Modesto High mariachis entertain at rally

STOCKTON -- Modesto High School orchestra teacher Ricardo Paderes believed he was being played for a fool when he got a call Sunday evening asking if the school mariachi club he directs, Mariachi Pantera, would play Monday in Stockton.

At a rally featuring former President Clinton.

"Once I realized it wasn't a joke, I had to get the students and the clearance," Paderes said. "I was standing in the shower taking phone calls this morning."

About 13 students in the 20-member club were able to make the trip. Paderes said the rally was the largest event Mariachi Pantera has played.

Club President Miguel Ascencio, 17, said he, too, thought the offer was a joke. When the group walked into Spanos Center, it became reality.

"When you see how big it is, and how close you are to the stage," Ascencio said. "My parents were real excited when they heard about it. They said, 'Take the camera!' "

The band played traditional Mexican songs featuring horns, guitars and strings from about 1:30 p.m., when the doors opened, until about 2:20, when Clinton arrived. The musicians were about 30 feet from the main stage.

Mariachi Pantera became part of the rally after Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, told Clinton's campaign that participants from cities other than Stockton should be included in the hastily scheduled event in Cardoza's 18th Congressional District.

Former Modesto City Schools board member Robin Brown said she was asked to find a marching band, if possible, from Modesto. Short on time, she tapped Paderes.

"What I was thinking about was what a historic moment it would be for the kids," Brown said.

Paderes said Mariachi Pantera formed as a student club at Modesto High six years ago. In April, the club will play at an event in Italy, he said.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.