Isaiah Vialpando, a student majoring in mass communications and minoring in music at Colorado State University-Pueblo, died Wednesday from gunshot wounds after being shot and then crashing his car in downtown Pueblo. He was 20.
Carmelita Vasquez, psychology major at CSU-Pueblo, said Vialpando was a “super kind-hearted guy, always trying to crack a joke.”
Vasquez first met Vialpando in eighth grade when they both were accepted to the advanced mariachi program at Cesar Chavez Academy.
The program, Mariachi Aguila, was founded in 2002 when the academy first opened. The program is currently the only self-sustaining, performing school/student based mariachi in Colorado.
“When we first got accepted into the advanced mariachi group, I was the only girl guitar player and he teased me ‘til the ends of the earth about it,” Vasquez said.
“Being my first time playing in an advanced group, it took me awhile to get down the strums so he was always the first one to turn towards me so I can see his hand movements. He always helped me when I needed it,” she said.
Vasquez did not reconnect with Vialpando until they both played in Jerry Vigil’s mariachi group, Tierra Colorada, an all ages community band in Pueblo whose “members with passion for playing music and Mexican culture work together to spread the joy of being mariachi.”
“One thing I loved most about him is that he was playing even when he wasn’t. He would practice the strums on his shirt all day long. He even got me doing that!” she said.
“I’m going to miss every little memory I have of him and with him.”
Basilia Gonzalez-Rodriguez, a sophomore at CSU-Pueblo double majoring in psychology and Spanish said that Vialpando was dedicated to mariachi music. “He was a quiet reserved person until you got him to talk about music,” she said.
Vialpando and Gonzalez-Rodriguez went to elementary, middle and a year of high school together, with Vialpando a school year ahead of her. Gonzales-Rodriguez was also a part of the Mariachi Aguila group with Vasquez and Vialpando for five to six years at CCA and Dolores Huerta Preparatory High.
“If he couldn’t get a strum down, he would practice and practice until it was perfected. Being a musician isn’t easy. There are times when one feels so overwhelmed and stressed, but Isaiah was truly one of the most dedicated and devoted musicians I’ve ever worked with,” Gonzalez-Rodriguez said.
Gonzalez-Rodriguez’s fondest memory of Vialpando was when their mariachi group went to their first Mariachi Spectacular in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“We had practiced every day for weeks training to compete for this event which was very important to all of us,” she said.
The contest included numerous workshops where the different sections of the mariachi would meet other contestants from all over the nation to participate in workshops together. Gonzalez-Rodriguez said that the most exciting part of these events were the jam sessions they had every night.
“Isaiah loved to get out his vihuela and play with a dozen other musicians. You could see the joy he had knowing he was playing among some of the best in the nation, including himself,” she said.
Music was something that enveloped Vialpando’s life. “It was truly an enormous part of his life, for the beautiful way all parts of the mariachi came together to create something so amazing and melodic. Mariachi music is such a big part of Mexican culture and Isaiah was so proud to showcase that,” Gonzalez-Rodriguez said.
Family and friends of Vialpando hosted a candlelight vigil Sept. 4 in Ersilia Cruz Park across from Dolores Huerta Preparatory, where he attended high school.
The shooting that led to Vialpando’s death is still under investigation. His family is offering a $3,000 reward to anyone able to provide the police with enough information about the shooter to lead to an arrest.
“Isaiah was an incredible human being and did not deserve this awful injustice. He touched so many lives and he will not be forgotten; he will live on in mariachi and in our hearts,” Gonzalez-Rodriguez said.