Dinorah Márquez found safety and inspiration in the violin. When she was 10 years old, Márquez’ family immigrated from her hometown of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas. When Márquez arrived in the United States, she didn’t speak English. At home, she dealt with domestic violence and at school, she faced bullying. But at school, she was also given the opportunity to learn music. Considering which instrument to play, she chose the violin. When she began playing it, she was immediately enthralled. The music was beautiful, the skill required challenged her, and at the same time, playing gave her solace.
“Whenever I was practicing my instrument, nobody bothered me,” she says. “It became a safe place at home and at school.”
Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.
After attending Northwestern University and working in Chicago, Márquez decided to return to Mexico to reconnect with her roots. She moved to Xico, Veracuz, where she and a friend found that the traditional music of the village, the sones, were being lost. Márquez made it her mission to reinvigorate the tradition, and she soon became the first woman to perform the sones during the village festival.
Márquez moved to Milwaukee when a professor who saw her perform in Mexico offered her a scholarship at UW-Milwaukee, where she graduated in 2001. A year later, she started the Latino Arts Strings Program at the United Community Center, to pass on all she had learned. The program provides musical training in string instruments to children. Its first year, 26 students enrolled. Now, the program enlists around 200 each year. Márquez teaches classical rigor and technique, but also what she calls, “heritage education,” teaching her students the traditional music that their ancestors knew. “The violin gave me safety and a wonderful place to evolve as a child,” she says. “I felt like this was the place where I could give back what I had received.”