This past Friday night, as thousands milled around downtown in their Old Spanish Days getups, smashing cascarones on each other’s heads and getting smashed on margaritas, a very different scene took place at El Centro, a volunteer-run community center nestled within the lower Westside, which describes itself as a radically inclusive space “for the community, by the community.”
The event, which kicked off at 4 p.m. and lasted till 10, was many things at once: an art session, a barbecue, a birthday celebration, a send-off, and a powerful and packed open mic. It also coincided with the approximate one-year anniversary of El Centro, the end of Escuelita youth-oriented summer program, and the inauguration of an enormous mural. For five weeks the students of Escuelita had added fresh paint to the wall, manifesting the themes they had learned that week in workshops, ranging from Gentrification to Intersectionality to Chumash Ecological and Social Practices.
El Centro is big on radical organizing and de-Colonial teachings, but instead of an anti-Fiesta demonstration, it was holding its own remembrance of history. Kids were painting large green and violet leaves onto a dark purple wall (soon recruiting passing reporters with paintbrushes), while other youngsters raced around a group of teenagers who sat laughing in a circle on the lawn. Outside, men grilled ribs and chorizo next to a spectacular array of torta fixings, salads, fruit, and cookies. One woman’s exploratory toddler was passed between at least five different sets of arms throughout the night, bathed in coos and kisses.
Delineations between friend, family, neighbor, and collaborator…
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