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Mexico: Grungy mariachi plaza gets a makeover. Authenticity at stake?

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Asel Llana Ugalde

(Read caption) Garibaldi Plaza has long been the home of mariachi bands.

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

MEXICO CITY – The sights and sounds of mariachi ensembles, decked out in silver-studded suits and wide-brimmed hats, are the pride of Mexico.

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But their gathering place, in Mexico City at least, has brought shame: Garibaldi Plaza, where mariachis have crooned themes of love and tragedy for decades, has been marred by muggings, drug addicts, prostitutes, and, in some corners, an overwhelming stench.

Now Mexico City is giving the famed plaza a makeover, which will include a museum, a garden of planted agave, security cameras and new lighting, eateries, and even a mariachi school.

The aim is to create a family-friendly atmosphere where Mexico’s cultural treasures can be celebrated safely.

On a recent day, as mariachi groups wait for Mexicans to hire them for a party or funeral, a city engineer measures work on the construction of the agave garden. He says the layout of the remodeled plaza makes it impossible for pickpockets to lurk in the shadows of trees and archways.

Not everyone thinks an upgrade is a good idea, though. Alvaro Mora, who has played the five-string guitar called a vihuela for 40 years here, says that Garibaldi Plaza runs the risk of turning into a Disneyland of mariachi. “It can take away the authenticity,” Mr. Mora says. “We just want to play music; we sell happiness.”