Musicians in the Guatemalan Community of New Orleans

By Devon Robbie


Introduction: Julio and César

It is a beautiful afternoon on the last day of the annual New Orleans French Quarter Fest. A little removed from the bustle of the downtown festivities, Julio and César perform in the Botanical Gardens as part of "Domingo Latina," the City Park Sunday evening concert series. White chairs dot the lawn near the stage and under big oak trees where people sit and enjoy the weather, music, and scenery. Among the audience are a few families whose children alternately dance about or stand intently watching the performers. Scattered couples dance occasionally along the sides of the stage; one couple in particular, a shy wife and an encouraging husband, dance throughout most of the program.

Julio and César Herrera, accompanied by a percussionist and their regular bass guitar player, César's son Andrew Herrera, play an exciting show full of guitar rhythms, contrasting melodies, and soft voices. They perform with a relaxed attitude, evidence in their soft banter with the audience and with each other between songs. Their quiet intensity shows in the speed of their fingers over the guitar strings, the looks of concentration on their faces. The contrast between Julio and César is clear, the first more energetic, and engaging, the latter is quieter and calmer.

Julio and César Herrera perform at Domingo Latino, a concert held in New Orleans City Park. Photo: Devon Robbie.

Julio and César include songs from a variety of countries including Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Guatemala. This diversity is a hallmark of their international style which has, according to Julio, "a little bit of everything," and has been created from "a combination of cultures." Julio and César Herrera, the main members of the Julio and César Band, are originally from Guatemala, specifically the city of Huehuetenango, and have been in New Orleans for over 30 years. They maintain close ties with their family and hometown, trying to visit at least once a year, but have built their lives and careers in Louisiana.

Julio and César describe their music as constantly evolving, attributing this, in part, to their exposure from an early age to many cultures. They talk about growing up in Guatemala, and learning to "sing in Italian" and "play Greek music," along with the "folklore music" of the country and other "popular songs that our parents used to sing." While they say that these songs will stay with them, they believe that their sound has improved as they have "met a lot of cultures," and are resolved to "keep up with the new music that comes out every day, new styles and everything." While Julio and César began playing together many years ago, they assert that, "We cannot just stay in our old style. We need to keep learning." This process is evident in the creativity and improvisation, along with their mastery of many different musical styles that they bring to their performances.

One thing that characterizes Julio and César's music is their use of the guitar. The majority of the time, they play Spanish or classical guitars, described by César as "nylon-string guitars, you know, soft melodies," either acoustically or with little amplification. They play a variety of songs and styles, rather than only playing music traditionally performed on these instruments. César describes their style by explaining that, "we play all kinds of music with these instruments. Sometimes the instruments are not for merengue or something, but we play merengue on these guitars. You know, that's our difference." They also take pride in putting their own spin on things. As Julio adds, "When we perform a style—any music or jazz or traditional music—we always put our own touch on the guitars. We are not doing a repetition of the American style, but our own creation."

Julio and César tailor their performances to each audience, reflecting their highly tuned ability to read the crowd. Julio describes that, "depending on the occasion and the atmosphere, we try and adjust to the people." They identify Louisiana as a diverse location, describing how "it's a melting pot of cultures here," and hope that their music can both add to the mix and benefit from it. Julio and César feel that their music helps other immigrants to remember their own countries, and describe how "people that we play to request music from us and they remember their countries." They also feel that their music allows them to, "bring happiness to people, lift their spirits," and "bring part of the [Guatemalan] culture to this culture."

Though Julio and César have embraced a contemporary style and don't focus on playing traditional music in their public performances, their philosophy on music and culture acknowledges the place of tradition. César explains that he and Julio, "belong to a different country but we came here and adjust to this culture, but keep our culture with us." The insightful way in which the Herrera brothers view their roles as musicians is clear as César describes how, "when people come from other countries they adjust to this culture and they may forget about their original culture." But he notes that he and Julio, through their music, "try to conserve our traditions and that culture."

