Six Bruin Siblings, One Great Band
Published Jul 1, 2009 11:00 AM
It's a major accomplishment for one high school student to get into UCLA. But the six Herrera siblings were able to do something truly rare: Since 2000, they have all been accepted to UCLA.
The youngest of the family — Rebeca Isabel — will be attending UCLA in the fall.
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"Once I got accepted, it was a bit of a relief," says Rebeca, 18, a class valedictorian, high school athlete and talented musician who plays in a popular Mexican norteño band with her five brothers.
The Herreras' Bruin family tradition began in 2000, when the oldest sibling, Jorge Andres, 27, was accepted to UCLA. He earned a bachelor's degree in Chicano studies and a master's in ethnomusicology and is currently working on a doctorate in ethnomusicology.
The kids were UCLA fans since the day they were born. Their uncle, Andres Herrera, now an Oxnard, Calif., city councilman, was a member of the football team that won the Rose Bowl in 1966 — and the Herreras have followed UCLA sports teams ever since.
But the siblings also chose UCLA because they grew up in Fillmore, a city in Ventura County, and wanted to stay close to home.
"We do everything together," notes Luis Albino, 26, who has a bachelor's in ethnomusicology and a master's in Latin American studies. "We go to the gym together, the movies, and we work out together."
Adds their mother, Oralia: "They'll even clean the yard together and pull weeds."
Donning cowboy hats and leather jackets, the Herrera siblings also play together as Hermanos Herrera several times a week at local dance halls, cultural events and colleges.
Like UCLA, Mexican music is in their blood. Their father, also named Jorge, had a small harp made for him in Tijuana, Mexico. And by the time each child turned 3, Jorge Herrera had begun teaching him how to hold a harp or guitar and strum a few chords.
The father also played with his own brothers in Conjunto Hueyapan, a group featuring jarocho string music from the tropical Mexican state of Veracruz. The group continues to perform occasionally.
"We idolized my father growing up," Luis says. "We used to go to the performances and watch him and want to be just like him."
The younger Jorge recalls that Hermanos Herrera first played together when four of them opened for the Grammy–winning band Los Lobos at the Ventura Theater in 1988. The brothers were between 2 and 7 years old. The siblings have recorded six CDs in two Mexican musical styles — norteño, a northern Mexican style that features the accordion and saxophone, and huasteco, a fusion of indigenous and Spanish musical styles native to Veracruz.
Last year, Hermanos Herrera received a lifetime achievement award at the largest huasteco festival, held in Amatlan, Veracruz. A mural in the town honoring huasteco music includes a portrait of the band.
Steve Loza M.A. '79, Ph.D. '85, a UCLA professor of ethnomusicology who has taught most of the Herreras, calls the siblings part of the "Herrera dynasty." He recalls their father's jarocho band performing at UCLA and notes that the Herreras' uncles, an aunt and several cousins also have attended UCLA.
"They are incredibly musically talented," Loza says. "They learned from so young and can switch easily from huasteco to norteño."
The Herreras also are a testament to the growing number of second- and third-generation Chicanos who retain their cultural roots.
"When I was growing up, it was unheard of for a young Chicano to play in a mariachi or norteño group," Loza says. "There was a lot of discrimination and this pressure to assimilate to so-called mainstream culture. Those attitudes have been changing."
The Herreras credit their parents with their academic and musical success, saying they kept the siblings focused on school while encouraging them to pursue their sports and musical interests.
The system has certainly worked. In addition to Jorge's and Luis' academic accomplishments, Miguel Antonio, 24, earned a bachelor's in international development studies and Chicano studies; Juan Pablo, 21, graduated in June with a bachelor's in Latin American studies; and Jose Marcelino, 19, is a sophomore who plans to major in economics and Latin American studies.
"You set the bar high and you don't accept anything lower than that," says their father. "The question was never whether they would go to college, but where they would go to college."