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Centro Cultural de la Raza celebrates 50 years of ‘lucha, movimento and florecimiento’

Local dance groups perform at Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park on Saturday.
Local dance groups perform at Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park on Saturday. The center is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

An art exhibit Sunday will celebrate the Centro’s milestone in Balboa Park

Before July 1971, it was an abandoned, concrete water tank at Balboa Park. Today, it is the Centro Cultural de La Raza, a colorful hub born out of the Chicano Movement for Chicano, Mexican, Latino and indigenous art and culture.

On Saturday, the Centro celebrated its 50th anniversary, honoring the work of those who transformed the space into a cultural haven and its continuous efforts to foster expression and education.

“It is 50 years of lucha, movimento and florecimiento,” Amelia Enrique, president of the Centro, said during the event, saying it has been 50 years of efforts, movement and flourishment to bring the center to what it is today.

Livestreamed on the Centro’s Facebook and YouTube, the event served as the launch of its fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 to support its programming, such as its in-house silkscreen shop and garden, as well as plans to restore its outdoor murals and build a community archival project that would document and make available to the public more than 50 years of art history.

The event blended both the Centro’s history and current activities. It featured traditional indigenous dances; singing by Eduardo Garcia, a member of the local jarocho group Son de San Diego; archival footage of the Centro’s origin story; and a bird song blessing by Stan Rodriguez, a tribal councilman from the Santa Ysabel Band of Ipay Nation.

Artwork is seen at Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park on Saturday.
(Kristian Carreon/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Among the performances was a vignette stage reading of “50 Years of Heartbeats,” written by Silvia Enrique, one of the original founders of El Centro. It told the story of the Centro’s past and present and vision for the future.

Part of the readings highlighted how members “swept” and “scrubbed” the empty water tank because “it was not meant for habitation,” after the city of San Diego offered the space to Los Toltecas en Aztlan, a group of San Diego Chicano artists who had petitioned the city to create a cultural arts hub. Members adorned the tank with murals and transformed it into a space for dancing, workshops, painting and pottery.

By July 1971, the Centro had its grand opening with hundreds of visitors to see live music, dances and an art exhibit.

In thinking about the Centro’s trajectory, former director and former National Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said kindness is at the core.

“All this hard work about bringing up indigenous cultures and what they are — the stories of our peoples and giving materials, offerings and workshops to our communities and to the children in our area, and the painting and the dancing and the hard work of the Centro — at the core of it, I’ve been reflecting, is kindness,” he said.

Centro board member Maria Figueroa interviews Patricio Chávez
Centro board member Maria Figueroa interviews Patricio Chávez, the former Visual Arts Director of Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“And everything else blossoms from that kindness because we’re working here to offer our hearts, to offer our time, to offer every day to work harder to keep the Centro open, richer, deeper, more expansive, new concepts, new ways of doing the art that we love and that we want to support and present to our communities around the world,” he said.

The anniversary celebration is slated to continue Sunday with the opening of an in-person exhibit that will feature art from the Centro’s archive and submissions for its 50th poster exhibit, as well as live performances by Grupo Folklorico Califaztlan. The exhibit is scheduled to run from noon to 5 p.m.

As of Saturday, the Centro had raised more than $950. To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/centro50th.


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