A Stand for Centro Cultural: Mexican Resistance to Cultural Genocide By: Cindy Gomez-Schempp


A Stand for Centro Cultural: Mexican Resistance to Cultural Genocide

Seventeen years ago, a group of Mexican farm workers led by Hector Martinez, decided to start an organization – – Centro Cultural – – to preserve their culture and help improve the quality of lives of Mexicans in the area. The history of how those Mexicans came to be in Minnesota goes back much further.

Mexicans, devastated by the revolution of 1910, found hope in the beet farming of Minnesota and thousands of people started pouring in to meet the labor demands of the region. By the beginning of the 1930’s Mexicans made up 90 percent of the beet harvesting labor force. But, their quality of life was that of impoverished slaves living in substandard housing and receiving poor wages. The advent of civil rights and worker’s movements of the 1960’s such as Cesar Chavez’s American Farm Worker movement struck fear into Minnesota farmers who quickly moved to mechanize their farming operations to eliminate the threat of Mexican uprisings in the Midwest. To read more about the history of Mexicans in Minnesota, visit: http://tiny.cc/BeetBargain

Today, conditions for Mexicans in Minnesota have not improved very much from our beginnings in this region. In this country 40% of black, and Mexican children still live in poverty (for white children it’s 12.5%). Less than half of our children graduate from high school while white children graduate at a rate around 80%. The local Moorhead “alternative” school has 60 percent or higher numbers of Indigenous Mexicans, Native and black students, while we only represent a small fraction of the population in the area. Income levels and job opportunities are terribly disproportionate in Moorhead for people of color. Housing access is still segregated with many of the Mexicans living in a certain neighborhood; the poorest neighborhoods, of course.

It is no wonder, with the difficult road that Mexicans have always had to travel, that the wise founders of Centro Cultural gave a gift and a blessing to our community to help us survive. It was also a message to Mexicans about how we go about surviving. This message was left to us in the mission of the organization: To preserve our Mexican culture and to help improve the lives of our people. Without safe and welcoming places like Centro, where we are able to support each other in times of need and preserve our language, our ways, our dancing, our food, our heritage, our customs and culture, we are subjected to a form of cultural genocide that reverberates for generations. That is why our people must now speak out to demand that the assault on Centro Cultural be stopped and that the center be returned to the stewardship of Mexican people — the people that Centro Cultural was founded for.

Recently, Centro Cultural de Fargo-Moorhead has come under assault.

In 2010, Centro Cultural hired a new executive director and appointed new members. In 2011, Bremer awarded the center $120,000. Shortly after taking the position, the executive director left town and centro has not had a steady executive director for the past two years. Since receiving the Bremer award, Centro has not funded a single program or event for the Mexican community that the center was founded for. Centro even closed their emergency food service.

On Cinco de Mayo, a protest was held at Centro to get answers. We learned that the vice-chair had resigned, that the board chair for the past three ⅓ years had no information about funding or spending of the organization, and that there were two new board members. We asked why Centro had not filed a 990 for the past two years; why NO programming has been funded for Mexicans while only programs and funding are available for non-latinos (mostly white) organizations and groups? We asked why there was no information for the past few years about who is on the board and what they have done with finances. We couldn’t get a single answer.

For background story and local news coverage go here: http://tiny.cc/CincoDeMayo

Suddenly, a white city council member, Mark Altenburg, who was in the building for an impromptu event (which he and the board members concocted online 3 hours prior to our protest and only invited themselves too) charged in to intervene and stop us from asking further questions of the board. He also informed us that the focus of Centro should no longer be on Mexicans! He said the mission of the organization had been changed by the board, and was now focused on the entire community, not just Mexicans/Latinos anymore. He also tried to convince us that we should not involve the Attorney General. A video of the protest and exchange between the board, Altenburg and protestors can be found here: http://mexi-can.org/save-our-centro/

At that point, we decided to create a petition online that asks the MN Attorney General’s office to demand the resignation of the board chair, Christine LaCoursiere and investigate both her and the vice-chair, Kandace Creel-Falcon who fled her position after the protests was announced. However, we also called a meeting to get input from the Mexican/Latino community about how to save our center. Luis Arellano, one of the new board members of Centro Cultural, attended our meeting and attempted to convince us not to “burn bridges” with the board chair and advised us not to focus on the AG’s complaint, but rather to come up with a transition plan. He offered, and we agreed, to hold a meeting on May 19 to allow new board members to apply and be voted into the board before requesting that board chair, LaCoursiere, exit the board.

However, when May 19 came, Arellano had changed his tune. Once again, white council member Mark Altenburg, was speaking for the board (at their request). This time, he even brought along another white supporter (former councilwoman Diane Wray Williams) to help him wrangle the crowd in an embarrassing display of white supremacy over a mostly Mexican crowd of people who repeatedly asked them to stop interrupting and meddling. During the exchange, one Mexican woman tearfully pleaded for Centro saying “[t]here are plenty of safe places for white children to go and feel safe, but there is only one place for Mexican children to go”. Another demanded to know why her board application of 2 years had been ignored, despite her volunteer work at Centro for over a year, her six years of military service as a Marine, and her 20 years of work experience in corporate America. The board chair informed her that she had overheard her criticize one of Centro’s staff, and that was criteria for not accepting her board application. Despite many repeated requests for the board to call an emergency meeting, and vote on new board members, they and the council members refused. The entire video/audio of that meeting can be found here: http://tiny.cc/BoardRefusal

It seems quite clear from the actions of the board that they are not interested in accepting board applicants, criticism of the organizational funding and spending, or of any input from Mexicans about the running of the only Mexican culture center we have in the Fargo-Moorhead region. So now, we are asking for your help. We cannot let white leadership neuter our Mexican Cultural center and turn it into a generic “community center” void of our culture and our people! Because our culture IS our source of power. In it – – like in Centro Cultural – -we can find safety, unity, and support.

Please support our petition to demand a removal of all the board members of Centro Cultural by the Attorney General’s office of MN, Lori Swanson. Help us to demand accountability and to regain Centro by having the AG’s office choose and appoint new board members who will be Mexican/Latino and reflect the mission that our wise founders gave us nearly 20 years ago.

Click here to sign the petition. And help us spread the word so we can Save our Center:


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