Chapter 10: "Si Se Puede!"1Chicana/o Activism in San Diego 1965-2000
18. What was the controversy surrounding the Centro Cultural?
As the Twentieth Century concluded, Chicano artists and activists historically associated with the Centro Cultural de la Raza found themselves confronting and challenging and coping with a new role as outsiders. Artists such as Victor Ochoa and Victor Payan protested the administration and programming changes undertaken by a new administrative and leadership team. The changes, in their view, in effect "
purged" artists and denied them and the working class community a role in determining the future of the iconic institution of Chicano activism.
La Unión de la Barrio protested the invited appearance of the San Diego Police Chief at the Centro, a development which indicated the abandonment of the Centro’s historic adversarial posture toward the police, an agency associated with violence against Chicanos. In addition to criticizing the actions of the new management and leadership, La Unión allied itself with the artists against the effort "
to take" El Centro Cultural de la Raza away from artists and the community. Individually and collectively, they demonstrated resoluteness and expressed the confidence in the power of collective activism that fueled Chicano activism in earlier decades. The first was exhibited by Victor Payan who wrote:
We are not here to be left in the cold and dark. We are here because it is our Centro. We are here because we want a Centro that is open and where all members of our community are welcome and respectful. We do not want a Centro in which the Chief of Police is welcome and peaceful protests are not. Is this where the Chicano struggle ended up at the end of the Century? The answer is a strong and resounding no.
The second was expressed in the call to members of the larger community to join the struggle by the new organization formed by the artists and the activists, the Save our Centro Coalition:
We must stand tall against oppression. We must all work together to save this hard-won space for all members to feel safe, respected, and valued and above all, to be free. Join us in the struggle. We are many. We are strong. We shall overcome. The Centro Cultural de la Raza will not fall.
Since the mid-1960s such faith coupled with a willingness to engage in protest had enabled the Chicana/o activists to achieve unprecedented gains. As the twentieth century drew to a close, the faith was once again being tested. The years of the new millenium would reveal whether the faith in "
Si Se Puede"2 was merited in San Diego. Through their activism, however, they were renewing and extending a tradition that illuminated the inapplicability of the sleeping giant thesis and underscoring the need for a shift to a new paradigm that would capture the historical realities of the Chicana/o experience.
1 and 2 "
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done."