Mariachi Bonitas de Dinorah is blazing a new way in the Sacramento region

Photograph by Sandra Arias-Ortiz

By Serena Smith

All-female mariachi bands are growing in popularity in Northern California, changing the genre and breaking traditional barriers.

Mariachi is a storied genre of Mexican folk music, combining brass and string sounds, typically performed by male musicians. Sacramento’s Mariachi Bonitas de Dinorah, an all-female band established in 2020, are just one example of the genre showcasing exciting new artists. Fans of Bonitas also see the group as proof that mariachi can empower women, spread inspiration and uplift female musicians.

Sandra Arias-Ortiz, a violinist and one of the founding members, began playing when she was 9. She got her start with mariachi groups in high school, and performed with male groups for five years before joining the Bonitas.

“That was always my dream as a little girl to join an all-female group,” said Arias-Ortiz. “I really admired the female groups in Los Angeles, one in particular was Mariachi Reyna.”

Mariachi Reyna is America’s first all-female group, founded in 1994.

 “They have always been those role models for me as a musician,” noted Arias-Ortiz. “They’re beautiful women with elegant attire, and their singing is so beautiful.”

While Arias-Ortiz gained experience, she faced difficulties and gender bias as the only woman within a male band.

“You are perceived differently as a musician,” she acknowledged. “I struggled with this being young and in my early twenties.”

Transitioning to playing in a female group, she feels safer and more understood.

“We are very intuitive as women,” she said. “We know when something is wrong and try to fix problems right away.”

Inspired by other musician’s experiences, Arias-Ortiz decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Leadership at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. She is researching women’s experiences in the mariachi industry.

“I realized that our stories were all pretty similar,” she reflected.

This motivated her to work with women to navigate problems together and bring their hardships to light.

Ellie Aquino, 22, is the youngest member of the group. She joined the Bonitas while she was still in college studying for her bachelor’s degree.

Like most of the Bonitas’ ten members, the band was not her full-time job and managing her time was often difficult. Her bandmates helped guide and mentor her through it.

“Seeing what they’ve done with their lives and the role that music has played, along with making everything work with kids, families, and spouses is definitely inspiring,” she recounted. “It’s very good for me to see women empowerment.”

Sayra Fernandez, violinist and mother of two, is all too familiar with the challenge of time management. While working a 9-5 job and caring for her family, there are days when she has little time for herself.

“There’s been times where I’ve gone months without a day off,” she said. “That comes with being in a mariachi.”

Growing up listening to female artists such as Selena and Linda Ronstadt, she began playing mariachi at 15 and then started playing with male groups in 2021.

While her time with them was rewarding, she said she was able to blossom and find more flexibility within the all-female group.

Male groups with one female musician often rely on that member to sing specific songs, making it difficult for her to miss a performance. This poses challenges for women with families and children.

“Women are more understanding,” said Fernandez. “It was very hard for me to take time off being in an all-male band.”

Fernandez added that she is lucky and thankful to have the support from her family and the Bonitas.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “We’re like a family.”

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