AUSTIN, Texas - Austin City Limits Music Festival has been around since 2002, but with very few Hispanic and Latinx acts, despite the state’s Hispanic and Latinx community being over 40 percent.
Their diversity efforts are improving and this year, Lesly Reynaga, a local Austin musician and Mexico native is set to make history at ACL as one of the first acts to perform with a full mariachi band.
It’s a moment of pride as Reynaga waits for the moment she can set foot on stage at Zilker Park. She’s cooking this morning, a way to keep her grounded with so much excitement coming.
"I’m going to make chilaquiles, it’s basically fried tortillas, with salsa cheese," Reynaga says, as she puts fresh corn tortillas on a hot skillet with olive oil. "All my tricks I learned from my mom and my grandma back in Monterrey, Mexico, where I grew up."
Cooking takes her 400 miles south of Austin to Monterrey, the place that shaped Reynaga.
"I grew up in my grandma's house, and my abuelita always just cooked and cooked and that’s what she loved doing and so again food was always a way to bring family together," Reynaga says.
Food wasn't the only thing that brought her family together; it was also la musica.
"We just gathered around in the living room and the dining room wherever we were and there’s just so many memories of my childhood where music is involved," Reynaga says looking through old photos of family gathered in their Mexico living room.
Music runs in her blood, as she started performing way back in kindergarten.
"A lot of people ask me, ‘when did your music career start?’ I don’t know, I could argue that it started when I was four years old and my grandma taught me this song," Reynaga says.
The song, "Atotonilco," is named after a Mexican town in the state of Guanajuato. As she looks through a memory box with reminders of the different stops in her journey, Reynaga pulls a bell out with the same name on it.
"This is the first guitar I ever owned," Reynaga explains, sifting through pictures and pointing at a small pink guitar in the photo. "My mom bought it for me for a birthday present in high school. I think. I probably was 17."
By that age she’d moved from Mexico to McAllen, Texas, along the Texas/Mexico border, where she had her introduction to formal instruction with mariachi music.
Her journey then landed her at the University of Texas.
"I’ve always tried to just bring both sides of my identity being a Mexican immigrant, but also being American and a dual citizen," Reynaga says. "I take a lot of pride on both of my backgrounds and my cultures and it’s something that I really just comes through my music."
She uses her music as a way to travel between both countries for those who can’t.
"My mom lives in Mexico and she can’t cross the border," Reynaga says, fighting back tears, as she explains her mother’s immigration status. It's a familiar story for many daughters of immigrants, who have family beyond the borders of the U.S.
"A lot of the special moments like high school graduation or college graduation, like she just hasn’t gotten to be there," Reynga says. "That’s definitely where I would say, if I had to dedicate my show to anybody, it would be to my mom."
It’s an emotional moment for Lesly who’s preparing to be a new mom herself. An upstairs closet now holds her music equipment, something she had to clear to make way for a baby.
"We used to have an office with all the music stuff in it and now we have to make space for a nursery," Reynaga says, showing off the closet.
Mom isn’t here for these types of moments or to spend time with her daughter as she prepares for the next generation, but even if mom is 400 miles away, she always has a way of showing up through the music.
Lesly pauses a moment, looking into the closet and in that moment, mom shows up through the pink guitar she gifted Lesly when she was a teenager. "Do you know what, Leslie?" Reynaga says during our interview, "I think I do have that pink guitar here. This is my first guitar ever."
Reynaga pulls the pink guitar from its case and begins playing the song her grandmother taught her at 4 years old. Reynaga sits in her new baby nursery, singing, strumming her guitar, as the notes help her travel between her mother’s mother, her mother and now her life as a new mama.
Lesly Reynaga performs Saturday at noon at the Barton Springs stage. She's set to make history as one of the first artists to perform with mariachis, bringing in Mariachi Paredes from the University of Texas.