Ugly Little Monkeys - The True Story of Los Changuitos Feos de Tucson

Tucson, Arizona | Film Feature


David E Valdez

1 Campaigns | Arizona, United States

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This campaign raised $50,876 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

252 supporters | followers

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In the 1960’s, at a time when students were disciplined for speaking Spanish in school, a group of boys from Tucson, Arizona became international sensations for singing in Spanish. Their success touched off a a Mariachi Youth Movement still going strong 55 years later. But it came at a terrible cost

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

The creators of this project are Mexican American artists dedicated to bringing stories of our communities to a wider audience. Our film tells a little-known story of a vital contribution to the culture of our country. We aim to provide a compelling film for current and future generations.

The Story

America's 1st Youth Mariachi Group

In 1964, a charismatic Irish Catholic priest from Tucson, Arizona assembled a group of boys, some as young as nine into the first youth mariachi in the United States, Los Changuitos Feos de Tucson. The group became world-renown. They played in cities all across the country performing at Disneyland, Universal Studios and the Kentucky State Fair. They performed for Presidents Richard Nixon and Mayor Richard Daly of Chicago. They appeared on television shows and specials in Mexico and the CBS special; The Mission and The Mariachi.

But Los Changuitos Feos were forced to become their own chaperones, protectors, and physical and psychological support system because of what few knew, that the alcoholic Priest had  abused several of the boys. For some, it took a terrible toll that has impacted their lives to this day. Despite the abuse, they persevered due to their love for mariachi music and their devotion to each other.

The making of this documentary is important on many different levels, it is a history that needs to be told.  It's about the music, the magic, the pain, and the triumph. Through it all, the original Los Changuitos Feos members eventually became the seed that started the youth mariachi movement and extends into the popularity of mariachi music in the U.S. today in spite of the abuse that took place.

Their contribution to mariachi music is exemplified in the numerous mariachi festivals, mariachi scholastic curriculums and performances by youth mariachi groups all over the world. The legacy of Los Changuitos Feos endures as Los Changuitos Feos is still in existence over fifty-five years later.

David Valdez and Enrique Castillo are co-directors/co-producers and have been working on this project for over two years.  The first thing they did was to bring together as many original Changuitos Feos de Tucson  for a reunion and interviews. It had been decades since some of them had seen each other. It was quite the reunion.

They have been traveling across the country interviewing other Chanquito members and interviewing artists who were inspired by mariachi music; celebrities such as multi-Grammy award-winners, Linda Ronstadt and Louie Perez of Los Lobos, who grew up listening and playing Mexican music.

There are still more interviews to be filmed and a great team of creative individuals has been put together to assist in bringing this documentary to fruition. The team to date is comprised of Writer/Producer, Thelma Don Gutierrez, Co-Writer/Associate Producer, Tina Huerta, Supervising Editor, Richard "Rimo" Moreno, Editor, Rogelio Abraldes, Marketing Director Bel Hernandez, Publicist Brenda Herrera, Social Media Specialist, Belísa Serna Hennington, Consulting Producer, Vicky Westover, Music Publicist, Nick Martinez, and Music Composer, Doug Martin. At the present time we have interviewed eighteen original members. ULM would not be in production without Executive Producer, Marcia Grand.

The funds we’re raising will produce the finale to our documentary.  We’re bringing the original members back into the recording studio to re-record new music and music they performed as Changuitos Feos in the mid sixties. While eleven members currently live in Tucson, these funds will be used to fly in and house seven members who live out of state, fund a studio engineer, sound equipment, and studio rental space, post production sound, film cameras, crew, and lighting equipment.

Segments of the recording session will be included in the documentary and the new recorded music will be available for download upon the completion of the mixed master. We want to show a comparison between old film clips of the original Changuitos performing with today's older original members performing the same songs.


Los Changuitos Feos de Tucson became famous because of a tremendous grass roots effort campaign started by parents, family, friends and the Hispanic community of Tucson, AZ. The parents would never miss the opportunity to sell tamales, cold drinks, bean and meat burros and raffle items at all local performances. They would use the proceeds to buy new trajes (mariachi suit) which would then become hand-me-downs once the senior members graduated. We invite you to help us continue this tradition by supporting and sharing this campaign with your loved ones and contacts. You may start now by sharing this link: Ugly Little Monkeys



Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

Studio Recording Fees

Costs $15,000

Studio and Engineer for recording music costs. Recording the original Changos in the studio.

Crew and Equipment Rental

Costs $15,000

3 - day crew and equipment rental fee.


Costs $10,000

Editor fees for Post-Production.


Costs $10,000

Flying and accommodating the original Changos living outside of Tucson for one week.

