Former Principal, Mariachi Aztlan Teacher Visits Pueblo

By Emely Villanueva & Jose Jovel

Mr. Richard Carranza with current Mariachi Aztlan.

Mr. Richard Carranza, Pueblo High School’s principal from 2002 to 2004, visited his alma mater on Tuesday, Aug. 29, spending most of the morning with current mariachi teacher Mr. John Contreras and mariachi students.

Carranza graduated from PHS in 1984 and returned to Pueblo, becoming a social studies and mariachi teacher for many years before becoming an administrator.

“I love Pueblo,” Carranza said, “and I’m glad to be back to visit. I grew up a few blocks from Pueblo, so this wonderful place has always been my second home.”

Few know that Carranza created PHS’s mariachi program—at first, with just a few students and then dozens by the time he transitioned to administration, “graciously” leaving his mariachi program to Contreras, one of Carranza’s guitar students.

“I came up with the name ‘Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School’,” Carranza said. “Before Southern Arizona became part of the United States, this region was known as ‘Aztlan’, so it made sense to name our mariachi group in honor of its original regional name. One of my colleagues, Ms. Estrella Gonzalez, agreed that would be a great name for PHS’s mariachi program.”

[In 1853, the United States purchased more than 30,000 square miles from Mexico, courtesy of U.S. diplomat James Gadsden, to ensure a safe southern railroad path across Arizona to the Pacific Coast in California.]

During his visit to Pueblo, Carranza was interviewed by Ms. Sarah Wilson’s radio students.

Carranza spoke with us about the founding of Mariachi Aztlan and its impact on Pueblo and our community.

“I created an entire [mariachi] program,” Carranza said. “I was fortunate that a very visionary principal, Mr. Richard Gastelum, approved my idea to proceed with mariachi. There was no curriculum, so I had my work cut out for me. We had no instruments at first, but that changed quickly as the program expanded.”

After leaving Pueblo in 2004, Carranza became the Northwest Region superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev., and then served the San Francisco Unified School District as superintendent.

In 2016, Carranza moved to Houston, Tex., where he became the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District until 2018, when he was hired as New York City Schools Chancellor.

Carranza was inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 2016—creating the first music curriculum-based program in the Tucson Unified School District.

“I’m amazed at all the improvements at Pueblo since the last time I visited, and I hope the improvements continue,” Carranza said. “I’ve always been proud of Pueblo—as a student, teacher, and administrator. I will visit Pueblo every time I come back to Tucson.”

He and his wife now live in San Antonio, Tex.

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