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Santa Ana Mexican Center Crafts Plan : Arts: Casa de la Cultura still has no home and little funding, but with Mexico's backing, directors hope to expand its base.


SANTA ANA — A cultural center was officially launched at the Mexican Consulate on Monday, as Latino community leaders applauded the months-long planning that already has brought one nationally acclaimed Mexican artist here to perform.

The center will bring knowledge and a much-needed pride in their heritage to local Latino youths, while chipping away at discrimination in Orange County, community leaders said.

"I think it will give an opportunity to allay a tremendous apprehension about diversity in Orange County," said Amin David, chairman of Los Amigos of Orange County.

"When we can put forth our most magnificent contributions to society, in all the arts, I think we'll be forming a base of much more acceptance, and fear and apprehension will be diminished. It's just a very constructive direction to go in."

The Casa de la Cultura de Mexico still has no home and only minimal funding, but the festivities marked a commitment by Felipe Soria Ayusa, Mexican consul for Orange County, and the center's nascent 52 members to see to it that those things follow soon.

On Monday evening, about 100 people, from business people to artists and academics, crowded into the consulate to praise the effort, listen to mariachi music and enjoy a buffet that featured gourmet dishes from five Mexican states.

The center is modeled on cultural institutes across the country that bring top-notch musicians and artists here with the help of the Mexican government.

While board members stressed that the center will be politically neutral, the idea was born of an increased effort by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to reach out to Mexican nationals living abroad, Soria said.

The Casa de la Cultura will specifically reach out to Latino youth to provide a sense of identity and also serve as "a seed of understanding" in the larger community, board President Ninfa Duran told the gathering.

Members said they expect nonprofit status to be secured from the state within weeks.

"It's one of the major things we need in our community here, in order to teach our kids our own traditions. Some of our kids don't even know anything about Mexico," said Frank Alaniz, the center's treasurer and the executive director of Grupo Renacimiento, which offers aerobics, gymnastics, tae kwon do and Mexican folklorico dance classes to youth in Santa Ana.

Alaniz said many Latino youths absorb negative stereotypes of Mexican immigrants and are unaware of Mexican cultural contributions. With the center, he said, "they're going to have more room to visualize what are our own roots . . . how it was in the past and how it can be in the future. They're going to be more proud--proud to be Latino--so that way they will be able to contribute more to the community here in the United States. They will also be proud to be here."

Soria said Mayor Daniel H. Young and Councilman Miguel A. Pulido Jr. have expressed support for the project, and community leaders said Monday that they will seek more concrete support as they look for funding and a building.

"Getting support from the city will be crucial," said Santa Ana attorney Jess J. Araujo. "But we basically are prepared to start up in an interim fashion. "

A November performance by Mexico City performer Viola Trigo at Santa Ana High School gave the current members a taste for the type of events to come, they said.

Trigo, a powerful singer who performs traditional Mexican folk songs, was brought to town by the Mexican consulate.

Several painting exhibits are now being planned, and the Mexican government has offered to send teachers to the area in July and August to educate Orange County's Latino children about Mexican culture, Soria said.

The board is having a contest for the design of a logo for the cultural center. The contest is open to all, and entries should be submitted to the Mexican consulate.

Community leaders credited Soria with promoting the center and securing support from the Mexican government.

"We're just very happy that we have a consul who took this on and decided to make it a priority and secure support from the Mexican government," Araujo said. "He sought out key people in the community and was able to demonstrate to us how it's been done in other places.

"Based on the population of Mexicans we have in Orange County, this probably could have been done earlier . . . but what really helped was having the consul say, 'This is front burner.' That just motivated all of us."

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