If you’ve seen mariachi music on the Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien or any other television show, you’ve probably seen its ubiquitous ambassador, Ramon Ponce. He is a preeminent figure in mariachi and in New York City. In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg declared September 22, Mariachi Day and handed Ponce the proclamation.
Ponce started the Mariachi Academy of New York in 2002. What started as private lessons for eight children in his home ballooned into a full-fledged organization that this year taught 115 children at a church in East Harlem. The academy is the only one of its kind on the East Coast.
To Ponce, the academy was not only a place to preserve this important piece of Mexican culture but a chance to bridge a cultural divide between Mexicans and Americans.
Ponce moved to New York City from Puebla, Mexico in 1988, when a mariachi band asked his father to play trumpet for them. His family only planned to stay for one year, but then the famed LaGuardia High School in Manhattan accepted Ponce into their music program, which made them decide to stay.
But it was a different New York back then and it was hard for him to get adjusted.
“We had to travel all the way to Brooklyn just to get tortillas,” from his home in Jamaica, Queens, he said. “Back in the day there weren’t that many Mexicans or that many people that [I could] relate to.”
Eventually Ponce acclimated to the city and grew to love it. He and his father started a band when he was 16 and they’ve been playing together ever since. Ponce currently lives in Richmond Hill, Queens with his wife and two dogs.