President Bush donates own cash to Mariachi Cascabel

May 17, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Out of his own pocket, President George W. Bush donated $1,000 to local children's mariachi group Mariachi Cascabel to help pay for its upcoming trip to Italy and Austria.

During the trip the mariachis will perform at an international music festival and play for Pope John Paul II.

In a letter to the mariachis dated May 8, Bush writes, "As young Americans, you have an important responsibility, which is to become good citizens.

"School provides the right foundation, so I urge you to study hard. Then you can be well-prepared for the future."

He sent a signed 8-by-10 glossy along with the letter.

Mariachi Cascabel is a non-profit group of mini-mariachis ranging from 4-year-old tots barely as big as their instruments to teen-agers.

For three years the kids have performed at swap meets, weddings, city functions and festivals throughout California and in Mexico.

In February the group filed for non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS filing is in the name of Mariachi Cascabel's instructor, Raymundo Ojeda.


Founder and director of the group, Lillian Contreras, said the group filed to make sure everything was on the up-and-up and because of the expenses associated with the European trip.

Contreras said the mariachi group started fund raising and practicing (even harder than they had before, she added) in January after it was found out the group was invited to the II World Youth Festival in Italy and Austria as guests of an Austrian youth dance troupe Klagenfurt.

The trip to attend the II World Youth festival from July 2 to 17 will be the most expensive trip the group has taken and will be the most prestigious festival in which it has participated, Contreras said.

There will be 49 people from Calexico and Mexicali flying to Italy — 14 youth mariachis, 10 folk dancers from Mexicali, one parent per child and Ojeda. Contreras is a mother of one girl and two boys in the group.

The mariachis are scheduled to play for the Pope on July 4 in Vatican City.

For four hours a day after school, the mariachis practice on a particular instrument.

"Some days it is guitars, sometimes violins," Contreras said.

Mariachi Cascabel puts on shows for various groups at night or on weekends. Students who fall behind in their lessons can take private lessons with Ojeda.

She said some parents have taken Ojeda up on that offer to make sure their children sound their best in Italy.

Contreras said she is working with the parents of the musicians to outfit the children in matching suits and pay for the various modes of transportation the group will be using.

Since many of the kids come from unprivileged backgrounds, Contreras has been asking for help.

She said in the infancy of the group, it would play for $50 to $60, if even that amount was donated, and the money would go toward pizza for the kids.

The group never charged for performances, she said, and often, if it was a church or a festival, the group would play for free for the practice. Contreras explained Tuesday the system she uses to keep track of donations.

"After the kids play, sometimes they are given something," she said.

She pointed to a name in her ledger. "He gave $130."

She explained how that amount is divided up among the children who performed on that particular day and added to their running totals.

The totals for the kids have been kept since February to keep track of how much each child has earned toward airline tickets and purchase of their suits.

Anything the child is short the parents have paid.

Contreras said recent donations, such as the one from the president and other donations she expects, will be totaled and the parents will be refunded equal amounts.

She hopes to take in enough donations so parents don't have to pick up the tab for the festival.

She is working on a festival in the future to be staged in the Imperial Valley to return the favor of the Austrian group, which is providing reduced rates and hostel-style lodging.

It will cost $870 per child for air transportation and $102 per child for buses while in Rome, according to Contreras.

She said the Calexico Elks Lodge and other local agencies had helped already.

The Calexico City Council, seated as the Redevelopment Agency, told Mariachi Cascabel recently the city would not be able to make a donation as a board but would make individual donations.

City Attorney Michael Rood said any money given to the group by the RDA could be perceived as a gift. The board declined to approve the request.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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