40 years of Centro Cultural
El Hispanic News
Cornelius, OR — Tour Centro Cultural de Washington County today and you’ll find a computer lab, commercial kitchen, daycare center, and classrooms — among other resources — within its two large buildings. You’ll also find, hanging in a hallway of the main community center, a black and white photo of the original Centro Cultural, a two-story house formerly used as a hostel.
What the photo does not show is the area behind the house where the center’s early visitors still tied up their horses 40 years ago, nor does it reveal the hard work of Centro Cultural’s founding families, who raised the funds to buy that house by holding dances and raffles and selling tamales and tortillas.
“It’s amazing how good corn has been to Centro Cultural,” José Jaime recalls.
Jaime, currently a board member, served as executive director of Centro Cultural from 1977 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1986. He recently joined current executive director José Rivera to talk to El Hispanic News about the past, present, and future of Centro Cultural, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in November.
According to Jaime, Centro’s founding families — mostly migrant workers from Texas and Mexico — settled in Washington County at the urging of organizations like the Valley Migrant League, which told them they needed to “leave the migrant stream” if they wanted to escape poverty.
There were few Latinos in the area at the time — Rivera estimates about 8 percent of Cornelius’s population was Latino in the ‘70s, compared to 55 percent now — so those pioneering families recognized how much they had to depend on each other for support. Their earliest action was to team up with local churches to financially support one local family for six months so they could save money to buy a home.
According to Rivera, Centro Cultural’s existence was formally recognized in 1971, and was granted nonprofit status in 1972.
The young Centro Cultural served as a portal of information for Latino families and a source of stability as they traded in the migrant lifestyle for a more settled one.
“I think it opened a lot of doors to people who were coming here,” Rivera says.
From its earliest days, the center was also a breeding ground for other social service organizations. A three-car garage was built onsite to serve as a mechanic school, but in 1975 a 6-year-old child of migrant workers named Virginia García died of a minor wound. Her death was attributed to due to barriers to healthcare, leading to the conversion of that garage into the first Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. That clinic has since moved across the street from Centro and is undergoing a massive rebuild. Virginia Garcia has also since expanded to include clinics in Hillsboro, Beaverton, and McMinnville, as well as two school-based health centers in Forest Grove and Tigard.
Among the other many programs and organizations Centro Cultural housed or supported in those early years are Adelante Mujeres, the Oregon Human Development Corporation, Salud de la Familia in Woodburn, and Clínica del Cariño in Hood River.
“That was the philosophy of the founding families, that we wanted to have a lot of ‘children,’” Jaime says, “and let them go out on their own.”
When the organization outgrew the former hostel, it used the house and some land it owned in Gaston as collateral to build a much larger community center, a project that lasted from 1979 to 1981. In 2005, it added a second building, the Technology and Education Center.
Within these two buildings, Centro Cultural and its partner organizations offer opportunities for educational advancement — including GED, ESL, citizenship, literacy, and computer classes — as well as artistic and cultural activities, a commercial kitchen certification program, daycare, translation and referral services, and much more.
Jaime and Rivera say the growth in what Centro Cultural has been able to offer has been based on four pillars: arts and culture, economic development, education, and community social service.
The expansion is also made possible by community members who freely give their time, skills, and money to the organization.
“Centro is a volunteer-driven organization,” Rivera says. “A lot of this could not be accomplished without the volunteers who come in to help us.”
Among those volunteers key to Centro Cultural’s ongoing success and renewal is its board members, some of whom Jaime recruited in his first years as executive director when they were in their early 20s. They are now grandparents.
Similarly, Rivera says some current board members first became involved with Centro Cultural in middle school and high school, went to college, then came back to the community.
“[They have] a lot of ties to Centro from when they were kids,” Rivera says. “It’s amazing.”
For more information on Centro Cultural or to connect with its services, go to http://centrocultural.org/, call 503-359-0446, or visit the organization in person at 1110 N. Adair St., Cornelius, Ore. Donations are always welcome through Centro’s link in Facebook and by mail.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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