By: Kristi Van Aken
What happens when chart-topping entertainers, a colorful exhibition of horsemanship skills, a traditional music contest and a unique Tex-Mex diner come together? The result is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ Go Tejano Day!
The special Showtime day draws in some of the highest general admission attendance year after year. Guests enjoy the rousing annual mariachi competition in The Hideout, two Fiesta Charra shows, and a RODEOHOUSTON™ matinee performance featuring the music of artists who take the rotating stage in NRG Stadium.
Over the years, this unique day honoring Hispanic heritage and culture holds a total of four top 20 Show attendance records. Louis Bart, a former Show vice president and Go Tejano Committee officer in charge said, “Texas history is enriched by the Hispanic culture and influence. It is a wonderful opportunity that the Show can host Go Tejano Day for the entire community to celebrate together.”
Hispanic culture is celebrated in various forms at the Show. The precursor to the modern-day rodeo, the charreada, was honored with two Fiesta Charra shows. Synchronized group riding, bareback and trick riding, señoritas riding sidesaddle wearing colorful, traditional Mexican costumes, “horse dancing,” and trick roping were set to live mariachi music.
Mariachi is a traditional musical style that dates back to the 1800s. An ensemble playing music while strolling among an audience long has been a part of Mexican culture. A mariachi band usually includes violins; a small, acoustic bass guitar called a guitarrón; a Mexican four- or five-string, vaulted-back guitar called a vihuela; and a variety of other instruments. Thus, the mariachi competition is a significant part of the festivities.
Six mariachi bands from across Texas are invited to play at the annual Mariachi Invitational, which takes place in downtown Houston the night before Go Tejano Day. The groups are judged by professional music educators from all over Texas and the groups are not publicized by name or hometown, to avoid influencing the judging.
The next day, the same six groups also compete at NRG Park on Go Tejano Sunday. Local and regional student groups accompany the mariachis, dancing folklorico style on the floor level, in front of The Hideout stage.
The groups are judged both days, with the top two selected to play in NRG Stadium between the performances of the evening’s star entertainers. From those two, audience applause chooses the top group.
In 2020, GRAMMY winner Ramon Ayala took the Rodeo stage on Go Tejano Day, playing his accordion and singing to the record number of fans. Ayala’s music is not considered strictly Tejano. In fact, he often is credited with defining a style of Mexican music known as norteño, or conjunto, which influenced the birth of Tejano music. “‘Go Tejano’ is the spirit of the day — it’s Go Texan with a Latino spice,” said Leroy Shafer, former Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo chief operating officer. “The entertainment appeals to a large number of fans, and the whole family can experience Go Texan fever. It truly is a celebration of Texas’ Hispanic heritage.”
Show visitors are able to enjoy traditional Tex-Mex fare at the Tejano Diner. Operated by Go Tejano Committee volunteers throughout the course of the Show, the diner offers fajitas, tamales, nachos, soft drinks, snacks and candy. All net proceeds from the diner go to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Educational Fund, directly helping those who are considered by the Go Tejano Committee as the most important beneficiaries of their work — the students.
In its mission statement, the Go Tejano Committee lists its first and foremost commitment as raising money for the Educational Fund — money that is awarded as scholarships in the name of the Go Tejano Committee.
The committee takes its mission seriously. Go Tejano Day is the culmination of a year’s worth of fund-raising events, which include a golf tournament, a fashion show and dance, and a scholarship dance. The annual effort pays off.
Over the years, the Go Tejano Committee has helped award millions of dollars to Hispanic students attending Texas colleges and universities. Evidence of the Go Tejano Committee’s success, and the success of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Go Tejano Day, comes from the scholarship recipients themselves.
As Lesette Soria, a graduate of Lamar High School, wrote, “Thanks to you, I am able to keep my dream alive and become a part of Texas history. Thank you very much for making all of America’s children count and making the Rodeo a melting pot of success.”