By Pablo Jaime Sainz
After three months of not doing any demonstrations as part of a truce, the Save Our Centro Coalition (SOCC) held a protest last Thursday September 8 outside the Centro Cultural de la Raza, in Balboa Park.
The reason? The Centro’s board hadn’t shown any sign of continuing the dialogue, according to Sandra Peña Sarmiento, SOCC’s member and organizer.
“When we cooperate and promise not to put any pressure, nothing happens,” she said. “The Centro’s board stops every effort for dialogue.”
The last time members of the SOCC met with Centro Board Members Aurelia Flores, Juan Zuniga and Nadia Bermudez was June 7, according to Sarmiento.
The board promised a response within two weeks, but two months passed and the Centro board showed no sign of decision.
Sarmiento said she called several times asking for a decision, but was told Flores was on vacation and no decision could be made without her.
It was then that the SOCC drafted an Audit Petition requesting detailed information about the Centro’s operations and its historic art collection.
About 100 people signed the petition, Sarmiento said. A copy of the petition was also sent by registered mail to Centro Board President Aurelia Flores.
“We couldn’t wait by the phone another six months!,” Sarmiento said.
The SOCC began organizing Thursday’s demonstration and “when Centro board members heard that we were going to have another demonstration, that’s when they called and said they wanted to cooperate, that they already had all the information we wanted. That confimed to us that they only listen when we are putting a lot of pressure,” Sarmiento said.
The demonstration took place while inside the Centro a “Fiesta San Diego” mixer was taking place.
Sarmiento said the purpose of the protest was to inform people about the struggle of local Chicano artists to be able to have access to the Centro, a place they called home for years.
“We talked peacefully with many patrons and ended the evening in a positive spirit of music and conversation. Over 20 Fiesta San Diego patrons signed our petition, many commenting that they were disappointed at the quality of the event. A lot of folks remembered all the great year-round programming that used to take place at the Centro and were curious to find out what had happened to their beloved institution,” reads the September issue of “The Hummingbird,” the SOCC’s new newsletter.
During the demonstration, SOCC members constructed an altar and provided a canvas to paint a mural about the Centro’s takeover and what the Centro means to the community. About 30 people participated in the event, and about 6 artists, including Mario Torero and Victor Ochoa, painted part of the mural.
“Several people offered their help, and we encouraged them to support the SOCC-led effort to bring the Centro back into harmony with the community. We have found that when we back off on demonstrations, negotiations tend to drag but when we mobilize, talks move forward. We look forward to the continuation of dialogue and a successful healing of the rift in our community,” reads a statement in “The Hummingbird.”
Tommie Camarillo, SOCC member and president of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, shares her story about how, one person at a time, the SOCC is creating a conscious among the community about the struggle.
“When Teresa and I were walking to my car, we met up with a couple going to the event at the Centro. I gave them a leaflet and we talked for a while. The man said he was with some Latino/Hispanic Builders Assoc., anyway he told me he had bought their tickets from one of the Centro Board members. He said he wanted to know why there were people from the community outside and all the suits inside of the Centro. Teresa and I gave him a little of the history and told him to talk to Sandra or Victor Payan for more information. They both agreed that if it wasn’t for the community getting the Centro in the first place, back in 1970, the people in the suits wouldn’t be there that even-ing. The man looked down at his tickets, looked at the women, then they said they weren’t going in and they walked back to their car and drove off.”
The SOCC “seeks to re-establish the Centro Cultural de la Raza as a relevant and dynamic community cultural Center that is open and responsive to the aspirations of the Chicaná, Mexicaná, Indi-gena community; that supports the free expression and liberating qualities of our culture; and that embraces all races, ages, genders and sexual preferences.”
For more information about this issue, visit www.saveourcentro.org.