“I think he’s very proud of me up there,” says Mateo. “He is watching me very proudly.”
As the years passed, Adalberto came to not only embrace but honor his Mexican heritage. He and Janelle raise their five children as Mexican Americans, celebrating the best of both cultures.
“We both embrace everything that is beautiful that comes our way,” says Adalberto. “My family gave up so much to come here and we don’t ever forget that.”
Have faith and sing to the Virgin.
As a family, the Lopezes travel often to Mexico City and Guadalajara. They listen to mariachi music in the car, and they eat Mexican food together at home.
“It’s about embracing the culture,” says Janelle, who has learned to make a nearly perfect Mexican rice. “It is part of who we are as a family.”
That, and faith, she says.
Janelle and Adalberto, who were both raised Catholic, pray with Mateo before bed and before meals. They attend church regularly to better understand their faith and the meaning of prayer.
“With Mateo we have always taught him to be thankful and appreciate the gift that God has given him which, it truly is,” she says.
When the family goes to Mexico City, they visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to pay their respects. Mateo joined millions of Mexicans one year and sang to the Virgin on her birthday. At home, he joins his grandmother, Maria, in praying for her intercession.
For Mateo, it’s all about what the Virgin means to Mexico.
When he prays to her, he asks only that she “help his family be a very healthy family and a happy family.”
During Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate Mateo´s musical talent, along with the Catholic values and faith instilled in him by his family. The same values that inspire Catholic Relief Services every day as we serve the world´s most vulnerable families to realize their full God-given potential.