Margarita Sandoval Skare is a second-generation Mexican-American who loves to call Milwaukee home. She was born and raised just a few blocks from the United Community Center that serves Latin American residents. Today the community center is a place of gathering where seniors socialize, play games and find their passion for Latin music. It’s a place and a passion Sandoval Skare discovered after retiring from teaching at Pulaski High School for 32 years.
When she retired in 2004, she thought she would following her father’s footsteps. He was a musician with The Jose Martinez Orchestra in Milwaukee. She cherished her father’s Gibson and Martin guitars but she had never played a musical instrument in her life.
Alberto Cardenas gave her lessons in classical guitar. The lessons grew into a friendship. The friendship grew into a desire to ignite the passion for Latin music in other senior citizens. They started a group called Renacer or “Rebirth” in Spanish. It’s all Latin music and it’s all sung in Spanish. Similar to the music Sandoval Skare remembers listening to as a child. Her parents’ album collection included musicians like Trio Los Panchos or Eydie Gorme. Now those same songs are being sung by Grupo Renacer. Sandoval Skare said, “I would have never imagined that this group would have started here at the senior center, but this was Alberto’s idea.”
Grupo Renacer is now made up of anywhere from 15-20 singers and guitarists from a variety of different Latin American countries. You will hear guitars, maracas, congas, bongos and the distinctive flavor of the island beats. They sing music from their homelands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Sandoval Skare was a quick learner on the classical guitar and soon picked up the difficult strums of Latin music. But she admits it did not come without a lot of practice. She also found that the music connected her to her family’s heritage. “I think it’s very important that you know your roots, where you came from. That’s for all ethnic groups, whether you’re German, Italian, Polish, whatever it might be.
At the end of the day, Sandoval Skare says she measures success by all of the smiles. She said, “We know that they enjoy the music when hands are clapping and toes are tapping. These are the folkloric songs that have been handed down from generation to generation.” For Sandoval Skare, the music is personal. “It touches me in my heart, it sings. It’s very entertaining, very enjoyable. I feel lots of love and emotion and I think of my mother and father. It’s all part of our family history and that’s why I just love it.”