November 18, 2005

Centro Cultural de la Raza Hires Armed Officers to Attend Community Meeting

• Community Activists say boycott is still in effect

By Raymond R. Beltrán

What was supposed to be a historical meeting on Sunday, November 6, at two o’clock, that would have began mending a tarnished relationship between the Chicano community and the Centro Cultural de la Raza governing board, turned into a three hour stand off between the two feuding parties due to the hiring of armed, off duty police officers.

Save Our Centro Coalition member Victor Payan stated what the community had come to in consensus, “The boycott remains in full effect.”

Centro board member Aurelia Flores sent a letter, via email, to SOCC members Friday night declaring that the Centro board hired a security team consisting of armed police officers in disguise to stand amongst the expected crowd.

Up to seventy community members, including organizations like Calaca Press, Union del Barrio, the Chicano Park Steering Committee, and the California Coalition Against Poverty, stood outside the venue in protest of guns at the meeting. Many attendees expecting a community forum arrived with family and children. It was speculated by SOCC members that many others had declined to attend the meeting out of fear for their safety.

Security guards holstering up for community meeting.

This would not be the first time during the five year boycott that Centro board members called the police during a community gathering. In fact, dialogue between the two parties broke off in May 2000 because the Centro board reported community members to the police.

Centro board member, Juan Zuniga, addressed the SOCC and others, outside and expressed his desire to dispel popular notions that the Centro is a group of “fear mongers” and the hiring of armed officers was in no way a sign of antagonism toward the community. He stated that it was policy to hire security for an event of fifty or more people, but later divulged that the board voted on the action.

SOCC and the Centro board conversed mainly through the use of the National Conflict Resolution Center, an objective third party organization. Community members sent a message to the board, inside the Centro, that they were willing to enter the building to begin dialogue if the Centro would release the armed officers of duty. Although, attempts were made to compromise between the two parties, the Centro ultimately decided to keep their officers present and the SOCC stood firm in their opposition.

The meeting was supposed to air out passed grievances that began in 2000, after a new board, headed by Nancy Rodriguez, took over and made what was once a politically progressive, Chicano arts venue into a more corporate friendly environment.

Issues that were to be addressed were a 17 point audit petition, signed by over one hundred community residents, to release 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. Artists like Victor Ochoa have reported art pieces missing, and the SOCC also says there’s a lack of transparency that should be alarming to the community the Centro is supposed to be serving.

Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Maria de Leon, was invited to mediate the discussion but declined to attend.

In a public statement, de Leon wrote, “NALAC will not participate in a meeting with an organization such as Centro Cultural that treats another organization, artists and the community in this manner. We are troubled by the actions of the Centro Cultural and do not condone armed meetings with our communities.”

Zuniga concluded that the meeting-turned-protest was due to a “misunderstanding” between the board and the SOCC.

A decision was finally reached to reconvene for now and set up a future meeting.

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