I grew up during very difficult and challenging times in Santa Ana. I came into adolescence in the early 90s and I remember how throughout that decade there were multiple gang shootings on almost a nightly basis. You could hear them.
This was during a time when party crews were at their peak along with tagging crews. It was all too easy for kids to be led astray into these types of activities.
Back then there was no Orange County High School of the Arts or an Artists Village. That meant that there were less alternatives to gangs and crews.
I became engulfed with the downtown when I discovered Neutral Grounds Cafe around 1997, where Lola Gaspar now stands. They had poetry readings and an open mic every Thursday. The area that came to be called Artists Village gave me a place to be and become.
This area was a stimulant, it allowed me to think creatively and wildly. These thoughts alone were deterrents to negative distractions like gangs and the like. My mind became occupied and stimulated by the arts and this place to be an artist.
This area contributed to the forming of my artistic personality. There was a time when I performed a new classical guitar piece for a series of Thursdays at Morey’s Deli, formerly Neutral Grounds. These kinds of activities reinforce the artistic personality.
I was fortunate enough to be part of substantial artistic events in the Santora, like when world-renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez came to town. I got to moderate a panel discussion with him and another world-renowned sculptor, Felipe Castañeda and also Pilar O’Cádiz, daughter of muralist Sergio O’Cádiz, whose relief work decorates the façade of Santa Ana City Hall.
The downtown allowed me to generate ideas and projects like one I called Flamenco de la Santora, a performance project that I ran for two years.
The downtown allowed me to generate another project that I called The Institute for Mexican Art Music, which I headquartered at the Santora for a year.
The arts in the Artist Village stimulate creative thinking, free thinking. The Artist Village is not for archaic, suppressing, stymying, controlling entities commonly associated with churches.
That anyone would even think of interrupting or altering this free-thinking environment is an affront to artists and free-thinking people.
After awhile, time spent in the Artists Village was time well spent because each visit there was a reinforcement of my developing musical and artistic persona. I didn’t do too bad either. I’m lucky enough to work in the arts, in Music at Santa Ana College, at Phillips Hall Theatre at Santa Ana College and in Dance at UC Irvine. Anyone else can too.
I honestly don’t believe I’m anymore capable than anyone else. I was on track to be another statistic, another kid found dead in Santa Ana. Sometimes I’m amazed that I even survived.
The point is that I know that the arts can save others. I know that they prevent gang activity. That anyone can disrupt the fact that the arts are what has changed the perception of Santa Ana, and that the arts have a salvaging and positive effect is completely unforgivable.
I’ve been here all of my life, I’ve seen the dark and bright sides of Santa Ana. This place is synonymous with the arts. Anyone that doesn’t realize this is completely out of touch.