Oscar Amezcua

Oscar Amezcua was born 1930 in Tamazula de Gordiano, Jalisco, Mexico. His father, Rafael Amezcua Garibay (b. 1908 in Tamazula de Goridano, Jalisco), was both a musician and a tailor. Oscar’s mother, Maria Guadalupe Mendez de Amezcua (b. 1906 in Tamazula de Gordiano, Jalisco), was a homemaker. She had 13 children altogether, but tragically only 3 survived.

Oscar’s father, Rafael, was a gifted musician who knew how to play many instruments. He taught Oscar the violin and when he was only twelve years old, he joined his father’s quartet, playing at weddings, birthdays and other celebrations. Rafael also owned his own tailor shop making suits, pants and shirts. However, he found better fortune traveling in a band throughout Mexico. At first, when Rafael went on tour, Oscar would stay behind to help his mother at the tailor shop. By 1940, at the age of ten, Oscar began to go on tour with his father for about two months at a time, performing in Cuidad Guzmán, Guadalajara, Tepic (Nayarit) and Mazatlán.

The Bracero Program

Residents of Tamazula started talking through word of mouth, telling each other that representatives from the United States were recruiting people for work. Oscar remembers that by 7 a.m. a big line would form in the town. In 1945 his father signed up and left for several weeks. The family would not hear from him at all. Then, upon his return he would have $600 in his pocket, an extraordinary amount for those times.

Rafael did not enjoy the work as a Bracero. Nevertheless, he joined the program once again in that very same year to provide for his family. Upon his return, he joined a group Hermanos Reyes from Guadalajara and they successfully landed a gig at Tijuana’s famed Agua Caliente. Rafael would tell Oscar that during the one month period that he performed there, he stayed at the beautiful Hotel Ceasar and ate the best food at the restaurants. The Americans threw silver dollars on the floor, which provided handsome tips for the players.

Rafael’s success as a mariachi allowed him to move his family to Tijuana.They lived on Calle Sexta in downtown for about one year until 1947. From time to time, Oscar would perform with his father at the La Adelita. Thereafter, Rafael brought his family back to Tamazula and opened his tailor shop, now calling it La Tijuaneña.

Once again in 1947 Bracero recruiters from the United States returned to the small town. This time Rafael took Oscar with him. Oscar remembers being carted into a large warehouse with about 250 to 300 other men where the Americans then fumigated them with large pumps. They were completely covered in a white powder. They then had to quickly shower, get on a bus and once the buses crossed into the United States, they got on trains to Anaheim, California.

Within days, Oscar and his father became the cook’s helpers in La Habra. Oscar remembers how the men who picked oranges in the fields would return every night with completely black faces, looking as though they had spent the day in the mines. The reason: the oranges were sprayed with a black pesticide.

After about two and a half months, Rafael and Oscar returned to Tamazula. Oscar recalled that upon his return they had a large party up on the mountain where there was an open cave. People took the small trail, carrying food, beer and tequila up to a spot with a breath-taking view.

Once the celebrations subsided, Rafael decided to take the family back to Tijuana permanently. From 1947 to 1951, Oscar played gigs with his father throughout Tijuana. He remembers getting up at 3 a.m. to make the rounds along the downtown area where many tourists would pay $2 to $3 per song.

Oscar Amezcua and His Mariachi Guadalajara

As a young man, Oscar began to develop a love for big bands. Due to his music, he met many people, including many border patrol agents who would come into the clubs where Oscar played. He made friends with one particular agent who would let him cross the border even though Oscar didn’t have a passport. In this way, he could see big bands play in San Diego. Eventually, it was thanks to this friendship that Oscar received his papers and settled with his wife, Gloria Herrara Barbachano (b. 1934 in San Diego) in the United States. They married in 1952. He lived in Chula Vista for about 4 months, before moving to B Street. He also spent 33 years living on 56th Street in San Diego and another ten years in South San Diego.

In 1953 Oscar met Jose Torres, who helped launch his successful career as a mariachi. In 1956 he moved with his family to Mexico City where he was part of a the Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlán under the direction of Ruben Fuentes. The band performed in Tenapa, a very popular section of Mexico City and also toured throughout Central America, including performances in Guatemala, San Salvador, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile.

In 1961 he became Oscar Amezcua & His Magic Violins, performing at the famed Foreign Club in Tijuana. During the 1960’s he also lived in Las Vegas for three years and performed at the Sands Hotel and the Dunes Hotel. By the 1970’s he changed his band’s name to Oscar Amezcua and His Mariachi Guadalajara. The band played at Grossmont Center during the Cinco de Mayo fiestas and performed during the summer Del Mar Fair for fourteen years. Notably, in 1972 he became the only mariachi band to perform for soldiers in Saigon, Vietnam.

(Interview: July 5, 2016)