By Raymond R. Beltrán
After five years of boycotting the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park, the Save Our Centro Coalition has achieved a breakthrough public meeting with board members from the Centro this Sunday, November 6, to address issues that have kept artists, activists and many from the Chicano, Chicana community from reentering the community venue since the 2000.
Built 36 years ago, the Centro once stood as a cultural center to serve the needs of the indigenous Latino Mexicano community, where not only the artistic but politically progressive could address social issues and organize.
Since a new directorship, headed by former Executive Director Nancy Rodriguez, was invited to pull the financially failing Centro out of debt in 2000, a more corporate friendly and restrictive ambiance has taken hold of the center. Doors were locked in 2000, and alliances were created between local government officials, events have been scarce besides those co-organized with companies like Farmer’s Insurance, and historical Chicano Chicana artwork has been missing.
There’s been an overall lack of accountability as well as transparency for the people that once inhabited the grassroots venue, and the board has blatantly shunned any type of criticism from the community, until this Sunday.
“This is a very important meeting to decide the fate of the Centro,” says SOCC member Victor Payan. “This greatly affects our community and it’s a chance for the people to voice their opinions and concerns. It’s a very historical event.”
Chicano artists like Mario Torero, Carmen Linares Kalo, and Victor Ochoa haven’t stepped foot in the building since 2000. More nationally known figures like cartoonista Lalo Alcaraz and comedian, art collector Cheech Marin cancelled their own shows at the dire venue to respect the boycott. Activists organizations like Keep On Crossin’, Calaca Press, The Chicano Park Steering Committee, and Unión del Barrio have adopted alternative venues such as The Hot Monkey Love Café, The ICE Gallery, Voz Alta, and more prominently, Chicano Perk.
To mend what’s been popularly branded as a perished relationship between the Chicano community and the Centro, the SOCC’s “desired outcomes” from open dialogue would be:
- 50% community representation on the Centro Board
- the reinstatement of the former Arts Advisory Committee
- the abolishment of the Affirmation of Conduct Values
- open board meetings
- accountability to the community
A 17 point audit petition, signed by over one hundred active community residents, had been submitted to board members without response. Among many issues relating to what Centro critics call a lack of transparency, the petition called for documentation divulging the Centro’s current and passed financial state, “i.e., government grants, from private sources and/or co-sponsorships,” as well as board meeting minutes, something they would like to make publicly accessible.
Centro Cultural de la Raza board members did request that the boycott be on hiatus for the passed four months pending a possible meeting between the opposing groups back in June. Although the request was respected for some time, SOCC members say their efforts to set up that meeting were being ignored and the boycott was reinstated at a Centro mixer in September, where supporters stood outside leafleting information to patrons about the current state of affairs.
Centro board members were not available for comment, but with a new Executive Director, Rick Hernandez, there, Save Our Centro members can’t predict, absolutely, what direction the board will take from here on out. The only guess for now is that community testimony and open dialogue at this rare gathering between the two parties can drastically sway which direction this historic Chicano facility will travel.
The meeting will take place this Sunday, November 6, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, located at 2125 Park Boulevard at Balboa Park, just north of San Diego City College.