Music Pays Off

Musician Nacha Mendez kicks off music scholarship for New Mexican girls of color

Nacha Mendez may not be famous famous, but she is, to use her term, “Santa Femous.”

Mendez has made a name for herself across Santa Fe shows, US tours and even events in Europe over the years, and now her name will be attached to a scholarship for young New Mexico girls. Mendez launches the aptly named Nacha Mendez Music Scholarship for New Mexican Girls of Color at a fundraising dinner on Tuesday July 27 at the Museum Hill Café with a speech from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The program, which is fiscally sponsored by the New Mexico Music Commission Foundation nonprofit, intends to give up to $2,000 each to two Northern New Mexican girls of color to aid them in their pursuit of a professional career in music. The recipients will be chosen by a committee selected by Mendez featuring musicians Raven Chacon, Rafael Herrera, Carla Kountoupes, Mary Madigan and Melanie Monsour.

We sat down with Mendez to discuss this latest endeavor, how she got the governor to speak at its fundraiser and the benefits of a musical life.

SFR: What about the musical richness of your life made you want to help others?

Nacha Mendez: I’m a product of that, of growing up here, and I wanted to share it with young women. To bring it home and say, “You’re talented, you’re beautiful, you have these opportunities available to you. You already have the richness just from being a musician. You just need a little bit of help, a little bit of support, a little bit of money to help you buy an instrument or take lessons.”

I truly believe in its healing potential. I truly believe that it can help you overcome a lot of challenges.

I didn’t speak for many years as a child. I had a learning disorder. I floated along for many years without really speaking, but during all that period when I was having difficulty, music was what helped me. So I feel that music can help children and help young adults overcome some of these challenges, whether it’s a verbal challenge or a learning disorder or even a financial or familial challenge. Whatever it may be, music is there to help.

We’re hoping for $2,000 for the winner of each age group: 8-11 and 12-15. We’re halfway there now and hope to be there by the end of the year.

How do girls apply and how will the winners be chosen by the scholarship committee?

The criteria has not been decided. We’re going to have another meeting to decide the criteria. We’ll put the word out at the end of August to the public school system, to people who are educators, to families who know of a young woman who possibly has potential use for the scholarship. I’ll be posting it on my website.

How will you weigh different styles of music? Mariachi versus metal versus classical? Will that influence the judges’ decision?

No, it’s open. In fact one of our speakers at this event—Lorraine Valdez, aka La Rain—is a hard-rocking electric guitarist, and she mentors young people. But the scholarship is going to be open. If you’re a young person who is a hard rocker or you like electronic music or you’re classically trained, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be open to all genres, vocals as well as instrumental.

After the winners get their $2,000, what kind of support will they get? You give an 11-year-old $2,000, who’s going to help them to decide how to use it?

That’s going to be decided in the criteria. It may be the educator who recommends the child or the family member who nominated her becomes responsible for those funds. It’s going to be decided in August. We’re gonna try to open up mentorship programs to help them, but they have to really show a passion for music, a dedication. It’s not for some young person who wants a hobby—it’s for someone who really seriously wants to do this professionally.

Are you officially partnered with anyone in order to provide services to the winners?

We have started to have meetings to discuss partnerships. We had lunch with Leanne DeVane, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival director of education and outreach. I also spoke with Rep. Roger Montoya and his partner Salvador Ruiz Esquivel about teaching and mentoring at Moving Arts in Española. We have a fiscal agent, David Hansen, at the New Mexico Music Commission Foundation, and they are handling the funds, so any donations and any ticket sales are going through them.

What is the governor’s involvement?

When I decided to do this, I decided to take on a part-time job to make extra money to throw into the scholarship fund. I got hired as a bartender, and one night at work, my colleague saw me perform.

“Whoa! I really liked that song you played,” he said. “I’m going to text my sister right now because she throws events.”

I’m thinking great, his sister’s an event planner.

“She throws events at the mansion.”

“Mansion?” I said. “Michelle—is she your sister?”

“Yeah. Michelle’s my sister.”

So she came in and I asked her if she would speak at the event, and she said, “I’m here to serve you. I’ll do it.”

On your website, you write, “Music is a powerful catalyst for the kind of personal growth important to any life experience.” What kind of personal growth do you hope to encourage with this scholarship?

Confidence. It helps young women to be confident in the world, in music, in playing whatever instrument they choose, and in whatever fields they want to go into. Say they want to be a music librarian or a music therapist or an instrumentalist...Whatever field related to music they go into, this gives them the confidence to do it and they don’t feel like they’re going to be made fun of or put down because they’re girls.

The Nacha Mendez Music Scholarship for New Mexican Girls of Color Launch Party:

5-8 pm Tuesday, July 27. $85 ($40 tax deductible). Museum Hill Cafe, 710 Camino Lejo,

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