Introduction: Ovi-G and The Froggies

It is a busy night at Carreta's Grill in Slidell, about half an hour away from New Orleans, and the Froggies' music can be heard through the door of the restaurant. The band is set up near the bar and their extensive collection of instruments stretches along an entire wall. Ovi-J, the youngest member of the group and Ovi-G's son-called Ovi-J to differentiate him from his father; the group's namesake-mans the large percussion section. To his right are the two Giron daughters: Michelle on vocals and keyboard and Susseth on base. Next to them are Ovidio Giron, or Ovi-G, the leader and father of the group, also on vocals as well as keyboard, trumpet and marimba, a percussion instrument that resembles a xylophone, and is the national instrument of Guatemala. Traditionally, marimbas are made of wood and very large, but the Froggies use a smaller metal marimba, designed to be easier to transport and play in a variety of settings.

As they perform,the members of the band work together with concentrated excitement, despite the bustle of the busy restaurant, which is filled with large groups, families, and younger couples. Ovi-G and the Froggies' music is a lively mix of Caribbean or tropical rhythms, bright vocals and melodies, and diverse instrumentation. The Froggies describe their style as a combination of Latin dance music, like salsa and meringue along with lesser-known soca and tropical, percussion-driven Caribbean styles, and traditional marimba music blended, at times, with North American classic rock of the 1970s.

While the Froggies do not regularly play traditional Guatemalan music, the marimba is a very important part of the music of the country. Roberto Villacorta, the former President of the Association of Guatemalans in Louisiana, describes the folkloric music of Guatemala as, "a soft music. (Some people tell me that it is a sad music)," and identifies the most "traditional" music style as El Son, which utilizes a marimba along with other instruments. The Association itself owns a full size marimba, which, ideally, is played by seven people. Before costs became prohibitive, the Association regularly flew performers from Guatemala to play at cultural events and parties. Villacorta explains the popularity of the marimba, saying "Everybody asks for the marimba - when are the marimbas going to come." Another popular style of marimba music is called marimba orquesta and it is an ensemble of marimba and other instruments, which allows musicians to perform a greater variety of music. Ernesto Schweikert, the founder and general manager of KGLA, the Spanish language radio and television stations in New Orleans, confirms that the marimba, though "conservative," remains one of the most popular instruments in Guatemala and that new marimba music continues to be produced, especially in the marimba orquesta style.

Michele Giron with her father Ovidio "Ovi-G" Giron with their customized marimba at their home in LaPlace, Louisiana. “Los Ranas” means “the little frogs” in Spanish. Photo: Devon Robbie.

The Froggies sound is clearly tied to Latin American styles, however their connection to Louisiana becomes clear when they break into their rendition of the Hank Williams classic "Jambalaya," and other popular North American songs. Susseth explains their multi-layered sound. "We hear a lot," she says, "so you know we can have a little from everything. All kinds of music, English, Spanish. ... We hear a lot because that's how you get to influence your ear." Michelle adds that they also, "love music from the French Quarter - the Mardi Gras style."

This love for their adopted home is clear in one of The Froggies' biggest hits so far, "Soca Nueva Orleans." The accompanying video interposes their unique sound with iconic New Orleans vistas, making the song a tribute not only to their love for the city but also to the growing Latin culture of New Orleans. Though the concept was born before Hurricane Katrina, the recording and video were released soon after the storm at a difficult time for the city. In Michelle and Susseth's words, "it brought up the spirits of a lot of people" and "everybody was fascinated with the song that was dedicated to New Orleans." The song is also a testament to Ovi-G as a composer as his lyrics capture the co-existence of two worlds within the immigrant experience. Ovi-G explains that he came up with the idea for the song as he was "walking in New Orleans, thinking about the carnival here, but then remembered a rhythm (from Guatemala.)" At that moment, "Soca Nueva Orleans" was born or, in the words of his son, "before it was Soca Guatemala but now it's Soca New Orleans."

The Froggies' style, as well as their name, has evolved over three generations of family bands. The tradition began in Guatemala with Los Ranas, a marimba group of the 1940s and 1950s, whose members were from Ovi-G's parents' generation. The name of the original band was taken from the lighthearted nickname for the family, "Los Ranas," which means "the frogs" in Spanish. They were followed by El Grupo Rana in the 1980s, fronted by Ovi-G. The band was very popular in Guatemala and Central America with hits including "Socarengue," "Socaribe" and "Mi Secretaria I."

