I'm at the airport on my way back from the conference. No, not AWP, but NACCS. It's a hard NACCS life. The National Association of Chicana Chicano Studies is holding it's annual conference in Seattle, Washington on April 7-11. It conflicted with AWP (I failed to credit Rich Yañez for compiling the list of awp events featuring writers from the [email protected]/[email protected] community. He is a cofounder of Con Tinta, a collective doing important work for preserving our literary herencia.), and I guess I chose my critic side over my poet side and decided to present a paper at NACCS on the laughter of the pachuco in Tomas Rivera's short story, "El Pete Fonseca." Our (I presented with two UC Berkeley colegas: Alma Granado and Robert Reyes.) panel went well, and there were other great events, including a panel dedicated to studying the implications of fellow Harriet blogger Rigoberto Gonzalez's Butterfly Boy. But the most inspiring and impressive event that I took part in was a visit to El Centro de La Raza in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

After panels on Thursday, everyone was invited on a tour. I decided to go because I thought it'd be great to get to know more of Seattle.  So as we emerged from the light rail station, I was expecting to see the space needle, but instead I found myself in Beacon Hill, the mexican neighborhood. "Ah man," I whispered to one of my friends, "they brought us to see mexicans." I hope you understand that my disappointment was due to the fact that, well, I've seen my share of mexicans and mexican neighborhoods in my life. Little did I know that the place, persons, and purpose I encountered in Beacon Hill would find a centro in my imagination.

So for Harriet readers, a virtual tour:

Citing only two of the countless international, national, state, and local awards, El Centro de la Raza is probably the only organization in the world to hold, on the one hand, the Nicaraguan "10th Anniversary Medal of the Sandinista Revolution" (1989), and the "Thousand Points of Light" award (1991) from the George Bush Sr. White House (Given that these two governments were deadly enemies, between those two awards lies a remarkable story).

The First Big, Bold Step

At about 8:00am on October 11, 1972, a three person delegation was greeted by the facilities manager of the Seattle Public School District who was showing a decaying, dilapidated facility to representatives of “some” organization interested in renting or buying the abandoned three story elementary school building located in the middle of the one square block.

As the lock clicked open, the leader of the delegation slipped the lock out of the mechanism and placed it in his pocket confusing the custodian who said nothing.

Thus began a now 37-year historic journey as core staff, students and their families nervously and silently walked from behind bushes and parked cars through the open door.

The occupation of the abandoned Beacon Hill School located on the crest ten minutes from the heart of downtown Seattle had begun. At that moment Beacon Hill School ceased to exist and El Centro de la Raza was born.

El Centro de La Raza Mural, by DanielDeSiga

El Centro, which offers support services to Latino families, was recently named winner of the 2008 National Council of La Raza/Annie E. Casey Foundation Family Strengthening Award for the positive impact the José Martí center has had on Latino families.

Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca

Por Jose Marti

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo,
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo,
Cultivo una rosa blanca.

El Centro at Work

"There is an accumulation of essential truths that would fit on to a hummingbird’s wing and yet they hold the key to civic peace, spiritual elevation and national greatness … People must live in the natural and inescapable enjoyment of freedom, just as they enjoy light and air ... [and] being educated is the only way to be free." (Jose Marti)

ROBERTO MAESTAS: Poetry has become a powerful weapon for our children, for the adults, for our elders. And we are constantly looking for the natural inclination of human beings to be poetic.

Originally Published: April 10th, 2010

Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...