Dahlia Guerra honored with Ohtli Award by Mexican Consulate

By Pat Rodriguez, Special to the Star

Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president for Public Art and Special Projects, has been honored with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to those living outside of Mexico.

The award was bestowed by the Mexican Consulate of McAllen on Sept. 15, via a virtual ceremony celebrating the 211th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico.

The Ohtli Award was presented to Guerra for her work in furthering the Mexican culture. The Government of Mexico grants the Ohtli to individuals or organizations for their work in promoting Mexican American or Hispanic culture and supporting the Mexican diaspora.

During the ceremony, Guerra was presented with a commemorative medal, pin and diploma, by Consul General Froylán Yescas Cedillo, of the Mexican Consulate in McAllen.

Guerra, a native of Edinburg, is a pianist and professor in the School of Music. She is the founder of the university’s Mariachi Aztlán, a nationally award-winning student ensemble that has performed for audiences throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada.

She also is the founder of FESTIBA – Festival of International Books and Arts – at UTRGV, which celebrates the arts and humanities while promoting literacy in South Texas.

Stressing the tremendous impact of an arts education on the developmental growth of every child, Guerra has devoted her life and career to promoting the value of the creative and liberal arts in education.

Guerra said she was astounded when she heard she was to be an Ohtli recipient.

“I was just floored,” Guerra said. “I teared up. I was so touched – especially when they explained the symbolism behind the award. Ohtli is an indigenous word, Nahuatl for ‘path,’ and the medal depicts an Aztec god with a machete cutting down grass and alludes to the idea of creating a path for others. So, my goodness, once they told me that, I was totally thrilled.”

The award is even more special, she said, because it is a reflection of her life’s work.

“From Mariachi Aztlán starting up in 1989 to this point 30-something years later. I developed the group in baby steps, starting off with five kids in black pants and white shirts,” she said. “Little by little, the group attracted more students. Then we began getting invitations to travel and perform.”

Not only was Guerra the founder of the program, but also its fundraiser. She fondly remembers the days when she would sell chicken plates to raise money to purchase uniforms.

“One time, Dr. Miguel Nevárez (former president of UT Pan American) saw me selling chicken plates on the corner of H-E-B and said to me, ‘Ms. Guerra, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m selling chicken plates to raise money for some uniforms.’

“He then said to me, ‘Please get off the street. Come visit me in my office and tell me what you need,’” she said.

Guerra believes having a Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in mariachi at UTRGV that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music has been extremely important.

“To my knowledge, it’s the only accredited mariachi program in the United States by the National Association of Schools of Music, and I think the Mexican Government saw that as unique,” she said. “I feel so deeply honored, and I think that the connection our music has created to culture has made an impact.”

For Guerra, music has permeated both her private and professional life.

“Music has just always been a part of my family. My dad would take us all over Mexico and we would see the mariachi and the folklórico dancers, and it was just something that became embedded in my heart,” she said. “But never did I dream that my love for music would lead to such a blessing as the Ohtli.”