Rudy Montejano looked around the roped-off picnic area at Irvine Meadows on Saturday night like a proud papa on graduation day.
"This is an excellent turnout for us," said Montejano, a Santa Ana attorney and Latino activist who heads the Santiago Club, a local philanthropic group.
Montejano is also chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Committee of the Pacific Symphony. Hence his delight at seeing about 200 participants in the committee's pre-concert picnic.
The committee, formed less than a year ago, works to "increase awareness of Hispanics to classical music and get more Hispanics involved with the orchestra," Montejano said. "This is a natural progression (for local Latinos), who now have more discretionary income and so are now able to participate more fully in society."
Among those participating on Saturday was Joe Elias, a Santa Ana retailer who came to the picnic with his wife, Ruth, and 9-year-old daughter, Sharon. Elias praised Montejano for taking "a positive position for the betterment of the Hispanic community," and he added a few hopeful words of his own.
"In our community, a lot of information travels by word of mouth," he said. "There's a tendency among Hispanics to spread the good word--so if there are 200 here tonight, next year there will be more."
The picnic began at 6:30 p.m. and included a buffet dinner of beef teriyaki, sesame chicken, salad and fresh fruit. A refreshment stand served beer and wine donated by the Santiago Club. Los Luis mariachis strummed and strolled through the small groups that were settled on blankets and eating near a temporary stage at one end of the roped-off lawn.
John Acosta, Santa Ana mayor pro tem, said that when he was a child, he longed to take guitar lessons, "even though I can't carry a tune in a bucket"--and even though his parents, both migrant workers, had all they could handle financially just to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
"Each generation moves a little bit farther ahead of the last," Acosta said. "Now, I have a piano in my home, and when my grandchildren come over, they bang on that piano. They know I won't get mad at them. I love music. Music is good for your soul."
Saturday's concert featured classical guitarist Angel Romero, a native of Spain and internationally known performer. For Ed Lucero, who attended the picnic and concert with friends Javier Campos and Lillian Somerville, the chance to hear Romero was the main draw.
"The music in this program interests me," said Lucero, who heads Relampago del Cielo, a Mexican folk dance troupe based in Santa Ana.
"I think this is a great opportunity for a lot of Hispanics who don't usually participate in this kind of music because they can identify with the artist. Especially the kids. It's not just another person, you know? Because it's (Romero), somehow it lets them say, 'Hey, if he can do that, maybe I can, too.' "