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Volunteers Restore Historic Centro Cultural de la Raza

Created: 17 October, 2018
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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4 min read

Mario A. Cortez | La Prensa San Diego

Local artist and filmmaker Evan Apodaca spent 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 new 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 , 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 led by the newly reformed Arts Advisory Committee, the governing body which oversees the center.

“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.

Apodaca is a member of the new Committee. He says while this iteration of the group is still in its infancy, they have already established institutional bylaws and have fully taken over the center’s operations.

The Centro Cultural de la Raza was founded in 1971, when members of the local Chicano community demanded City Council open a venue to host art and cultural events relevant to the members of their neighborhoods. 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, the once flourishing forum has fallen into an unkempt state due to a combination of neglect, poor financial management, and inner conflicts among former leadership groups.

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

“Because we are creative people, we decided 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 to bring in new people, but we also wanted the elders who haven’t been around the Centro for a while. So the idea of having this be a spiritual cleanse was to clear any conflicts our elders may have with previous leadership, in addition to having an actual cleanup,” Apodaca added.

As the events progress, Committee members and other volunteers look to continue making repairs, gathering new volunteers, and having a full budget planned out soon.

“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 in a closet. She did not know much about the Centro 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 Chicanos,” she said. “To come here and get involved, I feel, can bring people together and help unite 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 worked on fixing wiring and support beams, he thought about the difference being made.

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

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