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Volunteers Restore Historic Centro Cultural de la Raza

October 17, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

Mario A. Cortez | La Prensa San Diego

Local artist and filmmaker Evan Apodaca spent last Sunday afternoon making repairs to drywall structures and exhibit pedestals along with other volunteers, all hard at work to bring a once-thriving hub for San Diego’s Chicano and Latino expression back to life.

“We are fixing up gallery walls, reorganizing the gallery, creating a workshop space — like, literally formulating how the space is going to look — and moving lighting around,” he said. “It has been great.”

Through an ongoing series of events named La Limpia del Corazón, the Cleansing of the Heart in Spanish, Balboa Park’s Centro Cultural de la Raza has slowly been getting a much-needed makeover in an effort to bring back regular programming and activities.

The all-volunteer improvement sessions are lead by the newly-reformed Arts Advisory Committee, the governing body which oversees the center. Apodaca is a member of the committee and says while this iteration of the group is still in its infancy, they have already established operating bylaws and have begun to fully manage the center’s operations.

“The Arts Advisory Committee has existed in the past, but we are a new group of people who want to reinvigorate the Centro,” Apodaca stated.

The Centro was founded in 1971, when members of the local Chicano community demanded City Council open a cultural venue to host art and cultural events culturally relevant to the members of their communities. The City awarded an abandoned water tank to the community as a result, which has hosted the Centro ever since.

A historically volunteer-operated venue, this once-flourishing forum has fallen into an unkept state due to a combination of neglect, inner conflicts among former leadership, and bad financial management by groups previously in charge.

Sunday’s gathering was the second of its kind. The first Limpia event was held on Sept. 22 — the autumn equinox — to symbolically bring on renewal as the seasons change.

“Because we are creative people, we decided we wanted to begin this project in a creative and beautiful way; we wanted to do a spiritual cleanse with music and food and have it be a fun event, something not so tedious,” said Maria Rios-Mathioudakis, who is involved with Arts Advisory Committee activities.

“Our goal was also to bring in new people and elders who haven’t been around the Centro for a while with the idea of having this be a spiritual cleansing of the space as well as literally cleaning it,” Apodaca added.

As the events progress, volunteers and committee members look to continue identifying repairs, developing budgets and gathering volunteers in order bring the facilities back to shape.

“With a space this large you have a lot of small projects and if only one or two people do these it can get really overwhelming,” Rios-Mathioudakis said. “So having a group of people makes this more doable.”

Lora, a high school student present at the second Limpia, helped paint and sort pottery stored at the Centro. She did not know much about this center until recently and decided to help out to connect with its history.

“I think it is nice to remodel and give back to the cultura and to this sacred place for all Chicanx,” she said. “To come here and get involved I feel like it can bring people together and unify us and that is important.”

Andrés Rios-Mathioudakis moved and replaced lighting fixtures which had been in place for over 30 years to better fit a new floor plan. As he removed wiring and shifted fixtures, he thought about the difference being made.

“My work here will be of help for the next 20 or 30 years for this space, or more maybe, and that excites me,” he said.

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