August 13, 2004

Welcome to America’s Cultural Tourist Plantation

Chicano/a Visions and the Boycott of the Centro Cultural de la Raza


As members of the Save Our Centro Coalition, we would like to take this opportunity to address David Avalos’ July 30 commentary.

We in the Save Our Centro Coalition were saddened by the Museum’s decision to cancel the Chicano Visions panel. The SOCC had hoped the discussion would be moved to a neutral location, and we helped secure the City College Auditorium as an alternative venue. City College even offered to donate their space and staff for the event.

We also suggested additional panelists, including several women, because the panel consisted of only men. We also felt that the Centro’s contribution, Art Rivera from Washington Mutual, was not the best representative for Chicano/a art that the San Diego community had to offer.

In the future, we hope that the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego continues its support of Chicano/a art and uses this experience as an opportunity to improve its outreach and planning to include more local Latino/a artists and organizations in a way that is respectful of our community.

If Mr. Avalos is upset that a discussion about the importance of Chicano/a art was cancelled at the Centro, then he must also understand our position and the need for bringing the Centro back to the community.

If he had written a similar commentary when the current Centro administration cancelled an entire year’s worth of programming during the 30th Anniversary of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, the boycott could have ended much sooner.

Concerning the duration of the boycott, the Centro administration has had the power to bring an end to it at any time during the last four years.

All they had to do was come to the table and honestly address the issues that led to the community’s exclusion. These include censorship, the destruction and confiscation of art, nepotism, acting in bad faith and falsely reporting artists, activists, teachers, parents and families to the police.

Save Our Centro demonstrators protest the exclusion of the community at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in May, 2000. Photo by: Javier Francisco.

By refusing to address these concerns and functioning as if the boycott did not exist, the current administration has failed to acknowledge our presence, or worse yet, our absence, for four years. Although cultural erasure is not a new experience for Latinos in San Diego, it is now the policy of the Centro Cultural de la Raza.

In 1988, David Avalos, Elizabeth Sisco and Louis Hock unleashed a powerful criticism against the tourism-industrial complex with a series of bus posters and billboards called “Welcome to America’s Finest Tourist Plantation.” The posters featured a picture of a worker’s canela-colored hands washing dishes juxtaposed with a picture of the same hands being handcuffed and taken away.

We would like the public to understand that this is what the boycott is about.

In 1999, when Chicano/a activists brought striking Mexicana Marriott workers to the Centro to organize an emergency meeting, Nancy Rodriguez, the new administrative manager, refused to let them in, explaining that the new rules required filling out an application and renting the facility, a process that could take several weeks. These workers, who were advocating for social justice, were turned away. This is what the boycott is about.

In 2000, the Centro eliminated the community Arts Advisory Committees and threw Chicana artist Valerie Aranda off the Board for defending the rights of the artists and failing to sign the repressive “Affirmation of Conduct Values.” They also changed the bylaws to enforce a new corporate vision that disempowered artists and the community. This is what the boycott is about.

Current Centro Board president Aida Mancillas is a strong advocate for an idea called “Cultural Tourism.” This argues that cities should promote their cultural offerings to attract tourists. In the case of the Centro, Mancillas’ vision included making the Centro more attractive to tourists and corporate funders by forcing out all the painters, writers, poets, dancers, musicians, activists, teachers and community members who would not learn how to sing and dance for tourists.

Welcome to America’s Cultural Tourist Plantation.

In boycott terminology, what the current Centro administration did was offer us a bad contract. It was one that would have forced us to sign away our rights to our art, silence our speech and surrender our freedom of expression. It was a contract we could not sign.

Because we would not sign, the administration threw us out and brought in four years worth of police patrols to keep us out. At any time during these four years, the Centro could have come to the table and answered our request for “dialog not denial.”

Regarding the blessing of the Centro by the Peace and Dignity runners, we certainly hope that the runners were made aware of the fact that the current administration had excluded the community by using police, security cameras and unfair regulations.

Thinking back on the last four years, we are left to wonder what they could have been like if the Board did not react so aggressively against our Chicano/a vision.

When you look at the work of the exiled community over the past four years, which you can see on our website,, you see events like Razafest, the Barrio Bookfest, the Keep on Crossin’ Awards, and Chicano Park Day. You see venues like Chicano Perk Café, el Centro Comunitario Digna Ochoa, the Hot Monkey Love Café and Voz Alta, upon whose Board many Save Our Centro members have served.

You also see hundreds of programs, performances, exhibits, murals, community meetings and panel discussions designed to empower the community through art, culture and activism.

We need to bring this Chicano/a vision back to the Centro. For the last four years this has been the mission of the Save Our Centro Coalition.

The community needs a Centro Cultural de la Raza that serves the needs of the community, not corporations, funders or cultural tourists.

And so, we ask Mr. Avalos and all people of conscience not to cross the picket line but instead to join us and work with us to bring the Centro administration to the table, to address these issues, to take responsibility for their actions and ultimately to heal the rift between a much needed community arts center and the community it was created to serve.


Sal Barajas
Teresa Caballero
Victor Payan
Perry Vasquez

The Save Our Centro Coalition.

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