Wednesday, September 22, 2021
  Community, Awards and Recognitions

By News and Internal Communications

By Pat Rodriguez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY – Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president for Public Art and Special Projects, has been honored with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to citizens living outside of Mexico.

The award was bestowed by the Mexican Consulate of McAllen on Sept. 15, via a virtual ceremony celebrating the 211th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico. 

The Ohtli Award was presented to Guerra for her work in furthering the Mexican culture. The Government of Mexico grants the Ohtli to individuals or organizations for their work in promoting Mexican American or Hispanic culture and supporting the Mexican diaspora.

Dr. Dahlia Guerra
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president for Public Art and Special Projects, was recently honored with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to citizens living outside of Mexico, by the Mexican Consulate of McAllen on Sept. 15 during a virtual ceremony. (Courtesy Photo)

During the ceremony, Guerra was presented with a commemorative medal, pin and diploma, by Consul General Froylán Yescas Cedillo, of the Mexican Consulate in McAllen

Guerra, a native of Edinburg, is a pianist and professor in the School of Music. She is the founder of the university’s Mariachi Aztlán, a nationally award-winning student ensemble that has performed for audiences throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada.  

She also is the founder of FESTIBA – Festival of International Books and Arts – at UTRGV, which celebrates the arts and humanities while promoting literacy in South Texas.   

Stressing the tremendous impact of an arts education on the developmental growth of every child, Guerra has devoted her life and career to promoting the value of the creative and liberal arts in education.  

Guerra said she was astounded when she heard she was to be an Ohtli recipient. 

“I was just floored,” Guerra said. “I teared up. I was so touched – especially when they explained the symbolism behind the award. Ohtli is an indigenous word, Nahuatl for ‘path,’ and the medal depicts an Aztec god with a machete cutting down grass and alludes to the idea of creating a path for others. So, my goodness, once they told me that, I was totally thrilled.” 

The award is even more special, she said, because it is a reflection of her life’s work. 

“From Mariachi Aztlán starting up in 1989, to this point 30-something years later. I developed the group in baby steps, starting off with five kids in black pants and white shirts,” she said. “Little by little, the group attracted more students. Then we began getting invitations to travel and perform.” 

Not only was Guerra the founder of the program, but also its fundraiser. She fondly remembers the days when she would sell chicken plates to raise money to purchase uniforms.

“One time, Dr. Miguel Nevárez (former president of UT Pan American) saw me selling chicken plates on the corner of H-E-B and said to me, ‘Ms. Guerra, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m selling chicken plates to raise money for some uniforms.’

“He then said to me, ‘Please get off the street. Come visit me in my office and tell me what you need,’” she said.

Dr. Dahlia Guerra
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president for Public Art and Special Projects, at FESTIBA in March 2020 addressing Region One GEAR UP students. She was presented with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to citizens living outside of Mexico, on Sept. 15, by the Mexican Consulate of McAllen. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Guerra believes having a Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in mariachi at UTRGV that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music has been extremely important. 

“To my knowledge, it’s the only accredited mariachi program in the United States by the National Association of Schools of Music, and I think the Mexican Government saw that as unique,” she said. “I feel so deeply honored, and I think that the connection our music has created to culture has made an impact.” 

For Guerra, music has permeated both her private and professional life. 

“Music has just always been a part of my family. My dad would take us all over Mexico and we would see the mariachi and the folklórico dancers, and it was just something that became embedded in my heart,” she said. “But never did I dream that my love for music would lead to such a blessing as the Ohtli.” 

Throughout the various phases in her career, Guerra said, she is extremely proud of starting the Master of Music program and the life and career opportunities it has provided for students.  

“I was the chair of music for seven years, which is when we started the master’s program. Then, when I was dean of Arts and Humanities for about 10 years, we grew and added programs,” she said. “Now, being the assistant vice president for Public Art has been a dream, providing so many opportunities to connect with the community and bring exhibits to the university.”  

Perhaps her biggest joy, however, has been the mariachi program and the various culture-based music groups at the university, including Mariachi Aztlán, Mariachi Aztlán Juvenil, and Mariachi Azalea

After so many years at UTRGV and legacy institution The University of Texas-Pan American, it’s all about family for Guerra. 

“It feels like such a beautiful thing we created because it hasn’t just been me,” she said. “It’s been a team effort, and we created this huge mariachi family.” 


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.