As the national observance of Latino Heritage Month comes to a close, San Francisco held a formal ceremony Wednesday evening celebrating the city’s Latino community and honoring local leaders at City Hall.

Prominently advertised as an event presented by Gavin Newsom, the mayor was, in fact, not in attendance. Newsom has come under fire from Latino business owners within the past few months for what some view as an attempt to force out the popular Latino director of the city’s Human Rights Commission.

In his stead, Newsom’s chief of staff Christine Soto-DeBerry proclaimed Oct. 15 to be Latino Press in the U.S. Bicentennial Day.

“He was hoping he could make it,” Soto-DeBerry said after her speech. “You know how it is. He has a lot of obligations.”

The celebration proceeded with an occasional flare of rhythm and brass as local orchestras and bands punctuated the procession of awards given to eight prominent Latinos and two local organizations.

Sister Petra Chávez and Peter Rodríguez were honored with the first crystal trophies and goodie bags for lifetimes of impassioned work within the Bay Area’s Latino community.

Among varied volunteer efforts aimed at aiding minority communities in San Francisco, Chávez founded Caminos Pathways Learning Center in 1999, an organization that provides computer skills training for low-income Latina immigrant women to strengthen their economic and social conditions.

Rodríguez opened the Mexican Museum in 1975 and served as director and curator for many years. For more than a decade the museum’s board has worked with the city to build a permanent home for the museum’s art collection at Yerba Buena Gardens downtown, and this year some of those involved criticized the mayor for his lack of help in renegotiating the museum’s lease at its temporary home in Fort Mason.

Ester Hernandez, an artist who has been associated with the Mission District since the 1970s and is best known for her depictions of women through pastels and prints, was then honored with an arts award.

And local business owner Dolores Reyes of Los Jarritos Restaurant on 20th Street and South Van Ness Avenue received a business award from the city for her work in the community.

Also honored were Juan Gonzales, creator of El Tecolote; Olga Talamante, executive director of the Chicana Latina Foundation; Rosario Anaya, former school board president and current executive director of Mission Language and Vocational School, Inc.; and Marcela Medina, vice president of Univision’s local station, KDTV.

The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and Aguilas-El Ambiente Program, an organization to address the needs of the gay Latino community, received awards as well.

The evening’s festivities concluded with champagne, taquitos and a raucous, all-too-brief bout of salsa dancing in City Hall’s South Light Court.

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