El Centro Cultural de Someplace Else

The nonprofit community center got a last-minute extension, but its supporters are still crying 'gentrification'

On June 28, the chairs formed a wider circle than usual at El Centro Cultural de México's Tuesday-evening volunteer meeting. The Santa Ana-based organization had invited the community to join it in response to news, broken by the Weekly, that property owners Broadway Improvement Co. Inc. sent El Centro a 30-day notice on June 9 to vacate the space it was renting on the second floor of the Knights of Pythias building on the corner of West Fifth Street and Broadway.

With little more than two weeks left before everything had to be cleared out, one might have expected a tense, apprehensive mood. But an organized, highly participatory, bilingual two-hour meeting ensued, threading through an emergency agenda with a sense of calmness.

About 50 people associated with El Centro were gathered. They were artists, activists and other concerned parties, multigenerational and multiracial, but mostly young, immigrant and Mexican—a microcosm of Santa Ana. The meeting began with everyone seated introducing themselves and summing up with one word what El Centro has meant to them: "comunidad," "culture," "family."

One of the two women guiding the meeting, volunteer Roxana Bernal, translated from Spanish into English—stopping several times in laughter after repeated in Spanish what was just said in Spanish. After about an hour, participants broke into subcommittees to discuss the possibilities surrounding the impending move, the remote chance of somehow staying and ways to fund-raise for whatever comes next, including utilizing PayPal, hosting cumbia nights and asking for donations at an upcoming fandango with son jarocho house band Son del Centro. They mulled over long- and short-term options for the 23 free classes offered by the organization. Several people stated that the long-term goal of the nonprofit is owning its own building.

Jose Luis Gallo of La Causa Films recorded testimonials from several speakers in an adjacent room. With hanging jaranas as the backdrop, Crystal Gonzalez told the camera, "El Centro is a space where people live out their dreams. People interact here with a lot of love and an open heart. Usually, when people come here, they feel welcomed. They feel at home."

There is some political will within city government to help the nonprofit, according to Councilman Vince Sarmiento. "[El Centro does] a lot of good work that is a benefit to downtown and the city as a whole," he says. "I've directed our staff to help El Centro's staff to look into a couple of different properties held by the landlords and view the sites in downtown."

From the onset, El Centro has framed its predicament in the context of gentrification in Santa Ana, noting that in the past five years in its location, the group has never missed a payment. At a morning meeting on July 6 with longtime Latino advocacy group Los Amigos of Orange County, a new committee was formed to address the situation. "We've been trying to get the word out," says Gabriela Gonzalez, who was asked to chair that committee.

A business owner in what was formerly known as Fiesta Marketplace (it has been renamed East End Promenade) spoke of the changes occurring in downtown and how Irving Chase­—who owns many of the buildings on Fourth Street central to charges of gentrification voiced by small, mostly Latino businesses and community activists—was demanding the product lines of certain stores conform.

According to a story published on the news website Voice of OC, while Chase doesn't have a formal role in Broadway Improvement Co., he is related: Allan Fainbarg, a substantial stakeholder in the company, is his father-in-law. Chase's son Ryan told the site he suggested to his father that the cultural center be moved into the East End Promenade—though that option was never seriously discussed at the volunteer meeting at El Centro.

Though Irving Chase has said he didn't have any part in the decision to issue the 30-day notice to El Centro, he did describe the group's space to The Orange County Register as being in "bad shape" and even "a disaster," citing graffiti in the hallways, bathrooms and elevator—all communal spaces between the east- and west-wing tenants of the Knights of Pythias building's second floor.

El Centro board member Carolina Sarmiento (no relation to the councilman) characterized Chase's comments as unfair. "The focus is placed on the pretext of 'orderliness,' 'criminality' and other unfounded accusations made that is ultimately leading to the unjust displacement of an entire community center," she says. "El Centro has invested a lot of its money upgrading the space, from the rolls of toilet paper to every time we've given the walls of the hallway a fresh coat of paint."

After receiving the notice to vacate, the organization felt it wasn't given enough time and petitioned property manager Diane E. Dixon. "The board asked her for an extension of another 30 days' time," Sarmiento says. "She communicated back to us that our request was denied."

But the day after the June 28 meeting, El Centro received a 60-day extension from Broadway Improvement. "We decided it the prudent thing to do in order for them to find another space," the company declared in a statement provided to the Weekly.

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21 comments
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Sumama
Sumama

I have a great idea! Instead of el centro having to spend so much money on "upgrades" such as rolls of toilet paper. Why not just use el OC Weakly as tp that is all it is good for.

Ihateusc
Ihateusc

hahahaha.. hate to admit it, but thats funny!!

