Rebirth was the prevailing theme on Tuesday night at the grand opening of El Centro Chicano’s new facility in the Student Union Building. Attendees celebrated the beginning of a new chapter in El Centro’s 40-year history at USC as many also bid farewell to the old facility at the United University Church.
The reception was held at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Forum with live entertainment provided by the Latin Grammy-nominated Trio Ellas. In attendance were USC students, staff, faculty and alumni such as Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, in addition to many family members and friends of the university.
“It’s very difficult to move … It’s one of the hardest things to do … but moving also brings new chances and opportunities,” Oliver Mayer, associate professor of dramatic writing, said of the change.
Not all were happy with El Centro Chicano’s move. Space at the new location is limited in comparison to the former center, but the new space has been designed to be utilized as efficiently as possible. The kitchen and computer lab share a side room, while the main space, which has been dubbed the “Flex Room,” can be modified to serve as a space for networking and mixers or a combined study and socialization space.
Isabel Bravo, a third-year graduate student studying visual anthropology, lamented the loss of study spaces. Previously, the offices of the center were separate from a lecture hall and study space and could be locked up while still providing a place for students to study late at night.
“We delivered so many letters to [Provost Elizabeth Garrett],” Bravo said on the efforts of students and alumni to keep El Centro’s previous location. “[El Centro Chicano provides] so much for us, and now they can’t do that, even if they wanted to.”
Due in part to the different floor plan and new rules in the Student Union building, El Centro is unable to provide the type of late-night study space formerly available to students. In addition, cutbacks to work-study funding limit El Centro’s ability to hire after-hours student workers to keep the center open. Despite this, El Centro officials were hopeful that the new location would soon garner more support.
“Even the third- and fourth-years are starting to see the value of the new location, although they still have the history of the old location,” said Billy Vela, director of El Centro Chicano.
Some student organizations are excited to begin utilizing the new space.
“We definitely tried to see [the move] as an opportunity to do something different,” said Valerie Fernandez, executive director of the Latina/o Student Assembly. “LSA definitely had to shift where we meet; we currently meet in a lounge in the Campus Center, but a lot of students have definitely expressed interest in holding meetings at the new facility.”
For Marlin Rodriguez, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, the center’s more central location provides many benefits.
“I’ve heard various stuff about how El Centro offered various services in the past … but I don’t fully understand the negativity,” Rodriguez said. “I kind of like the new location. Since Student Union is right there, I can always go by El Centro between classes and grab a quick snack or something like that.”
In addition, El Centro Chicano provides free printing services, which Espana and Rodriguez both said they make use of.
Following the speeches given at the Forum, attendees were invited to tour the new facility. Hosts conducted a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony, as well as the unveiling of a new mural by Alfredo Davalos, who also painted the first mural at El Centro’s UUC location 17 years ago. The first mural will be preserved by the UUC.
“The new mural is a continuation of the other one. This one is more complete,” Davalos said.
Beginning from the bottom left of the mural, dark blue silhouettes painted on green fields make their way to the right, gaining color and increasing in definition until they finally manifest as a great fist which pushes open the doors of El Centro Chicano to the rest of the university — embodying one of the goals of moving the facility to a more centralized location.
El Centro Chicano shares a floor with the Asian-Pacific American Student Assembly and the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, and has already collaborated on a number of events.
“I definitely think [the new location] offers a great opportunity for collaboration,” Vela said. “But first and foremost, our center is a Latina/o ethnic center. It is the founding center, out of the Civil Rights Movement. We have the professional staff, the focus and resources to focus on the Latino community, and that’s what truly makes El Centro a home.”
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