Almost half of the thirty-thousand-plus residents of the city of San Pablo are of Mexican or Latino descent. Unfortunately this population has historically been underrepresented in city government and largely ignored when it came to social, recreational, and community programs and services.
Given the city’s bankrupt financial status in the late 1980s, it couldn’t do much for anybody. Now that things have brightened a bit with added tax revenues and redevelopment, times are changing in San Pablo, and this Saturday’s third annual San Pablo Heritage Day Celebration at Kennedy Plaza (23rd St. and San Pablo Ave.) is a positive sign.
“It was Lupe Monterossa, who directs senior services for the city, and recreation division manager Kathy Duncan who wanted to organize this celebration,” explains Kentara Padron, who heads Mystique Entertainment. “They brought me in to produce it and, little by little, it’s been getting better.”
The first two events were held at San Pablo’s Alvarado Square; they were small, intimate concerts that drew a few hundred people. By the second year, the celebration had grown enough to catch the attention of city government and merchants, who signed on for 2004 and merged it with the music series, “Saturdays in San Pablo,” as the final concert at Kennedy Plaza.
This year’s headliners are SAPO, featuring singer Richard Bean and guitarist Jorge Santana. The two were pivotal members of the Latin rock band Malo — Bean wrote and sang the band’s mega-hit “Suavecito,” and Jorge, brother of Carlos Santana, played those tasty guitar riffs.
As an impresario, Padron has earned a reputation for bringing together interesting combination of bands, singers, and comedians who may not be that well-known but that audiences enjoy. “We even have an Elvis impersonator coming by,” he adds. And “Rudy Medina and the Cruisers, who had a hit back in the day with ‘Cruisin’ Baby,’ will be doing Tejano music and low-riding oldies.” Other performers include fifteen-year-old singer Manuel Romero, Herrera Sisters (Latin pop), Downtown Rhythm (East Bay-based Latin funk), Orquesta D’Soul (Latin/alternative), Julio Bravo y Salsabor (salsa), Ballet Folklorico Huehuecoyotl (from San Pablo), mariachis, and more.
Padron has broken the mold for what local Latino community events can be. Recent successes in Oakland — like the Fruitvale “Salsabor” Salsa Festival, the Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead celebrations, and the first Latin Day at this year’s Art & Soul Festival — show how he brings out the sunny side of the barrio. Now he hopes to give San Pablo a makeover for Latino Heritage Month.
“We hope, when people are at Kennedy Park, that they’ll walk up to the shops down the street and visit some of the local small businesses,” he says. “We want to erase the stigmas that exist about San Pablo as being this or that. It hasn’t been easy doing this, and we found some resistance. But I believe we were able to explain to city officials how beneficial this celebration can be in bringing a brighter outlook to this small town and its rich history.”
The festival takes place from noon to 7 p.m., and admission costs $2 for adults. For further details, call 510-215-3092 or 510-215-3200.