Costa Mesa celebrates Hispanic Heritage in a celebración improvisada

The Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce mixer
Dylan Rivera, left, Jason Deloera Ceja, center, and Diego Santos with Mariachi Juvenil Herencia Michoacana perform during a Hispanic Heritage Month event at La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa city officials, business leaders and residents gathered in the open air Wednesday at La Vida Cantina to celebrate a second annual Hispanic Heritage Month with the city’s Chamber of Commerce in a rare pandemic-approved celebration.

Carla Valenzuela, the chamber president and chief executive, said she’d organized a virtual celebration but was then approached by a representative of the Mesa Water District interested in sponsoring an event. So with some quick thinking, Valenzuela sprang into action.

Attendance at the mixer was limited to 50, all of whom were masked, and temperature checks were taken at the door. Boxed food and a musical performance by youth members of Mariachi Juvenil Herencia Michoacana (minus the trumpets) greeted guests upon entry.

A mural on a wall outside a residence on Costa Mesa’s Baker Street attempts to unify the vast and ranging stories and struggles of poderosas — strong women — into a message of hope and inspiration.

“We’ve been looking for innovative ways to fundraise and give those in the business community what they need,” Valenzuela said of the new-normal event. “We call it ‘careful connecting.’”

 Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce members socialize during a mixer at La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa on Wednesday, October 14.
Phillip Patterson, with the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, socializes during a mixer at La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Paying tribute to this year’s theme, “Honoring Latinos making a difference in the community,” city officials recognized three Costa Mesa residents for going above and beyond in their civic service.

Fidel Gomez Garcia, director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the University of La Verne, was honored for his service with the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, including being an advisor to a Hispanic youth chamber there, and for his long record of volunteerism.

Nayelli Cardenas, owner of ALIGN Bodywork and Yoga, was recognized for using her expertise as a certified massage therapist, holistic health practitioner and yoga instructor to help clients improve their mind-body connection. Cardenas is also a member of the chamber’s Ambassador Committee.

A 30-year development agreement would allow for the installation of 2,600 square feet of LED signage and could bring Costa Mesa $500,000 annually. But some residents question the deal.

Araceli Ceja was honored for her work as musical director of the Mariachi Juvenil Herencia Michoacana, also known as the Junior Mariachi Group, which represents 20 youth between the ages of 10 and 17. Ceja’s vision is to inspire other kids to join the group and, in the process, discover their heritage.

“The more kids we can keep out of the streets and help, the better our community will be,” she said.

Mayor Katrina Foley speaks during a Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce mixer on October 14.
Mayor Katrina Foley speaks during a Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce mixer celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, who helped organize the city’s inaugural Hispanic Heritage celebration last year, said she was proud to support a tradition that focuses on the contributions of local Hispanic and Latino leaders who’d long been underrepresented.

“It’s more important than ever to continue to find ways to both build meaningful connections with our business community and celebrate those who go the extra mile to support and uplift our broader community,” Reynolds said.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 — the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — to Oct. 15. Valenzuela said she was glad the city was able to pay tribute during the celebration.

“Better late than never,” she said.

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