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World & Nation

In Mexican hometown of ‘Roma’ star, intrigue and uncertainty now threaten the town band

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Alejandro Zamora, until this week director of a youth band in Tlaxiaco, Mexico, works with his young musicians at a recent rehearsal. He was fired Thursday night.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times )

The Mexican town of Tlaxiaco is known as the homeland of Yalitza Aparicio, the Oscar-nominated star of the movie “Roma.”

It’s also known for having one of the best children’s symphonic bands in the country.

The band’s fable-like rise — much like Yalitza’s — was an unexpected tale about a group of indigenous Mixteco kids who knew nothing about music, but with the help of their determined band director reached some of Mexico’s biggest stages. All the while, they’ve hung by a thread because of limited funds, town politics and the shocking killing of one of their biggest supporters.

On Thursday, the day The Times published a story online chronicling the ensemble’s success, the band’s director, Alejandro Zamora, was fired. So was the director of the Casa de la Cultura, the vibrant cultural center in Tlaxiaco where the Banda Sinfónica de Tlaxiaco was based.

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The mayor who fired Zamora, Gaudencio Ortiz Cruz, just took charge of the town, located high in the Sierra Madre of Oaxaca state.

He said the dismissals were the result of “political differences, a natural thing that happens when administrations change.”

The news created a stir in Tlaxiaco, where much of life revolves around culture and art. Locals proudly consider the kids their official town band. They book them for their fiestas, weddings and funerals.

Back in 2015, when the group launched, it was considered a new concept — a daring vision introduced by Zamora, a prestigious trombonist invited to Tlaxiaco by a former mayor, Alejandro Aparicio.

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Zamora had the student musicians rehearse two hours a day, seven days a week. Within two years, the kids, ages 5 to 17, gained regional acclaim.

Everything was marching along just fine until 2017. Then the politics changed in town.

A new mayor, Oscar Ramirez Bolaños, cut back many programs at the Casa. He also slashed Zamora’s pay 80%. The worst insult came in 2018, when the mayor forbid the kids from trying out for Oaxaca’s internationally renowned fiesta, La Guelaguetza.

Just when the band was on the verge of dissolving, the kids got what felt like a miracle. A man running for president campaigned in Tlaxiaco and heard them perform. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked the children to play at his final campaign rally, before 100,000 people. After he won, he also picked them, from thousands of bands, to perform at his inauguration in Mexico City in December.

Meanwhile, Aparicio was scheduled to become mayor again in January, and he promised to support the band and restore Zamora’s pay. But on his first day in office, Aparicio was fatally shot by a former police officer from northern Mexico. Officials continue to investigate the motive for the killing.

After Aparicio’s slaying, everything at the Casa de la Cultura was on hold until a new mayor took over.

On the eve of the Oscars, Tlaxiaco was in the spotlight and camera crews regularly arrived in town looking to tell Yalitza’s story. Many came to the Casa de la Cultura, the place where Yalitza auditioned for “Roma,” and featured the band in their reports.

A Mexican town watches its ‘Roma’ star shine. Another treasure’s fate is less clear »

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But all the attention wasn’t enough to save them from town politics. On Thursday evening, Zamora said he and Miguel Martinez Oseguera, the director of the Casa, were called into the mayor’s office and let go.

“They said they wanted to give opportunities to new people,” said Zamora by phone, sounding frustrated.

The mayor, Ortiz Cruz, said Friday that he would love for the band to be part of the Casa, which is run by the municipality. But it would have to be under a new band director, who has already been recruited.

If the children choose to continue independently with Zamora, they would need to turn over their city-owned instruments.

By Friday morning, the parents of the banda had come together. They unanimously voted to go with Zamora, said Ewdiuviel Lopez, 45, whose three sons play in the band.

“My sons won’t go near an instrument with anyone else,” Lopez said. “We’ve learned everything we know from Professor Zamora, and we will support him in any way we can.”

So began the uphill battle of searching for instruments for 65 kids.

Maybe, Lopez said, they would rent or borrow. Maybe they would ask for donations to buy new ones.

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“Whatever it takes,” he said. “This band will keep moving forward.”


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