Open convention? Billygate?

Well, sure, the Hispanics gathered on the South Lawn of the White House yesterday evening knew about all the latest predicaments to befall Jimmy Carter. But did it matter?

Not to a lot.

"Stay in there now and don't let them change the rules," said Rep. Abraham Kazen Jr. (D-Tex.), grasping the hand of Rep. E. (Kika) de la Garza, (D-Tex.). There's one thing I can tell you about the president," said Rep. de La Garza. "Whatever else, he's honest."

"People don't realize how important the Panama Canal Treaty is to Hispanic," said William Mediana, a HUD assistant secretary. "I have a 20-year-old son who registered two weeks ago for the draft. If it hadn't been for the treaty, he'd be over there now, fighting some war, killing Latins."

All this pro-Carter feeling spilled across the hot muggy South Lawn yesterday evening as President Carter held a gathering to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week, scheduled to begin Sept. 14. "We weren't invited to parties at the White House before," said Nelson Diaz, a preppy-looking Hispanic lawyer from Philadelphia who is also a delegate to the convention.

"I've been in government 20 years," said Medina. "There have been more Hispanic events at the White House in the last three years than in the previous 17."

To hear them -- and Carter last night -- talk, there have been more Hispanic everything since he took office: more funds for billingual education, more Hispanic employment, more appointments of Hispanics to posts like secretary of Navy and chief of protocol.

Carter greeted the crowd of Hispanic civic and political leaders -- many of whom flew here at their own expense for this - in Spanish. He said that "there are even three Georgians here struggling to learn your language."

Carter also swore in Richard Rios, a former director of the California State Office of Opportunity, as head of the Community Services Administration to a standing ovation from the crowd of a few hundred.

Here and there among the crowd were a few less enthusiastic Hispanics.

"Oh, bull --," said Maria Elena Torano, head of public relations agency in Miami, who said she came last night because she had other meetings in town. She was upset at the way Carter handled the Cuban refugee crisis. "I, myself, am a Cuban refugee," said Torano. "One day Carter would say 'I welcome them with open arms and the next, he wanted to turn the flotilla away."

Luis Caban, head of the National Hispanic Housing Coalition, said he was dissatisfied with the amount of money his organization had received.

But does he want a Republican government? He smile. "Well, there aren't too many Hispanic Republicans. I haven't found them."