Along with Ovi-G's trumpet playing, El Grupo Rana was known for its unique fusion of styles - a mix of marimba, soca, and tropical. El Grupo Rana was one of first bands to bring the Caribbean soca sound to more traditional Guatemalan music. Schweikert, who is the manager of the New Orleans area Spanish language radio station, calls Ovi-G "a genius in music" and describes how Ovi-G's combination of "marimba and a couple of the other instruments that are used by rock created the modern music" of Guatemala. According to Susseth, they were known for, "Having a style. Not a lot of Guatemalans are known for having soca and marimba." She points out that the group's music, "really did change a lot of Guatemala." In Louisiana, that musical tradition has been reborn in the grandchildren's generation. Beginning as the aptly named, Los Ranitas (the "little frogs" or "froggies") they matured with their father's guidance and their own dedication, to become Ovi-G and the Froggies.

Originally, the Froggies did not plan to become a band. The family arrived in the United States in the 1990s, when the children were very young. Ovi-J first began playing with his father in church and at small gigs, while Michelle and Susseth also played occasionally at their church. After playing together a few times, though, they discovered their deep love of performing together and their father, Ovi-G, consented to the formation of the band. They stuck with their roots for the first few years and played only marimba, culture, and folklore. The first time that the Froggies officially performed together, they believed they were going to be background for some folklore dancers at a gathering sponsored by a Latin America cultural association. Susseth recalls, "We were really shy, this was our first time as a band, but Dad said, 'You all are gonna be background." Ovi-G chimes in, "because there were dancers, folklore dancers. We were nervous . . . but then we relaxed. Then when we started and everybody sat down to watch us we nearly froze!"

Julio and César recall a similar tale about the first time they performed together. After playing around backstage, they suddenly found themselves performing in front of a full crowd at the largest auditorium in their town in Guatemala. When asked if they did well, César says, "Yes, I think we did," with a soft smile. They recently revisited this stage for a performance during a trip back to Guatemala. Julio explains, "Two years ago they invite us to go to our town and receive an award of the city. We felt real good . . . because we played the same theater where we performed when we were in kindergarten, but received an award from the hands of the government." When asked again about their earliest public performance, César reaches further back to a time when they played during, "a tradition in our town, Cosa Vita, walking in a procession from home to home with the statue of the Virgin." Julio gently adds, "that was the first time yes - very young, yes."

Family History of Music

Like Ovi-G and The Froggies, Julio and César come from a family tradition of music. When asked how he and his brother learned to play music, Julio explains, "I believe this is in the family because everybody plays an instrument and we belong to a family of musicians, artists. There is a lot of talent in the family." César specifically points to his older brothers as their teachers. He says they taught them their first chords, and from there they learned on their own. At one point the brothers played in a quartet together. Julio recalls how, "We were playing for fun in the living room and we could hear our mother all the way from the kitchen saying, 'Hey, that's the wrong chord.'"

A veritable guitar virtuoso today, Julio had an uncertain start with the instrument. He tells the story with his usual sparkle:

Now you don't believe me, but we were five brothers and one sister and everybody used to play the guitar in the home except me, because I was left-handed. Of course my mother always said, "Pick up the piano, pick up the marimba, something else"- but she saw me picking up the guitar and turning to the left side and, in time, I started playing the guitar upside down [or left-handed].

Julio and César Herrera performing. Julio plays guitar left-handed. Photo: Devon Robbie.

The members of The Froggies also first learned to play music from family members. You can hear a hint of sadness in his voice as Ovi-G speaks of his father, who was his teacher, "I was nine years old when he passed away." Ovi-G credits his father with teaching him, "all instruments, everything." Now his children's teacher, Ovi-G is humble about his influence and his children are the first to acknowledge that he did not pressure them into music. Ovi-G has a wise teaching philosophy. He says, "I believe everybody has a talent, everybody. The only thing is how to discover - what is your talent? You are a musician? Okay, let me see." For example, while the children have shown great talent in music, all agree that their beloved mother's talent is that of being their manager, asserting, "anywhere we go she can get us a gig." Over the years, members of both groups have had formal training as well, including time spent studying at NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) during high school for the younger generation of the Giron family.

