The Momentum Continues...

To all my blogger friends: I want to report some relatively good developments in regards to Tia Chucha’s Café & Centro Cultural.

Soon after our five-year lease ended on September 1, Tia Chucha's rent doubled. Most any other community-based business would fold under such a hit – something that happens to small businesses every day.

Faced with this prospect, we considered moving the café/bookstore into the much smaller Centro workshop space next door, drastically curtailing our activities and business. We even got the news that the landlords wanted to bring in a high-tech Laundromat service. Of course, I’m thinking this community of mostly working class Latino families needs another Laundromat or 99 cent store or fast food outlet like a heart attack.

As I’ve often stated, there was no bookstores, movie houses, or cultural centers until Tia Chucha's opened its doors in late 2001. This is for an area in the Northeast San Fernando Valley of around 450,000 people (about the size of Oakland). Tia Chucha’s is a breath of fresh air; a need, not a business; a dream of community empowerment, not a profit-driven commercial enterprise.

Over the past five years, we spent tens of thousands of dollars to create this space and to keep it going. Most of this came from my family – with two mortgages and thousands in monthly subsidies.

However, we also received fantastic support from the community; they donated regularly at our request. We also got support for our music, art, writing, theater, film, sculpture workshops and author readings, theater shows, festivals, and musical events from the Liberty Hill Foundation, the LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Not Just Us Foundation, The Attias Family Foundation, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Toyota Sales, the Solidago Foundation, Youth Can Service, the Border Book Festival (Denise Chavez and John Randall), Councilman Alex Padilla, and even donations from well-known personalities like Bruce Springsteen, John Densmore of the Doors, Dave Marsh of Rock & Rap Confidential, among other individuals (thank you all).

And over the years, we had some of the best people possible staffing the bookstore, café, and workshop center (thanks to Joaquin, Alicia, Ray, Melissa, Vanessa, Silverio, Mike, Wendy, Yesenia, Carmen, Luz, Esperanza, Yuri, Nani, Marisol, Joe, and Nancy). Many volunteers kept our workshops going, including our board (Angelica Loa, Victor Mendoza, and yours truly) and resident artists like Cuauh Temach Totecayotl (Azteca dancers), Alejandro LaBorde, Juan Pueblo, Cesar Castro and the Son Jarocho workshop, Jovenes Nobles, Young Womyn’s Circle, Hazze Hip Hop Dream Center, Elusive Minds Films, Teatro Chusma, EARTH Theater Company, Tonantzin del Valle Women’s Natural Healing Circle, OmeAcatl and the Mexika/Nahuatl classes, Tres Chingazos Theater Collective, LA Commons, and many more.

Others like Enrique Sanchez, Freddy Chavez, Andres Bustamante, Dan Henrickson, Luis Ochoa, Juan Ochoa, Big Joe Hurt, Alfredo Hidalgo, and others (I can’t name them all, sorry) freely gave of their time and skills to help whenever we needed it.

And my wife Trini put her heart and soul in this space, managing the café/bookstore with lots of love and no pay.

We created this vital cultural space not to make gain for my family or any particular individual, but to fill this community with something beautiful, spiritual, visionary, and engaging. In five years, the community has embraced us, including helping us make a turn financially this year. The rent increase was potentially a terrible setback.

However, the good news is that after several talks with our landlords, we’ve reached an agreement that will keep Tia Chucha’s going – at least until we move into a newer permanent facility in the near future (more on this later).

While we will go ahead and pay the doubled rent, we'll give up the workshop center next door that we also rented (we'll continue many of our workshops at the cafe/bookstore). And the landlords have decided to donate $1,000 a month to our not-for-profit Centro.

I think after the landlords sat down at our space, and after talking heart-to-heart with Trini and myself, they got convinced of the immense value of trying to keep this place here. While they may still bring a Laundromat, they will try to help us stay here until we get a larger place. I have to thank them for opening up their hearts and doing what they can to help – I know the banks that hold their mortgages are putting pressure so they obtain a certain amount of rent per square foot. It’s just the realities of capitalist commerce (this cannot be dismissed out of hand when one is dealing in these situations).

In addition, we are now formally pursuing turning over Tia Chucha's Bookstore & Café (presently owned by a private Limited Liability Company) to the not-for-profit Centro, which has had its 501 (c)3 status for two years now.

And, with the help of the LA City Community Redevelopment Agency, we are in talks to create a new, much larger, space for Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center (with the bookstore and café as a legitimate means for the center to meet its non-profit arts/community mission, goals and objectives) in a new development in Pacoima – where Trini spent her formative years.

More on this later as we continue to negotiate our way through this (or any other possible development).

So while we’ve had many obstacles, and face many more to come, we've learned every defeat or possible defeat has renewal, power, and medicine in it -- the stories, the songs, the poetry, the dance, the performances, and voices can be our beacons to light our way. In the end, it’s authentic, self-energized, and whole communities that we want to see created and sustained as we struggle to make art/poetry/song/dance/theater central to our culture again (with good coffee and tamales on the side).

Tlazhokamati (thank you, in Nahuatl).


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  • mudasir saleem
    commented 2023-02-25 09:37:23 -0800
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