August 20, 2004


Time for the Community to Save Our Centro

The Centro Cultural de la Raza and Chicano Park were founded the same year and from the same cause – the Chicano Movement. Chicanos were self-defining who they were and fight for their rights. In 1970 Chicano Park was the epic center of this fight in San Diego. The Centro became the avant-garde space for the Chicano Movement.

Much like Chicano Park, the community fought for an artist’s space and an old decrepit water storage tank located at the back of Balboa Park was identified as the site.

While Chicano Park with its murals became the face of San Diego’s Chicano movement, the Centro became the home of the Chicano artists’ movement, Toltecas en Aztlan. The outside of the water storage tank was transformed from a concrete cylinder into a mural and the Centro’s mission was to promote, preserve and create indigenous Latino, Chicano and Mexican art and culture, a mission that the Centro fulfilled with dignity.

The Centro was founded and developed by the Chicano movement and its people. It was a struggle, personal sacrifice, and a wide ranging group of volunteers and community support that endeavored to see the Centro survive. The Centro was of the people.

This of course is a very brief description of where the Centro came from and is for comparison of where it is at today. Today the Centro finds itself in a struggle, the outcome of which could see its demise; its stature has already been diminished.

The divide between the Centro and the group of artist and community members under the guise of Save Our Centro Committee (SOCC) which is boycotting the Centro, are deep and with merit from both perspectives.

The new Centro administration which took over the day-to-day operations in 1999 came in with a new vision and plan for the Centro. What they failed to do was to embrace the history, the meaning, and the deep attachment to the Centro by the artist and the community. What they did do was alienate the community, disenfranchise many within the art community, and they crossed the line when they denied access and called upon the police to control la gente.

For the SOCC they have forgotten the state in which the new Centro administration came into! The Centro was going down financially. An old building in 1970, in 1999 the Centro structure itself was in extreme disrepair and while shows and exhibits were being put forth the arts movement was stagnated. What the Centro needed more than anything else was money and lots of it.

In the 90s funding for the arts were no longer as readily available via the federal government funding and the City of San Diego was committing their monies into projects such as the PetCo Park leaving less and less dollars for the arts. The only venue for monies was via corporate support, without which the Centro would die.

So in a nutshell we have the two sides, one wishing to maintain the old way and the other looking to develop a business plan for the Centro to survive, too which many in the Chicano community saw as a selling out of the values and intent of the Movement.

For the Chicano-Hispanic community not embroiled in the struggle over the Centro they see this continued struggle as extremely frustrating and more importantly they see no end in sight to this struggle. What the community does see is the demise of the Centro and a blunting of the Chicano/Hispanic art movement within San Diego, which at one time was a leader, now reduced to an afterthought.

The Centro has alienated itself from its support base that at one time would have rallied to its support. The SOCC in the meantime has not proposed any solution or plan. All they have asked is for the community to honor their boycott until the present administration leaves or in the long run the Centro itself ceases to exist. They have no plan to administer or fund the Centro.

So here we are, in an old fashion Mexican stand-off.

A resolution to this struggle needs to be found, a middle ground needs to be staked out. Towards this end we invited an artist and former member of the Centro to pen a commentary in regards to this issue in hopes of opening dialogue, published in our July 30th issue. In response members of the SOCC delineated their position which was printed in our August 13 issue. This in our opinion is a start. But it can’t stop there.

34 years later it will once again require the Chicano - Hispanic community to fight for their cultural center. It will take the community to demand that all sides involved with this issue to lay their cards on the table and to start the rebuilding of what once was a proud center, maintaining the proud heritage of the Centro combined with the a vision of for the future.

To do nothing and leave the situation as is between the Centro administration and the SOCC, is a recipe for disaster and opens the door to the unthinkable, the demise of the Centro all together.

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