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Honoring O.C.'s Latinos

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Annual Estrella Awards Go to Achievers in Their Fields

May 04, 2000|ANN CONWAY

In a stylish blending of business with pleasure, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Orange County recognized community leaders on Saturday during its annual Estrella Awards dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

Honored at the black-tie gala that drew more than 800 members of Orange County's Latino community--and featured the hot jazz sounds of Juan Carlos Quintero--were John Palacio, president of the Board of Education in Santa Ana Unified School District (winner of the Education Award); philanthropists Ernesto and Socorro Vasquez (Humanitarian); and Silvia Ichar, president and editor of Los Todos magazine (Small Business).

Also receiving awards were Jose Hernandez, leader of the Little Joe y La Familia band (Entertainment); Manuel Esqueda, founder of Los Serafines de Orange County (Community Service); and Tony Gonzales, a player for the Kansas City Chiefs (Sports).

"These people are role models who provide the kind of leadership that helps make a positive impact on our community," said Gloria Torres, producer of the television show "Hola! Orange County!" and co-emcee with actor Tony Plana of the event.

Festivities began with a private reception for the honorees and members of the chamber board.

"The No. 1 goal of the chamber is to promote business, and if you look at Orange County right now, Hispanic businesses are one of its largest growing groups," said attorney Ruben Smith, chamber president. "The average small business in Orange County makes about $185,000 in gross revenues each year, and the average Hispanic business grosses about $75,000. Our mission is to bridge that gap."

Because the Latino community constitutes about 30% of Orange County's 2.5 million population, it is important for residents "to help bring everybody up," said Smith, a partner of the Irvine law firm Alvarado, Smith and Sanchez. "Fifty-four percent of Orange County kids under 18 are Hispanic," he added, "so it becomes very important for institutions like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to promote these businesses. As they go, the county will go in the future."

Guests also included the Msgr. Jaime Soto, auxiliary bishop-elect of the Diocese of Orange.

"This dinner has always been one of the solid indicators of the vitality of the Hispanic market," said Soto, who has attended nearly every chamber dinner since 1986. "The highlight for me is to see the Hispanic community come together to promote solidarity--put aside all differences to do something for the community."

Sporting a sparkling diamond pin, award-winner Socorro Vasquez said she and her husband, Ernesto--vice president of the architectural firm McLarand, Vasquez and Partners--share the same philosophy of giving. "We give because we're grateful for the opportunities we've been given to do things for ourselves," she said. "We feel others should have those same opportunities."

Besides their contributions to South Coast Repertory and the Hispanic Education Endowment Fund (HEEF), the Vasquezes have donated more than $300,000 to St. Joseph Ballet, a dance project for inner-city youth.

"The ballet gives young people the chance to gain self-esteem and discipline and the opportunity to set and reach goals on their own," Socorro Vasquez said. "It helps give them a future."

During the gourmet dinner--which featured tomato soup encroute, filet mignon and bowls of jalapeno peppers at each table--Smith encouraged the happy crowd to remember the chamber's "three E's--education, economic development and economic empowerment."

"They're what we stand for," he said.

Also on the guest list: event chairman Paul Garza Jr., U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), Orange County Supervisor Cynthia Coad, State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), Richard Porras, Ralph Puga and Salvador Sarmiento.

For more information on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, call (714) 953-4289.


Ann Conway can be reached at (714) 966-5952 or by e-mail at

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