Letter to the Editor: El Centro name change is a necessity for inclusivity

As the Daily Trojan reported on Feb. 13, the Central American Network released a petition to change the name of El Centro Chicano to El Centro. With a growing population of Caribbean, Central and South American students, there have been many voices echoing the petition’s sentiment.

Approximately 300 students signed the original petition put out by CAN.

CAN realized that although many students signed the petition, it was important to develop an inclusive and collaborative process for finding the right name for El Centro Chicano to ensure that the cultural center’s name represented a larger majority of the Latinx community at USC.

Since then, CAN, the Latinx Student Assembly, Latina/o Graduate Student Association and El Centro Chicano have formed a coalition to find a more inclusive name for the Latinx resource center. Each organization brings a different perspective to the group and continues to focus on elevating the voices of students. Given the demographic changes and political climate in the country, all four organizations agree that the time for change is here.

A name change for El Centro Chicano would affect 14.1 percent of the student population at USC — almost 7,000 students.

During the 1970s, when El Centro Chicano was created, the Latinx population in California and Texas was comprised primarily of Mexican Americans.

USC was located in a community that made up the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico. At that time, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MeChA) student leaders requested a student office space but were denied the request. These students were persistent and MeChA student leaders petitioned the USC administration for a student space in the Student Union Building which eventually led to the creation of the Chicano Taskforce at the University.

After years of struggle and fighting, El Centro Chicano was established in 1972. The term “Chicano” was chosen to symbolize the struggle for political consciousness and inclusion.

Forty-six years later, the term Chicano continues to mean many different things to different people. At its foundation, Chicano was a term used to emphasize a collective consciousness, a collective race called la raza cosmica (the cosmic race). The Chicano movement sought to empower Mexican-Americans by creating an identity for themselves, as “Mexican” had become a derogatory label. After a large influx of Caribbean, Central and South American  people immigranted in the 1980s — many of them refugees of civil war and dictatorships — many Latinos in the United States that do not feel included when they see the term Chicano.

The request for a name change for El Centro Chicano is not new to the cultural center; students have been asking for this change since at least 2005. As we face another era of political instability, it is imperative that we stay united as a community and be more inclusive than ever before.

The coalition has begun a research phase to ensure that El Centro Chicano can better fulfill its mission of inclusivity. Since February, we have hosted several events where we have brought each of our members to discuss how they feel about the current name. We hosted a Power Pan Dulce meeting where we invited Mary Ann Pacheco, an El Centro Chicano founder, to learn more about the center’s history. We also hosted a second Power Pan Dulce meeting with a panel of alumni and Carol Sigala, who helped found El Centro Chicano. They spoke about their experiences at El Centro Chicano and how they feel about the proposal to change the name of the cultural center. Each organization in the coalition has hosted other satellite events to keep the conversation going.

We sent out an anonymous survey through each of our organizations and to USC alumni, faculty and staff to learn more about how each individual perceives the term Chicano and how they identify themselves. The survey received 200 responses, 129 of which were from current students.

In the survey, 86 percent of current USC students viewed the term “Latino/Latina/Latinx” as a broader, more inclusive way to describe our population. The survey also allowed for respondents to provide input on not only a new name but also what El Centro Chicano can do to have more inclusive practices.

We are hosting a town hall on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. next week in TCC 302 to hear the voices of the entire USC Latinx community — students, alumni, faculty, staff and community partners.

The Central American Network, latinx student assembly, latino/a graduate student association, el centro chicano