El Centro Cultural de Mexico, a long standing non-profit in the city of Santa Ana, faces eviction by mid-July. The award-winning organization has been housed for the past five years at the Knights of Pythias building on the corner of West Fifth Street and Broadway. The location had been one of stability for El Centro's numerous free programs, including their notable son jarocho jarana classes, even as multi-year leases with the building's landlords transitioned to a month-to-month contract. Then, on June 9, unexpectedly, the non-profit received a 30-day notice--the minimum allowable--to vacate the premises.
"For five years, we've made rent every month" says Centro board memberCarolina Sarmiento
. "This eviction is not about our ability to pay rent." Sarmiento andYenni Diaz
, a volunteer with the non-profit, don't know the reason for getting the boot beyond property managers claiming to have a new partner who has a new vision for the second floor of the building above the El Curtido restaurant. Calls placed bythe Weekly
to Diane E. Dixon ofBroadway Improvement Co., Inc.
for further elaboration have not yet been returned. Meanwhile, tenants of the other side of the Knights of Pythias building opposite el Centro have not received similar notices, thirty-day or otherwise.
El Centro Cultural de Mexico is one-half of the organizing wing behind the city's annual "Noche de Altares" Día de los Muertos celebration--Santa Ana's premier community event. They recently were awarded a sizable grant from the California Endowment to fund their programs, and thus had expansion on their minds, not eviction. The non-profit was even able to offer two part-time employment opportunities for youth organizers. The notice saying that everything has to be cleared out by July 14th has caught board members and volunteers off-guard.
"It's ridiculous, given the twenty-three classes we host and the number of people we provide services for, to notify our community, have us pack, and plan for the summer within that time frame," Sarmiento adds. The coming eviction has complicated additional projects coming out of the Centro that were set to soon take place including their youth summer program, Barrio Writers, and Encuentro de Jaraneros.
This April, Voice of OC reported that Mayor Miguel Pulido and the Santa Ana City Council voted to divert a portion of six-figure federal Community Development Block Grant funds away from the construction of two new clay tennis courts in order build a downtown cultural center/plaza. Councilman Vince Sarmiento (no relation to Carolina) was noted as saying the cultural plaza would reinforce the area's Latino identity as charges of gentrification have been mounting. Without knowing many details about the plans, members of El Centro Cultural de Mexico nevertheless see the eviction of their already existing cultural center in downtown as interconnected to gentrification occurring elsewhere in the city.
"This is representative of the changes happening on Fourth Street," says longtime Centro volunteer Yenni Diaz. "Business owners there are at the mercy of their landlords, as we now find ourselves to be."
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As for their immediate situation, the way forward is still being formulated. "We don't know exactly where we are all going to go," says Diaz. "On Tuesday we had our volunteer meeting," she adds. "Later, we had a meeting with our community partners to come together and collectively respond to this emergency." Part of that response is to host a volunteer forum open to the community on Tuesday, June 28. In the meantime, El Centro Cultural de Mexico is soliciting donations to their "new building fund." Interested parties can send checks to P.O. Box 11345, Santa Ana, 92711, writing "new building fund" on the memo line.
"We leave sad but prideful because el Centro is not simply a space and walls but el Centro is the heartbeat of our culture with a intense necessity to express itself," Centro volunteer Elesbaan Castro declares at the end of the press release regarding the impending eviction.
"El Centro is our ideas, our feelings, and the base of our dreams. For this reason, el Centro will go wherever we, the community, go."