Balboa Park's Centro Cultural de la Raza finally sees new life
In July 1970, on the back of a growing Latinx cultural enlightenment, Chicano artist collective Toltecas en Aztlán accomplished a historic feat for Mexican-American culture when they unveiled the opening of the Centro Cultural de la Raza center in Balboa Park. By successfully petitioning and fighting the city of San Diego to utilize what was just an abandoned water-tank at the time, the Toltecas en Aztlán created a space for the facilitation of artistic growth and cultural archival of Mexican-American history, an unprecedented victory for the Latinx community as a whole.
Of course, as the center became materially realized, however, so did the widespread criticism and harsh backlash that long followed it. Created from the empty spaces of literal sewage, it wasn’t only until brown faces showed up on the sides of the building that people found the sight to be particularly foul. As such, even with large-scale success in it’s opening years, the center’s position as just a pinprick on the margins of San Diego’s grand park eventually gave way for the space to fall wayward in relevance.
It's an unfortunate reality that San Diego's embracement of youth-oriented ethnic art has been one often introduced at force and, more often than not, carried out by the city's slow hand of reluctance.
This archetype can be found throughout our history: at the heart of the Chicano Park occupations in the 1970s; the arduous petition to transform the two abandoned water tanks at Balboa Park into black and latino centers in the '70s and '80s; all the way to the present, with the long battle against inequity in city arts funding, and the critical stand against gentrification in a district already so, so, so damn white and wealthy.
And even then, when battles are won for the brave advocates who risked more than most, the aftershock of war still lingers above that space of victory.
With the city of San Diego being able to pick and choose what cultural establishments receive long-term funding, care and leeway, traditional organizations often get the better end of the deal, while others deemed unsuitable are liable for harassment, unsubstantiated fines, and policy regulations that reek of mayonnaise spoiled antics. For others who aren't as lucky to fight back, the lack of support and funding is usually enough to go under.
This is why protecting our spaces with our attention, time and capital is a necessity as members of San Diego's creative community, and with the new incarnation of leadership at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, we have the opportunity to hold true to that mission and bring it back to it's glory.
With new leadership by the Arts Advisory Committee of the Centro, the Centro Cultural de la Raza is finally being spruced up with big plans for new developments, activities, and consistent programming. To prepare for future events at the center, the committee has asked the community to join in part of a special volunteer clean up of the space titled La Limpia del Corazon (the Cleansing of the Heart) on September 22nd.
In a statement to the San Diego City Beat, committee member Maria Rios-Mathioudakis said, "This is a totally volunteer-ran space and we need more people here. This Centro will represent our community if we have people from our community here.”
La Limpia del Corazon volunteer clean up will take place on Saturday, September 22nd at 11am-3pm. For anyone looking for more information, you can follow the Centro Cultural's instagram as they post updates and news of future events.