Susseth Giron with two of the electric basses she plays in Ovi-G and the Froggies. Susseth did not know which instrument to play until she first encountered the small version of the bass (on left), or a "baby bass" as she called it, in a store window. Photo: Devon Robbie.

Language is also an important part of culture and is often passed down from parents to children, like music or other traditions, especially among communities of immigration. Villacorta, an active member of the Guatemalan community, describes his own experiences working to pass along his Guatemalan heritage to his children, who grew up in Louisiana. "I have three children," he says, "and I try to teach them about Guatemala. I have a big piece of paper in my living room-my wife is from Guatemala, too, and that means in my house Spanish is the first language really-and on the sign it says 'No smoking and No English' and the three talk, speak Spanish perfectly."

Alicia Behrhorst, another member of the New Orleans Guatemalan community, raised her children in the city as well. She is of Kaqchikel Maya heritage and that language, along with other Maya languages and Spanish, form a part of her unique cultural outlook. Though she teaches Kaqchikel and other languages at Tulane University, she did not find the opportunity to share the Kaqchikel language with her children. She says, "in truth, the children are at school and I work, it's a little difficult, no? But they have always spoken Spanish and know the indigenous culture." Despite these and other difficulties, Alicia asserts that "for me it's worth it, with all that has happened, for my children have a chance [to study]" and she also shares that her culture is always with her, or in her words "I live my culture, it has not changed.

Connections with the Musical History of New Orleans

The story of these two bands is not just a story of musicians of Guatemalan heritage; it is also a story about the history of music in New Orleans. Julio and César came to New Orleans in 1967 and their experiences since then are intertwined with the history of the musical scene in the city. For example, when asked who their favorite people to play with over the years have been, Julio excitedly relates how once they were playing at a party in the French Quarter at which Al Hurt was a guest. Julio says, "He came over with his trumpet and said, 'I want you guys to accompany me,' and he played a song with us and said we did it with devotion."

While it would be hard to find a more iconic New Orleans musical moment than that, Julio's and César's stories are peppered with the names of other famous musicians who have come to the city throughout the years. César tells the story of the time they were playing in a restaurant when one of the waiters came up and told them a gentleman wanted to sing a song with them. "We were thinking, does he know how to sing?" says César. They consented, only to find that the mystery singer was Tom Jones. Perhaps the funniest of these stories takes place at Broussard's, a classic New Orleans restaurant. Julio teasingly recounts the story with a wink at his shy brother. "We met Liza Minnelli. I can't, I don't forget because Liza Minnelli was watching César, and Liza was smiling and everybody was like, 'Uh, oh.'"

Their story also illustrates changes in the musical culture of New Orleans that include a growing recognition of a Latin American presence in the music and culture of the city. The details of the first place that Julio and César performed in New Orleans are an example of this. As César recounts, "it was an old nightclub on Canal Street, the name of the place was Café Olé. . . . I think, it was only the second place in the whole city for Latin music." In fact, it was through a Guatemalan connection that Julio, César, and their group of the time, got the gig. Julio explains that the owner, who was married to a woman from Guatemala, "was always on vacations in Guatemala and we were playing at a small party and he told us about his nightclub in New Orleans and invited us to come and play there."

Julio says that when they first played at this café, "mostly the crowd was Latin American residents in the United States, but little by little we caught the attention of the American crowd. So after that we had to move to Bourbon Street because we were invited to perform in a place . . . where you see everybody, all kinds of crowds." The continued popularity of Julio and César and the Froggies, as well as other Latin American artists in the area, is evidence of the increasing integration of Latin American music into mainstream New Orleans culture.

While the Froggies did not start playing in New Orleans until later, their namesake member Ovi-G had a long musical relationship with the city. In his previous musical career in Guatemala, Ovidio often played a compact B-flat trumpet, made for classic music but sometimes used in jazz. Ovidio says he likes to plays it "because it's a small one for me, my ear, the sound is close to my ear." Ovidio would come to New Orleans in order to purchase this kind of trumpet and "bring it back over to Guatemala." Though his children say that they saw some bands using the pocket trumpet when they visited Guatemala, they are proud of the fact that their father "was one of the first guys ever" to use this type of trumpet there.

