Professor credits love of music for shaping his life

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The screams of teenage girls filled the air during the Ed Sullivan Show on the cold winter February day in 1964. John Sequeiros, age 10, remembers sitting three feet away from his black and white television, his eyes glued to the screen as four young British musicians made history.

His fingers start to twitch as he follows every note he hears. Within moments, he knows exactly why he was put on this earth.

“When I saw The Beatles play on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was mesmerized by the guitar players,” said Siqueiros.

Today Siqueiros, 61, teaches African American and Chicano studies at UTEP. He also teaches a course to first semester freshmen called Understanding UTEP through rock and rap. His teaching history includes classical guitar, ensemble coaching, and courses involving music and culture.

When he joined the faculty in 2008, he was charged with founding the mariachi program Mariachi Los Mineros. To this day he plays the guitar, but does not teach guitar any more. He has achieved professional success, personal happiness and true unity with his passion. He says his love for music and the guitar molded him into the successful man he is today.

Born in El Paso to an immigrant father from the Mexican province of Sonora and a Mexican-American mother born in San Elizario, Siqueiros grew up in a neighborhood close to Alameda Street and Western Refinery. El Paso in the late 1950’s was a difficult place for Hispanics to live. They were not treated equally although the majority of the population was Hispanic.

His father wanted him and his siblings to socialize in a white neighborhood and did not want them to endure the discrimination he had experienced growing up. So he moved the family to the Mission Hills area of El Paso. Unfortunately, Hispanics in the West Side neighborhood amounted to 10 percent of the population. “This only made things harder for my brothers, my sister and myself,” Siqueiros said.

When he was around five or six, his mother noticed that he was becoming interested in music. They would sit and listen to the radio and discuss which songs they both liked.

Siqueiros recalls the moment he became interested in music, “The very first song I was fond of was Sherry by The Four Seasons, my mom and I both loved that song.” Soon after, his parents asked him if he would like to learn how to play the piano. Siqueiros agreed.

For the next two years, his piano instructor Mrs. Gelb gave him lessons in a small practice room near Alethea Park, just north of Kern Place. He disliked the rigid discipline of these lessons and the fact that he was expected to play every note as it was written on the page. His first student piano recital was a disaster. He preferred to play in the practice room while he explored the piano and learn on his own.

After watching the Beatles on the Sullivan show, Siqueiros asked his parents for a guitar for Christmas. In the months leading up to Christmas, he was snooping around his parent’s bedroom closet and found a guitar case with an acoustic guitar inside. He hid the guitar in his bedroom, leaving the empty case in his parent’s closet.

His brother found the guitar and told his parents what John had done. His parents were angry, but allowed him to keep it. “They told me the guitar was my only Christmas gift and not to expect any more,” Siqueiros said. “I was ok with this being my only present. I was happy.”

When he was in fifth grade, his family moved to Albuquerque.

“Albuquerque was a much better place,” Siqueiros says. “There were more Hispanics that were middle class and they were more accepted.”

John Siqueiros. Photo by Robert Smith, Borderzine.com

John Siqueiros. Photo by Robert Smith, Borderzine.com

For the next 13 years, his love for music matured as he became an adult.

Two years after moving to Albuquerque, he had started taking guitar lessons. He couldn’t get anywhere with the lessons though. He felt that the guitar teacher was too slow, like he was just spreading out the lesson to make more money. “I learned more by getting a music book and just figuring it out,” he said. “I would watch people on TV play guitar and copy what they did.”

In his senior year of high school, his family moved back to El Paso and in 1973 he graduated from Coronado High School. He got drafted for the Vietnam War right out of high school. He applied for Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) in the summer after graduation in an attempt to get deferment of the draft. Luckily for him, the United States began pulling out of Vietnam in August of 1973 and he didn’t have to enlist in the Army. He immediately enrolled at UTEP to major in music. It took him ten years off and on to graduate with his master’s degree.

His life has been filled with ups and downs but he still found ways to channel his energies and stay out of trouble. He was in his late 30s and 40s struggling in the San Francisco Bay area right after graduate school in the late eighties.

California had suffered from a severe recession and funding for arts and music programs were cut to almost nothing. It was impossible to find work as a teacher or musician. There were people in the arts with PhDs working menial jobs all over California.

Anytime a job would open up in a college or university there would be thousands of applicants. Until about 1997 he worked a series of jobs unrelated to music such as cashier, receptionist and marketing in the music business. He became very discouraged and quit playing the guitar because he didn’t have the time to practice nor the opportunities to teach and perform. This lasted for about eight years.

The highlight of Siqueiros’ life was coming back to UTEP as a professor. According to Siqueiros, it is profoundly meaningful to teach in the very same classrooms he sat in as a student. “Not one day goes by that I don’t see myself in my students or try to remember my state of mind as a student,” he says. “They are just like me with the same aspirations and apprehensions that I had when I was an undergraduate.”

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