A wise man once said that success should not be measured by one’s achievements but rather the obstacles one has overcome to achieve a modicum of success. By that gauge, Franco Gallardo should be considered a modern-day hero. His is not an American success story but one of international proportions and universal truths.
There is another saying — “You can’t get there from here” — that also applies to Gallardo. Born into a large family and stifling poverty in the village of Palo Dulce in the Mexican state of Veracruz, he attempted to escape the bonds of despair by running off to Mexico City when he was 16.
“I knew if I was going to have a future, it was not going to be in my little poverty-stricken village,” he said. “It was quite a culture shock going from there to a city of over a million people.”
But he was in for an even ruder culture shock when at age 19 he emigrated to the United States. He worked his way to North Carolina, where his sister and brother in-law, who had preceded him to America, owned a bakery in Sanford.
“They put me to work Sunday to Sunday,” Gallardo said with a laugh. “I was grateful for the work and was able to start sending money back to my family in Mexico, but it didn’t leave any time to pursue my dream.”
And that dream was to become a mariachi singer. But, to an immigrant kid with little more than a nice voice and a strong work ethic, the odds were stacked against him. Still, he persisted, learning English and becoming a nationalized U.S. citizen along the way.
“I was finally able to get weekends off and started singing around restaurants and family gatherings in the area,” he said. “I learned to play guitar and started writing songs and would meet the players and play for anybody who would have us, often for tips.”
One person he met was an established mariachi singer, Manuel Cerna, who recognized his talent and took him under his wing.
“He told me if I wanted to be a professional, I not only had to act like a professional, but dress the part, too. Much of the appeal of mariachi is the colorful dress and hats, so I started investing in clothing.”
By 2004, his investments were starting to pay off and he took the plunge and turned pro. He started getting booked as an opening act for many nationally touring groups, networking, meeting decision-makers, and honing his craft.
In 2018, he was finally in a position to release his first album, most of which was his original compositions. That attracted the attention of a booking agent, Erika Avalos, who has put him on the road, not as an opening act, but a headliner.
Gallardo, billed as El Charro de Mexico, and the troupe he and Avalos have put together will make their big-stage debut June 28 at the High Point Theatre. It will be a full two-hour production, complete with 10-piece mariachi band El Mariachi Universal de Chicago (five violins, two trumpets, guitar, guitarron and vihuela), five-man vocal group Diamante Nortino, renowned female vocalist Wanda Lopez, a Flamenco dancing ensemble, daughter Stefy Gallardo, and a cameo by his 14-year-old son.
On a personal level, Gallardo owns a thriving landscaping business in Sanford, where he and his wife are rearing their five daughters, two of whom (born less than a year apart) just graduated from Pinecrest High School, and one son.
“If I happen to shed a tear during the show, it will be during a song I wrote for my son, who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 3,” Gallardo said softly. “We were spending all our time with him at the hospital in Chapel Hill, and one day he said, ‘Daddy, you need to be out there singing. Just go be yourself.’ I am so overcome with gratitude, not only for his life, but my whole family. We’ve had some tough times but we’re all together, and that’s all that matters.
“I’m living my dream.”