By Raymond R. Beltran
This Wednesday, artists re-entered a place they hadn’t seen in nearly seven years, El Centro Cultural de la Raza, an old city-water-tank-turned-arts-venue created by Chicanos back in 1970.
They’ve been boycotting it, with vigor, after a new board of directors took control in 2000, uncompromisingly changing by-laws, ousting members and dismantling committees that had been in place for three decades.
This year, with the help of a third party resolution group, a long awaited compromise between the old guard and the new has been achieved. A boycott that has tarnished reputations, led to demonstrations and a lawsuit, and more importantly, left Chicanos without a consistent cultural venue, has been lifted.
Chicano Park muralist and danzante Carmen Kalo stood in the exact same spot where she had been asked to leave nearly six years ago, her last time entering a building she called home for years.
“I didn’t think I was going to remember that day as much as I am right now,” Kalo said, almost holding back tears.
“You’re going someplace bad,” comforted fellow artist Sandra Sarmiento with arms around Kalo’s shoulders. “Let’s go someplace else.”
As they explored some of the building’s changes, other artists trickled in to drop off artwork for an exhibit that is supposed to set the stage for community reunification with the Centro, RE:UNION C/S (Con Safos, a Chicano signature meaning ‘protected’).
‘La Dualidad’, a 1970s politically charged 3-D style mural with a fist punching out of the wall, still faces patrons, reminding them of a more active past. It was painted by Toltecas en Aztlan, San Diego’s original Chicano-style muralists.
Since 2000, the Centro has taken on corporate sponsors like Target and Farmers Insurance, that never would have been befriended in the past.
For contemporary painter Perry Vasquez, who during the boycott created a memorable protest piece of art depicting the Centro with a McDonald’s billboard spinning on the roof (to represent the corporat-ization artists say took place), the new floor plans have changed the focus a bit, from visual arts venue to more of a performance space.
“But it’s only the beginning and there’s a lot of promise here now that we’re all back … I’m riding on that,” he says staring at a hardwood-floor performance area that takes up half of the room.
The McDonald’s piece, he isn’t exhibiting. Artists seem to be approaching with optimism and co-curator and board member Christina Perez de Loc is hoping to marry the building’s Chicano foundation of the past with the multi-cultural vision of the present.
“What’s going to come out of this is organization,” Perez de Loc says. “But what’s most important is trust and asking ourselves ... ‘how can we be solution-based?’”
To start, the Centro board has taken on members the Save Our Centro Coalition SOCC (a group that spearheaded the boycott), recreated the Arts Advisory Committee that was disassembled in 2001 (a major gripe from artists), and is in the process of collectively hiring on a new board of directors, a position to hopefully be filled by July says Perez de Loc.
The RE:UNION exhibit will also act as an introduction to community members and artists who have never before stepped into the Centro. Nuvia Crisol Guerra, painter of the popular Lotería collection, and up and coming artists like Ricardo Islas will be showing work with forty other multidisciplinary artists (like Victor Payan, Miguel Angel Soria, Berenice Badillo and Richard Lou) when the exhibit opens this Saturday. It will run through August 12.
In recent years, protesting artists have felt that there has been a watered down version of art at the Centro and that a fork in the mission’s road has been created with programming like Italian play School of the World that doesn’t speak to the Chicano community. Many hope change is a comin’.
Throughout July, New York based group Pistolera will be performing, comedy troupe Teatro Izcalli will do some skits, and Centro co-founder and SOCC member, Victor Ochoa, will be offering a crash course on Chicano art history titled Chicanozauruz 101, along with grafitti demonstrations by nascent urban aerosol artists Crol and Werc.
For all involved, the boiling waters of the boycott are still simmering. The end was only announced just two months ago at the Annual Chicano Park Day Celebration, and in lieu of a community vote.
“As opposed to a couple of individuals working on something,” Perez de Loc says, “it will be numerous individuals. It won’t make it easier, but it will make the Centro more vibrant and dynamic.”
RE:UNION C/S opening reception begins Saturday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m. with music by Los Alacranes and Quinteto Caballero and the exhibit will run through August 12 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza (2125 Park Blvd in Balboa Park). For more info, call 619-235-6135.
Call for artists for the San Diego LGBT Center’s Happy 100th Frida Event Love! Life! & Tequila! Saturday, July 7th at the LGBT Community Center (3909 Centre St). For info, call 619-692-2077, ext 247.
Barrio Logan’s future is in the hands of the city and residents say they have no voice. They are creating bylaws for a new Community Planning Group and are inviting public input this Friday, June 29, at 5 p.m. at the Cesar Chavez Educational Center (1960 National Avenue, Rm 116).
Special July 4th Fireworks Event in Chula Vista will take place at the Chula Vista Yacht Harbor and Bayside Park Wednesday at 9 p.m. Musical simulcast during the show provided by KYXY-FM 96.5. For more info, contact Liz at 619-691-5296.
National City Parade at Twighlight June 30. The parade coincides with the yearly Fourth of July Carnival (June 29 to July 4th), hosting great rides, family games, radio station giveaways and great food throughout the weekend. Starts at 14th St and Highland Ave towards 12th St and D Ave, ending at Kimball Park, where the carnival will be held. Fireworks show for the 4th of July, 9 p.m. For info, call Susan Peredo at 619-336-4243.
Alida Cervantes Explores Identity: Tijuana based artist Alida Cervantes is steadily gaining recognition for her portraits, which explore issues of identity. Born to a father from Mexico City and a mother from Mexicali, her light colored skin and hair caused others to tell her that she didn’t look Mexican enough. She will present a series of portraits created specifically for this exhibition to be held at Athenaeum Music and Arts Library (1008 Wall St) in La Jolla between Saturday, June 23 to 28. Free. For more info, call 858-454-5872.
Human Rights Festival Opens No Sit, No Stand, No Lie. A play by David Hogan. Runs to July 6 at 6th @ Penn Theatre (3704 6th Ave). $18 with special discounts. For info, call 619-688-9210.
Pistachio Stories by Laura Shamas is a provocative play exploring what existence might be like if fear, anger and violence are allowed to justify the invasion of a person’s life and privacy. Runs through to July 5 at 6th @ Penn Theatre (3704 6th Ave). $18 with special discounts. For info, call 619-688-9210.
The Centro Cultural de la Raza presents from New York City, live and in concert the rockin ranchera sounds of Pistolera. Next Saturday, July 7, at 8 p.m. $10. All ages. Q&A session with the band to follow performance. A do-not-miss show.
San Diego Friends of Cuba invites you to co-sponsor a welcome party for west coast participants in the 18th Caravan to Cuba with Pastors for Peace. Learn how people are challenging the travel ban. Monday, July 9, at 2 p.m. at the Malcolm X Library (5148 Market St). For more info, call Kathy Hughart at 619-922-7535.
(If you have an event or junta and you think the Latino/Latina community should know about it, email email@example.com a week prior to the event date.)