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Hispanic Heritage Month: Ponce Family Passes Down Musical Art Of Mariachi Through Generations

GARFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- This Hispanic Heritage Month, we're introducing you to a family that has passed down the musical art of mariachi through generations.

From toddlers to 80-year-olds, CBS2's Lisa Rozner shows us how they're sharing the Mexican tradition with the world.

The Ponce family takes pride in their roots.

"I am very proud to play the music, and every time I wear my mariachi outfit, it's like putting on a Mexican flag," Ramon Ponce Jr. told Rozner.

"It's a lot for more. When I see my grandchildren singing the Mexican songs... They represent Mexico," Ramon Ponce Sr. added.

Ramon Ponce Sr., now 80 years old, moved the family from Puebla, Mexico, to New York City to join a band when Ramon Ponce Jr. was 13.

"I've been into music all my life, literally, since I was born," Ponce Jr. said. "I'm the fourth generation of musicians in my family."

It's no surprise as he celebrates 30 years of playing alongside his father as part of the group Mariachi Real de Mexico, his 6-year-old son, Alexander, is a natural too.

"My dad was teaching me how to sing and to play," he told Rozner.

His 3-year-old sister, Angelina, is in training, and their 22-year-old cousin, Albert Reyes, plays the Mexican vihuela. His 15-year-old sister sings too.

"It very much becomes part of your identity," said Reyes.

Mariachi goes back hundreds of years. It was a version of Spanish theatrical orchestra in the countryside.

"At the beginning of the music, when mariachi music started, they didn't have the bass, they only had the harp," Ponce Jr. said. "They created this instrument, and it has a big back, because mariachi music is usually acoustic, we don't use any microphones... The shape of the guitarron gives it a lot of volume."

The instruments and attire are custom made in Mexico.

"This is called a 'gala' or 'botonadura,' and we use sterling silver on our pants, which is to make it more royal," said Ponce Jr.

Mariachi is a family tradition that's typically learned at home. That's why Ponce Jr. started the Mariachi Academy 20 years ago, so he can share it with a wider community.

"It's a nonprofit where we give free music lessons to young kids in mariachi music, and we've served over 1,000 students -- some of them who are now professional musicians," he said.

He imparts words of wisdom from his father.

"Every time we go and perform, it doesn't matter if it's Carnegie Hall or if it's just someone's backyard, we come in with that same confidence and that same strength and the same love, because it's something that we love doing," he said.

That passion radiates. The family has been asked to perform for Henry Kissenger, Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, at the New York Stock Exchange and on "The Cake Boss."

The family says, in mariachi, there's a song for every situation. In Mexico, it's customary to play at milestones, ranging from a christening to a wedding.

Ponce Jr. also told Rozner his mother recently passed away and his father thought about quitting the trumpet, which he's played for the last 60 years. He told his dad now is the time you need to play the most, and said the therapy of mariachi helped keep him going and stay 80 years young.

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