In a different way, the younger members of the band also have unique relationships with the musical culture of New Orleans. Through their time studying jazz and general music theory at NOCCA they are connected with the classic musical traditions of jazz in New Orleans in the same way as Julio and César are connected through performing with some of the jazz greats. The Froggies also represent the future of music in the city through their dedication to combining different traditions into a new style.

The musicians are also connected to the history of New Orleans through their experiences of Hurricane Katrina, as both families lived in the greater New Orleans area in 2005. Each evacuated and temporarily relocated, with the Herreras going to Miami, Florida, and Girons to Corpus Christi, Texas. Many other members of the Guatemalan community of New Orleans had similar Katrina-related experiences, though some did not evacuate and stayed in the city. Schweikert, who returned quickly to the city after the storm to get the radio station back on the air, described the surprise that many felt at the conditions and at the lack of consideration for the Latin American community. He explains that, both before and after the storm, the radio became a "network" through which people communicated in order to help each other out with rides out of the city and, later, with offers of generators and rescue missions. Villacorta and Behrhorst, both of whom had lived in Louisiana for nearly 30 years when Hurricane Katrina struck and have resumed their lives in the area, describe how things are harder now for individuals, including those who have come here after the storm. There are also difficulties faced by the Guatemalan community at large as many of those who were very involved in cultural activities of various associations have moved away.

While The Froggies and Julio and César found work in the places to which they evacuated and both had the opportunity to make a new start for themselves, each returned to the city when locations where they frequently played re-opened. Julio explains why they chose to return to New Orleans, "The town called us back. With guitars we were ready in Miami to try, we almost have a job over there, playing a couple of places, . . . but about a month later they started calling us from New Orleans saying that they open up, come back home, and we knew that we had to come back because we have most of our life here." The Froggies, who were playing five gigs a week in Corpus Christi, received a similar call. "They called us and told us that business is good where we used to play, and they had a lot of people. 'People wanna hear you perform, people wanna hear music.' It brings people happiness, you know, because of the storm so we decided to come back." With this experience of displacement, relocation, and return, these two families further show the resilience demonstrated by their move from Guatemala, and their ability to adapt their musical talents to all of these places.


Today, when the presence of Latin American culture in Louisiana is discussed, it is often in, relation to recent controversy over what has been called an 'influx of immigration' into the area following Hurricane Katrina. Yet there is a long history of movement and cultural sharing between New Orleans and Latin America, especially from countries of Central America. For example, while the French heritage of New Orleans is most often mentioned, the city was a Spanish colony as well, with historical origins are shared by the majority of Central and South American countries. New Orleans has one of the oldest Latin American communities in the United States. As reported by the 2000 U.S. Census taken five years before Hurricane Katrina, Latin Americans comprise the largest foreign-born population in both Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.

These parishes also report a sizable and historic Guatemalan community. The 2000 Census shows the Guatemalan-born population of Orleans Parish as 672 and Jefferson Parish at 1,403, behind the Honduran and Nicaraguan populations of both parishes. The 2010 census will likely demonstrate a change to these numbers. Ernesto Schweikert estimates the current Guatemalan population of the area as closer to 5,000, while Villacorta has a more conservative estimate, stating that since Hurricane Katrina "we have less than 9000, maybe now we are 6-7000 in all Louisiana."

There are also historical connections between Guatemala and New Orleans based on longstanding economic relationships built around the fruit and coffee trade. Companies like United Fruit and Chiquita Banana operated between New Orleans and Guatemala. Historically, New Orleans and New York are the only places in the United States where coffee is traded, making New Orleans an important location for the Guatemalan coffee industry (Schweikert). Many families of those who held important positions in these industries spent time in both countries and sent their children to school in New Orleans. This was the case with Schweikert, whose great grandfather worked for Chiquita Banana and who grew up going to school in New Orleans; where he later stayed to attend college, raise his family, and start the Spanish language radio and television stations.

Following earlier immigration, there was a "wave of people who came here in the 1960 and 1970s," which coincided with a period of political unrest in Guatemala (Schweikert). Many, including Roberto and Alicia, came to the United States as a direct result of this situation and both describe threats of violence, and concern for the lives of their families, as main reasons for leaving Guatemala.

