EL PASO — Hundreds of El Pasoans gathered here recently in a peaceful protest to remember Chicano activist César Chávez and to demand that the city reopen the Lincoln Cultural Arts Center, El Paso’s first school and the city’s first Hispanic art center.
The Lincoln Center, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, first opened as a school and later changed into an art gallery. It is located near the Chamizal neighborhood, were 97 percent of the population is Hispanic.
Traditionally a place for children to keep busy, instead of causing trouble on the streets, the Lincoln Center also provided the community with computers and Internet access.
The Center was shut down by the city due to a mold infestation after heavy rains in 2006 and according to Hector Gonzalez, the head of the Lincoln Park Conservation Committee, which is dedicated to saving the center, city officials say it will cost $3.6 million to reopen the center. The Lincoln Committee, however, estimates that would cost half of that amount to reopen the building.
“This is insulting to the city with no history behind it. People want to be proud of their heritage and this building was a form of that,” said Rosemary Martinez, a member of El Chuco Brown Berets.
The event, held March 25, served to attract and inform residents of the community who didn’t know about the issue.
Stands were scattered across Lincoln Park as people danced, enjoyed oldies music, savored delicious Mexican food, and enjoyed a variety of artwork done by students from the center. Traditional bike and car shows were also displayed along the park.
“This event was awesome it brought me back to my roots. It was nice to see what I missed the most which was the Mexican culture,” said Denise Cedillo, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The city council held meetings January 11, and 14 to consider the future of the Center. “Hundreds of people have showed up to these meetings,” Gonzalez said.
The demolition of the building was then placed on hold for six months, pending a final decision. Gonzalez said that they are hoping for another six-month extension after that if the Lincoln Committee can work something out.
“We have been fighting for one to two years already, and it looks good so far. They are starting to realize this is what the community wants,” Gonzalez said. “We are a lot closer to saving the building” Gonzalez said.
The Lincoln Park Conservation Committee is a non-profit organization maintained by a team of fire fighters, law enforcements officials, artists, writers, and other professionals who gathered this event to fight to save the historic building and the community programs associated with it.
“El Paso history is very important. Why not be known for Lincoln Center like how San Antonio is known for the Alamo,” Santiago Ortega, an artist whose artwork was being sold at this event, said. “Why not bring this to the community?”