ELOY — Celebrating the art and music of Hispanic culture is important to Eloy-born singer Olivia Calderon, whether there’s a community celebration or not.
And this year, while there won’t be a Fiesta Patrias for her to perform at, she said she’ll continue finding ways to share traditional music with younger generations.
“It’s sad that there is no Fiesta Patrias this year, but we’ll still celebrate,” Calderon said. “We’re not going to stop celebrating culture because the fiesta is canceled.”
Calderon, a singer, mariachi performer and volunteer music teacher, is a frequent performer at the Fiesta Patrias and throughout the community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Calderon, who also works as a detention officer with the Tempe Police Department, has been busy.
“I’ve sang at six funerals since COVID began,” she said. “I’ve been busy, working and singing and trying to balance things.”
Calderon is known for her performances as well as her participation in televised singing competitions.
In 2017 she made it into the top five in Univision’s “La Reina De La Cancion” national Spanish singing competition and last year, she competed in Season 14 of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” vying to become one of 36 acts to make it to the quarterfinals.
But COVID has meant taking a break in live singing performances. When called to sing at a funeral, she said she strives to set aside the emotions, fear and frustration she feels in dealing with the pandemic.
“I celebrate their life through song,” she said. “I feel my voice is floating with them up to heaven. Nothing can stop the sound.”
Calderon is also a mariachi performer and is a member of a mariachi band that performs regularly at Eloy’s Fiestas Patrias and other community events and she often sings locally and at venues around the state.
She has long been a volunteer with the Eloy Middle School music department to teach mariachi to students.
Mariachi music is a celebration of culture and tradition, she said, and whether it’s a student group or professionals performing, the songs and sounds of mariachis unite generations.
“By playing mariachi, we’re passing on the tradition,” she said.
But like other music and performing arts, COVID has had an impact on teaching mariachi to young people.
“I’ve been working with the band director to find a way to still teach mariachi, maybe using Zoom to work with students or finding a way to work one-on-one with them,” she said. “The most important thing is maintaining the kids attention and that can be difficult without being in the same room.”
Passing the mariachi tradition on to the next generation is important, she said.
“It’s important to maintain the culture and that’s what music and arts helps us to do,” she said. “In general art and music can also build self-esteem, confidence and tenacity. Through music and art, people learn how to create as an individual.”
As well as preserving tradition, music can also play a role in helping people through tough times.
“Music is about connecting with the past. But whether it’s mariachi music or another style, music is an outlet, especially during stressful times. It can relax people and help them feel better,” Calderon said.