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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage in San Diego

A spotlight on top Hispanic change-makers here

From our cultural and culinary communities to our sports scene, San Diego’s history and heritage are deeply intertwined with the influences and achievements of Hispanic artists, athletes and other standouts. And these important figures have enriched our community immensely over the decades.

In recognition of those great contributions, here’s a look at present-day Hispanic luminaries in a variety of realms who continue to make waves here in America’s Brightest City.

Rafael Payare San Diego Symphony

Rafael Payare

Music Director, San Diego Symphony

The Venezuelan-born Payare is an internationally renowned conductor who is now in his fourth season as the San Diego Symphony’s Music Director. Among his many career milestones, Payare presided over the opening of the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the symphony’s stunning outdoor venue on San Diego Bay. And under his leadership, the symphony will make its first-ever concert appearance in Tijuana, Mexico, in November 2023.

Roxana Velásquez

Roxana Velásquez

Maruja Baldwin Executive Director and CEO, San Diego Museum of Art

Since she took over leadership of this venerable Balboa Park museum, the Mexican-born Velásquez has played a key role in the institution’s rise to prominence as one of the top art museums on the West Coast. She has brought in high-profile exhibitions as well as led the acquisition of nearly 1,000 artworks, significantly increasing the size and range of San Diego Museum of Art’s collections.

Bread and Salt Mural Panca

Paola Villaseñor (aka Panca)

Muralist

Hailing from San Diego’s South Bay and now dividing her time between the U.S. and Mexico, Panca — born to an immigrant family — is known for her colorful murals that frequently feature fantastical faces and whimsical, eye-catching elements. Among her most notable works in San Diego are “SMILE,” a 48-foot mural highlighted by playful facial features and spanning an interior bridge at the New Children’s Museum; and the towering painting of a melting ice cream cone (complete with distressed-looking face) that graces the side of Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan.

Melanie Barcenas SD Wave FC

Melanie Barcenas

Forward, San Diego Wave FC

A San Diego native and soccer prodigy, Barcenas made history at age 15 when she took the field for the San Diego Wave, becoming the youngest-ever player to see action in the National Women’s Soccer League. It was just the latest groundbreaking moment for the Mexican-American athlete, who also was the first high-school player to sign a “name, image and likeness” (NIL) deal, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine at age 9. In 2023, Barcenas’ team is also embracing Hispanic heritage with a new line of Wave merchandise inspired by the city’s Latino community and showcasing the artwork of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, the San Diego’s oldest Mexican-American neighborhood.

The Wave’s home venue, Snapdragon Stadium, also celebrates Mexican Independence Day and Hispanic Heritage Month with special September events.

Petco Park Padres Hispanic Event

San Diego Padres

The Padres, San Diego’s MLB team since 1969, have a rich history of fielding Hispanic talent both from the U.S. and other countries, and three of the team’s biggest present-day stars — Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. — are all of Dominican heritage. The team celebrates its multicultural makeup with its colorful City Connect uniforms, which pay homage in part to the vibrant colors of Baja California. The Padres also celebrate Hispanic heritage during the month of September with multiple events.

Ricardo Breceda

Ricardo Breceda

Sculptor

Ricardo Breceda’s arresting, larger-than-life sculptures of horses, sea serpents and more are a vibrant sight near San Diego County’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where the Mexican-born artist maintains an outdoor studio that’s open to the public. Over the past 25 years, he has created some 130 of the metal sculptures, many of them depicting mythical or fanciful creatures. His most well-known work is a 350-foot-long sculpture of a serpent, which is layered with more than 1,000 metal scales.

Mario Torero

Mario Torero

Muralist

A legendary local muralist who pairs activism with art, Mario Torero has been painting and creating since the early 1960s. Torero, who is of Peruvian heritage, is a founding member of Centro Cultural de la Raza and of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, and was deeply involved in the struggle to preserve what is now a celebrated home for murals. Torero’s art has in turn been preserved by the Library of Congress, which purchased 20 of his works for its collection of Chicano art.

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