Romance Ab
Romance Ab

"... organized, highly participatory ... meeting ... with a sense of calmness." How do you interpret such statements as "whining"? Oh, the answer is transparent: pendejo. --s'e'ek'c'ou'ga'r.c รณm--.it is the first and best club for y'ounger women and old'er men, or older women and y'ounger men,to int'eract with each other. Maybe you wanna ch'eck 'it out or tell your friends!

Realismhurts
Realismhurts

Everyone must choose thier battles

I wish folks like Gabriel San Ramon, who could be influential, would spend some of their energy on things that are truly important. California has a really generous system to help those in need. Unfortunately it is rife with abuse, from the adminstrators (the union backed state & county employees), the vendors (doctors, lawyers, shop keepers etc..) and the supposed benificiaries themselves.

A strong messgae to the community that these progams are in place to help the most needy among us, and a social lash back at the thousands who manipulate the programs is in order. A simple trip through the willard or Delhi neighborhood illistrates the dysfunction.

My point is this: While the cultural center provides some sort of benefit, it's eviction and need to be dynamic is NOTHING compared to the needs of the people.

In other words: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL!

Super Ego
Super Ego

Cultural Centers and Art Galleries, save Downtown Santa Ana from becoming Irvine.

Ihateusc
Ihateusc

hey, no dinero... no meeting-o... thats how it works in the first world.. why dont you peasants join the 21st century... or go back to your beloved mehico and have your meetings in a TJ whorehouse. lol

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

They have the dinero, bullied chinito, and have done more to better humanity than your fake-doctor ass ever will. Betcha you have a bunch of malpractice suits following your pendejo ass haha

Fred
Fred

Gustavo, when you stoop to calling people "little chinaman" and "fake doctor ass", you are revealing a mentality that has no place in professional journalism. This is why you will be stuck writing taqueria reviews and your (gabacho invented) "column" instead of progressing to working for a real new outlet. Just a word to the wise, check your racism at the door, no matter how hard the commenters prod you.

Ihateusc
Ihateusc

wth? i read your post twice and i still cant figure out what you are saying... gustavo, is that you in disguise? hahaha

A reasonable voice
A reasonable voice

Hey Fred you should take your own advice unlike you I want be name calling but if you read your post I'm pretty sure you'll feel stupid to know that you to have no place I'm professional journalism because you can't even keep your racism at the door why don't you do us all a favor and stop posting such ignorant comments

Newportblue65
Newportblue65

Can you understand how much harm you do to your cause. When the whites read your comments it makes them ill !!!!........You are not a Mexican hero one little bit!!!

Ihateusc
Ihateusc

tsk, tsk, tsk.. gustavo, you're cholo side is coming out... i guess once a dumb mexican, always a dumb mexican, even if you do have a degree from ucla in chicano studies..lol...

here's a joke for you... where can u go and never find any mexicans?.... the library!!!

ok, here's another one... why didnt the virgin mary come from mexico?.. bc you cant find a virgin in mexico!!

cmon, you know thats funny!!!

Excholo
Excholo

Dont mind racial jokes as long as the are funny Zipperhead!

Ihateusc
Ihateusc

oops, meant your, not you're... i had to point that out before gus gets all worked out with the phony doctor bit....

your padre
your padre

Waaaaahhhh.

Holy crap. My business had to give 60 days notice because our landlord is jacking up our rent to $4/sq foot, which is unheard of. So we move. No biggie. Get over it. Being a tenant isn't a right, it is a privledge and yours is revoked. Move on like the rest of us and stop crying.

Alex
Alex

If that's the smartest thing you can comment from the article, then you are definitely an ignorant fool.

Bill T.
Bill T.

"... organized, highly participatory ... meeting ... with a sense of calmness." How do you interpret such statements as "whining"? Oh, the answer is transparent: pendejo.

Ego
Ego

its not about a business .. its about a community center which helps people and strengthens the people themselves

you sir are an ignorant F@#K

Fred
Fred

Its about perpetuating a victimhood mentality amongst the raza.

your padre
your padre

There are things called private property rights, you ignorant F@#k. If a landlord wants you out then you are out. Get over it. My landlord wants someone with more cash in here, so I move. Stop crying. Move. It isn't that difficult and there are TONS of vacancies in Santana... I've looked and they are CHEAP. Look, your illegal brothers have been able to figure out the concept of moving on the fly to Norte for years, why is it that their community center can't take all of that wealth of knowledge and apply it to a truck and a lease agreement?

Moving isn't rocket science it takes simple application of ones abilities. These community clowns don't want to apply themselves and just want to cry about it.

Waaahhhh.

 
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