Villacorta, who came here with his wife and his eldest daughter in 1969, explains that "in Guatemala I was a lawyer, ... for political reasons I need to leave. It was get out in an airplane or get out in a coffin." Alicia, who was a nurse at a medical clinic in Guatemala run by her late husband, describes how her family "left from Guatemala because it was very dangerous during the time of the war. We received a letter that said, 'You go or you die.'"

Others give more general reasons for their move. Julio and César moved to Louisiana in 1967 "to go to school." Ovidio cites a "desire for a different kind of life" as the reason for their move in 1992, though originally they weren't planning to move to New Orleans. His daughters relate the story with excitement, even though it is clear they have told it many times. The family already made arrangements to live in California, staying first with a family in Virginia for a few months. They planned on briefly "passing down through" New Orleans to visit some friends on their way to California, yet realized how much they liked it when they arrived. Ovi-G got a job offer at a radio station and they decided to stay.

For members of the Guatemalan community, the reasons for coming to Louisiana are as varied as the members of the community itself. Some cite a divide between the generations, between those who were born in Guatemala or in the United States, as well as between those who came to New Orleans before or after Hurricane Katrina. Others mention differences between ethnic and social groups that carried over from Guatemala; yet overall most describe New Orleans' Guatemalan community in a unified light; a small but established group. The majority of Guatemalans in Louisiana speak Spanish as well as English, while others, as mentioned, speak Maya languages as well, including Quiche and Kaqchikel. Religion is an important part of the community as are individual families' lives. Many Guatemalans identify as Catholic, though others worship in Protestant and non-denominational churches. Some also participate in religious festivities including a Guatemalan religious tradition, the veneration of the Senor de Escuipules, which has come to be practiced in New Orleans in January.

The major Guatemalan cultural association in Louisiana is the Asociacion de Guatemalans en Louisiana. It was formed in 1991 to celebrate and preserve Guatemalan heritage and traditions in Louisiana. The association's major celebration is the annual crowning of Miss Guatemala New Orleans and the series of parties and social events that lead up to the event. The association previously sponsored parades, as well as folkloric or traditional cultural and musical exhibitions and is currently a member of the Unidad Hispanoamericana, which holds similar events for the Pan-Latin community. The Asociacion also publishes "El Chapincito," a small magazine that features profiles of the current and former Misses Guatemala and their courts, association news and Guatemalan cultural information, is published yearly in conjunction with the crowing of Miss Guatemala (Villacorta).

Other forums for community participation include a number of soccer, or futbol, leagues and a variety of cultural and community groups. The radio is another way that the community stays connected. Ernesto points out the importance of this medium:

very, very strong, it's like a network, because everybody's listening and everybody will be interactive, you know, . . . somebody would be like, "Ernesto, what is the city capitol of [the department of] Zacapa in Guatemala?" and I'd be on the air like, maybe I don't know, but maybe one of the listeners will know. Then the listeners will call in and say, "Zacapa," and we know how to use the radio station in that sense.

Music and Community

Music is of one the most celebrated aspects of the culture of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana and is also an integral part of Latin American and Guatemalan culture. Consequently, Latin American music, and more so, Latin American musicians have an important place in the music of New Orleans. Musical performances are another means for the Latin American community, and the related community of its fans, to gather and celebrate the contemporary expressions of their heritage and of New Orleans musical culture.

While there are a number of weekly events that feature Latin American music and musicians within Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, one particular hub of the community can be found at festivals of Latin culture. These events include concerts and festivals focused on Latin music and heritage, such as the Carnaval Latino, Celebración Latina, and Fiesta Latina. Carnaval Latino is the longest running of these events, and though it took a short hiatus in the past, in the fall of 2009 Julio and César performed along with other local and international musicians from around Latin America.

The May, 2009, Celebración Latina, held in the Garden District of New Orleans and organized by Tulane's Stone Center for Latin American Studies, featured a variety of art forms, traditions, and Latin American food, sold by a number of vendors. Attending the celebration, were also non-profit and community-based organizations representing housing, education, and other concerns. Ovi-G and the Froggies performed, along with Casa Samba, a Brazilian drum group and samba school, Rumba Buena, a Latin horn group, and Sorongo, a Cuban dance band. On that day, the Froggies' array of instruments had an especially developed percussion section, with two extra performers and a setup that included tambora and conga drums and a guira; percussion instruments associated with salsa and meringue.

