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[whitespace] Pete Escovedo Community Beat: Pete Escovedo is one of several big names in town to mark the opening of the Mexican Heritage Plaza.

Photograph by David Fischer

A Home for Heritage

San Jose celebrates the opening of the Mexican Heritage Plaza this weekend

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

A BIG QUESTION in the valley in recent years has been whether the area could--and would--invest a significant portion of its runaway silicon-generated wealth in benefiting the valley's original inhabitants: the Mexican-American community. The opening of the Mexican Heritage Plaza on San Jose's too-often-forgotten east side, scheduled for ribbon cutting at 11am on Thursday (Sept. 9), is a good start.

"It's going to be a great center," says Raul Lazano, executive director of the community theater group Teatro Visión, one of three local arts groups that will call the Plaza home (the others are Los Lupeños de San Jose and the San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild). "It signifies a validation of the Mexican-American contribution to the Bay Area landscape. It presents an opportunity for Mexican-American and other multicultural arts organizations to present ourselves to the community at large. It's really exciting."

Ten years in the planning and construction, a $35 million price tag, the Plaza boasts a 500-seat performing arts theater and a 3,500-square-foot museum as well as space for receptions, classrooms and offices. Sitting in the middle of a lot at King and Alum Rock that once housed a radiator repair shop and a wrecking yard, the Heritage Plaza is expected to become an economic and social anchor in the midst of a scruffy, eclectic business district that presently ranges from tire shops to taquerias to tattoo parlors.

Opening weekend activities include a gala fundraiser on Friday, featuring music by Pete Escovedo, Sheila E. and Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano; a free community celebration open house on Saturday afternoon; comedy by Paul Rodriguez on Saturday evening; and a second free community celebration on Sunday with music by Dr. Loco's Rockin' Jalapeño Band.

The fall program includes a wide array of performances, including Asian mask theater, Brazilian capoeira and ritual dance and, of course, tons of groups reflecting the various aspects of Mexican cultural heritage.

For Lazano and Teatro Visión, scheduled to present the play Harvest Moon at the Plaza Theater Oct. 7-23, the benefits of the Mexican Heritage Plaza are twofold.

"Being located in the east side community, we're going to be allowed to grow deep roots there," Lazano says. "People in the neighborhood are going to be able to come over and see many different artistic performances; it's going to make it part of their lives." As one plus, Lazano says that the theater group will now be able to perform matinees, which students can attend as school outings.

But mostly, Teatro Visión is just happy to have a permanent artistic home. "We've been in five different theaters in 10 years," Lazano explains, a little wearily. "Now we've got a great place to perform. It's causing us to look inward--to raise the quality of our artistic work."

The Mexican Heritage Plaza celebration takes place Sept. 9-12 at King Street and Alum Rock Avenue. For ticket information, call 800/642-8482.

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From the September 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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