La Casa del Mariachi
Musicians, celebrities, and students alike turn to La Casa del Mariachi owner Jorge Tello for their custom garments. Tello’s father, a tailor, taught him to sew at age eight in their hometown of Mazatenango, Guatemala. Little did he know that sewing would lead him to Boyle Heights and to a long career associated with mariachi music, declared by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011.
Being of Guatemalan heritage, Tello, also known as "El Maestro," is an unlikely candidate to be a go-to charro suit maker. Yet, fate would have it that he would meet Julio Vasquez, owner of Charro Art, which specialized in custom charro suits. Vasquez convinced Tello to come work with him in Boyle Heights in the mid-1980s. Tello eventually immigrated to the U.S. and spent the next eighteen years working at Charro Art.
In 2002, Tello opened La Casa del Mariachi on First Street near Mariachi Plaza, a historic-cultural hub in Boyle Heights. The plaza is named for the mariachi musicians who have gathered to play music and look for work in this area as early as the 1930s. But the fate of mariachi musicians in Boyle Heights remains uncertain, as increasing development pressures and displacement looms. In February 2018, mariachi musicians living nearby on East Second Street negotiated an extended lease which capped annual rent hikes at five percent and won the right to collectively bargain for new leases as a renters union, but only after a protracted ten-month rent strike. Can we envision a Mariachi Plaza without the mariachi music and musicians that have contributed to its sense of place and cultural vibrancy?
Undoubtedly, the loss of mariachi musicians would leave a void in the Boyle Heights community, and the impact would have ripple effects on the businesses that offer goods and services to the mariachi community. This includes La Casa del Mariachi, which is located along the historic First Street Business Corridor that stretches between Boyle Avenue and St. Louis Street.
La Casa del Mariachi is a member of First Street Community Businesses, a nonprofit business association that aims to promote businesses, keep business owners abreast of developments in the area, and support local entrepreneurs. Established in 2015, the association has worked to preserve local traditions and culture. This work can be seen through the annual Noches de Serenata (Noches), featuring local artists and musicians, and posadas, a nine-day festivity associated with Christmas, both held at Mariachi Plaza.
Going on eighteen years in business, La Casa del Mariachi is on track to becoming a legacy business. Tello hopes to find an apprentice to carry on his trade before he retires, but for now, his sister has promised to keep the business going when the time comes. To learn more about Tello, the art of charro suitmaking, and Boyle Heights' mariachi heritage check out Tello's TedX talk or an episode of the Great Big Story that features El Maestro.