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Opinion: Why not a first-class cultural center in El Paso?

By The Community First Coalition

The Community First Coalition, comprised of civic-minded citizens and organizations plus many other community stakeholders, once again urges the City Council to reconsider the decision to locate the Mexican American Cultural Center within the confines of the Main Library.

We ask that you approve the library renovation only and reopen the new and expanded main library post haste, but that you postpone the construction of the MACC until such time as an independent and more spacious location is secured.

A cultural center in our city should be a stand-alone entity with ample space for exhibits and where our numerous local Chicana/o, Mexican heritage border artists, writers, actors, artisans, danzantes and others can showcase their talents.

Our community has long awaited a special cultural space where both visitors and locals can learn about, experience, and take pride in our unique border culture. 

Fortuitously, sufficient 2012 bond funds are still available to secure a more desirable space for this project. The original allocation of the funds was made by the John Cook administration, not the voters. Therefore, this City Council has authority to make a reallocation of the funds due to changed circumstances. A reassessment of unspent bond funds and the cost of pending projects is certainly warranted after almost 10 years.    

Attaching such a center to the existing library connotes second-class status and detracts from the library’s important traditional functions.

A center honoring the culture of the vast majority of El Pasoans should not bear the ignominy that such status imparts. On the contrary, the impact of Aug. 3, 2019, compels a greater profile, not a confined space in the back of a building. This fact will not change no matter the superficial embellishments and space saving/multi-functional features that may be added. 

One of the center’s purposes is to inspire cultural pride and confidence in our children.  It should not be a sad reminder that the City’s regard for the culture of most local people is not worthy of a spacious first-class facility. The decision to locate the MACC in the library will forever taint the Cook, Margo and Leeser administrations’ poor regard for our community’s cultural heritage. 

This commentary was originally sent as a letter to the mayor and City Council by the Community First Coalition on Aug. 19. Signatories include Oscar Martinez, Social Justice Education Project; Rosemary Neill, Main Library Friends; Cynthia Renteria, Paso del Sur; Veronica Frescas, Border Network for Human Rights; Lily Limon, Mexican American Cultural Institute; Marsha Labodda, American Library Association El Paso Chapter; Raymundo Rojas, Chicano History Project; Liz Chavez, Wise Latina International; Scott White, Velo Paso Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition; Alicia de Jong Davis, Sanctuary4Longevity Center; Carmen Rodriguez, Historic Cultural Heritage Task Force; Kathy Staudt, Educational Equity Task Force; Rich Wright, City Finances & Services Task Force; Sito Negron, Environmental & Public Safety Task Force; Vona Van Cleef, Library and City Services Task Force; Veronica Carbajal, Increasing Affordable Housing in Historic Areas Task Force.

Cover photo: The celebration of Día de los Muertos is one of the major annual events at Austin’s Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. Supporters of an El Paso Mexican American cultural center point to Austin’s center as a possible model. (Photo courtesy of Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center)