About This Team

David E. Valdez

Executive Producer/Producer/Co-Director

With a career spanning over 30 years in the field of television and film production, David's experience includes cinematography, writing, and directing, as well as all aspects of production, from creative concept through finished product. As an award-winning short film director/producer/writer, his first short film, Sin Vergüenza has shown at several film festivals throughout the US and Mexico. His educational background includes a BFA with a Cinema emphasis from the University of Arizona and a MFA in Cinematography from The American Film Institute in Los Angeles. After graduating from AFI, David was hired as 1st Assistant Director for the Nickelodeon series Hey Dude. He then directed The Nashville Network (TNN) series Exploring America Side by Side for two seasons. As a Cinematographer by trade, David has shot over 150 regional and local commercials, the feature film The Decoy, and many award-winning short films such as The Challenge Coin, an Imagen Award Web Series winner, and the short Long Story Short, presented at the Hungarian Embassy Film Festival. He has a mature, warm, and engaging communication style that facilitates effective, professional working relationships between the client, crew, and student interns conducive to a smooth running, high quality production completed on time and within budget.

Enrique Castillo


Enrique Castillo is an award-winning actor/writer/director and author whose work spans theater, television, and film. He is an Imagen Award recipient for his writing and directing. He is well known for Showtime's television series Weeds where he played the lethal Cesar. Enrique is most recognized for his film role of Montana in Taylor Hackford’s Blood In Blood Out where he played the inspirational (albeit terrifying) leader of the Mexican prison gang. When the film was released, The New York Times singled out Enrique's performance in their review. In Japan, a film critic said of his performance as Montana “He plays the role with the wisdom of Torquemada and the strength of a Sandinista warrior.” He began his career with Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino in 1969. As part of the Teatro, Enrique participated in workshops with renowned English director Peter Brook’s theater company that included now Academy Award winner Helen Mirren. In the early 70’s Enrique traveled with the Teatro to Paris where they represented the U.S. at the World Theater Festival.

Enrique made his television debut in 1969 performing Los Vendidos with El Teatro Campesino on NBC. In 1978 Enrique made the move to Hollywood and was cast in the hit play Zoot Suit, also created and directed by Luis Valdez, where he played the lead role opposite Edward James Olmos. Since then, he has appeared in over 50 television shows and feature films. His first feature film was acting opposite Charles Bronson in Borderline. Since then he has worked with such notable film directors as Tony Scott, (Déjà Vu) Taylor Hackford, (Blood In-Blood Out), Stephen Frears (The Hi-Lo Country), Wim Wenders (The End of Violence), Gregory Nava (My Family and El Norte), Oliver Stone (Nixon), Tim Burton (Mars Attacks), and Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner) starring Salma Hayek. In the mid 90’s Enrique adapted, starred, and directed the award-winning play The Last Angry Brown Hat, written by Alfredo Ramos that toured to rave reviews for over four years. He then wrote and directed Veteranos: A Legacy of Valor, a theater piece honoring the military contributions by Latinos in America’s defense that had two national tours to standing ovations and much critical acclaim. Veteranos was awarded a special recognition by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus and received the prestigious Imagen Award for Best Live Theatrical Production in Los Angeles, CA. Enrique has written various screenplays including Yo Solo (I Alone), The Cobra, Valley of The Dead, Deerdancer and the screen version of The Last Angry Brown Hat. Enrique’s debut novel, The Dead of Summer is a suspense thriller/crime drama that takes place in the US and Mexico.

Thelma Don Gutiérrez


Thelma Don Gutiérrez is a documentarian who honed her craft as an interviewer, researcher, and writer over a 25-year career as a journalist. A self-described “news gypsy,” Thelma worked for PBS, ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates and retired from CNN after a 25-year career covering social issues. The recipient of numerous journalism awards, Thelma was Senior Producer on Reasonable Doubt, a homicide reality series on the  Investigation Discovery Network. She is currently working for the United States Census Bureau as a liaison for nonprofit organizations. Thelma earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Arts and Communication from the University of Arizona and a Master’s Degree in Social Entrepreneurship from Pepperdine University. A native of Tucson, Arizona, Thelma is currently based in Los Angeles where she works on passion projects. Her most current is Ugly Little Monkeys - The True Story of Los Changuitos Feos.

Tina Huerta

Associate Producer/Co-Writer

A native of Tucson, Arizona, author, scriptwriter, poet, publisher, and award-winning filmmaker, Tina began winning awards for her creativity and organizational skills in high school. Tina has three books of poetry and one children’s book published to date. Her filmmaking awards earned her the positions of Arizona International Film Festival Ambassador (2013-2014), and member of the Selection Committee (2015). Tina’s background also includes radio, television, commercial, and music video. Her skills run the gamit from comedy to drama, to fantasy. Tina is currently one of the writers for a documentary feature and line-editing a manuscript for a lengthy double-memoir soon to be published via her publishing service.

Current Team