Ovi-J Giron, Ovi-G's son, plays drums at Celebracion Latina in Laurence Square Park in New Orleans. On the left is a conga drum and he is holding a tambora. Photo: Devon Robbie.

The emcee gave a lively introduction, teasing them slightly for being a family-as Susseth and Michelle say people often do-and the band launched into their first song. As usual, the Froggies had a fun and welcoming stage presence, which encourages people to dance and enjoy the moment. The day bore witness to the growing popularity of the group, further seen in their recent high-profile gigs in downtown New Orleans and their appearance on a local news program before the concert to discuss the event.

Another venue for Latin American music and community expression is Tomatillo's Restaurant on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, where Julio and César have a standing date on Sunday evenings. This location is one of many area bars and restaurants that hold regular Latin music and dance nights. They serve as the 'bread and butter' of performers including Julio and César and the Froggies and also serve up small-scale celebrations of Latin culture and act as gathering places for fans of Latin music, dance, and cuisine.

Sunday nights at Tomatillo's are generally crowed and include people from many groups: tourists and locals; many who dance, some very well; those with Latin American roots and those without; and others who prefer to sip their drinks and watch. For this occasion, Julio and César played upbeat songs from their large repertoire, often accompanied by a bass player and a percussionist. One regular, who had moved to the United States from Guatemala in the 1990s and owns a contracting firm, discussed how Julio and César's music, while not the traditional music of Guatemala, reminds him of home and keeps him in touch with others in the area who share and appreciate his culture.

It is a different scene on Sunday mornings at Smiley's Restaurant in nearby Harahan in Jefferson Parish, where Julio and César also have a standing date. Here they generally play unaccompanied and cover their more peaceful and intricate pieces on the guitar. Yet, dancers occasionally take to the floor at this venue and here, too, they are joined by many fans. One couple, who identifies themselves as old friends of the band, are regulars at the event who have lived in New Orleans for a long time, though originally from Latin America. They also expressed their appreciation of Julio and César's musical talent, as well as their love for the way that the musicians helped them to remember and celebrate the music of their culture.

Another way in which both groups stay in touch with the community is through their commitment to charity work; which allows them to further express their love of bringing happiness to others. Both Julio and César and the Froggies perform at homes for the elderly and for various children's charities, as well as at other events including the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Julio said that when they have a chance to "lift the spirits" of any group of people they do it "with great pleasure." The members of the Giron family have similar feelings about charity work and Michelle describes how it, "makes us happy to bring them joy." Charitable activity is also an important aspect of the Guatemalan Association of Louisiana and the duties of Miss Guatemala, New Orleans.

In this way, the members of each group have embraced Louisiana as their home, helping people both in and out of the traditionally-defined Latin American or Guatemalan community. Each group has developed a unique style and traditions that combines elements from Guatemala, Louisiana, and beyond and members of both groups, and the Guatemalan community at large, maintain strong emotional ties with their home country and their family members. Behrhorst, Schweikert, and Villacorta all travel to visit Guatemala every few years. Ernesto relates how the network functions on these visits, with someone offering to bring back a favorite food or check on a relative. Roberto shares how he and his family have taken many great trips back, but that though it is difficult for him say due to his strong ties to Guatemala, he feels his life and family are now in Louisiana.

A musical example of this connection is the song that Julio wrote for his mother, "Angelica de Huehuetenango," which also is the name of the band's recent CD. The song is an intricate guitar piece that starts off slow and then breaks into a breathtaking guitar solo that showcases their skill, and their strong feelings for their family and their birthplace. Ovi-G and the Froggies also dedicate music to their home country, describing how on a recent trip to Guatemala they recorded a video clip for their version of a traditional Guatemalan song that will be included on their upcoming album. While their musical talent, range, and charisma radiate from these performers when they play, what is most striking about getting to know them better is the great joy they take from their fans, their homes—both new and old—and their families.

Devon Robbie is an independent researcher in New Orleans. This article was prepared as part of the New Populations Project in 2009.