Remembering El Centro de Acción Social on Día de los Muertos

Have you ever stopped to wonder how much we could do for our communities if we were to engage in social and education issues with the same intensity one engages in following baseball games and other sports? This is not to say I am not proud of the Dodgers’ great success!

Many baseball fans were recently obsessed with the Dodgers vs Astros World Series games. These games take me back to my childhood when Fernando Valenzuela became an instant sensation and folk hero. His story was amazing indeed. He came from a small, remote village from Mexico and became one of the best pitchers ever for the Dodgers. The immigrant community was so proud to have someone that reflected the community. He once visited my elementary school and told us his slogan “be smart – stay in school.”

What also takes me back to my childhood is the world renown Pasadena Rose Parade. Every New Year, we would get to see the amazing display of beautifully crafted floats.

I often wondered as a child, if the fans of the Dodgers, Raiders, and Rose Parade participants ever cared what was truly going on in areas such as South Central Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, and Northwest Pasadena? These areas have historically been neglected by city leaders, multi billionaire investors, and many of their public schools lack adequate support and resources. This is one reason why charter schools have proliferated in these areas.

At one point in my career, I ended up working and living in Pasadena for over a decade. First, as the spokesperson for the Pasadena Unified School District for four years, and  then as Director of a well-known non-profit – El Centro de Accion Social. I decided to resign in 2013 since I was at the helm for eight years and I felt it was time to move on.

Then, two years later in 2015, the staff and board of directors decided to close El Centro de Accion Social, the oldest and largest Latino non-profit in Pasadena. I was extremely shocked since I had left the institution in solid financial standing with a surplus of over $500,000.

El Centro was buried in 2015, and on this Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead I wanted to revive the memory/spirit of El Centro de Acción Social. RIP El Centro 1968-2015.

Randy Jurado Ertll at El Centro de Accion Social

To this day, I cannot believe that the board of directors, staff, community leaders, some well-paid city leaders, and bureaucrats in Pasadena allowed El Centro de Accion Social to be closed. El Centro played a key role in advocating for education and civil rights issues that specifically impacted the working class, Latinx community.

The community needed an education advocacy vehicle and El Centro had played the role for over four decades, especially in relation to educational equity issues. For many decades, El Centro offered Summer School in the Park and three successful after school educational programs at Jefferson Elementary School, Washington Middle School, and John Muir High School. El Centro also ran a successful senior citizen assistance program. Through the decades, tens of thousands of students were helped, through El Centro’s programs, to succeed in school.

Then, it closed – it was buried with not much fanfare or concern. Thousands of students no longer receive that extra help offered by El Centro’s education programs. No respectful obituary was written in regards to the passing of El Centro de Accion Social at 47 years old.  

El Centro also used to celebrate key cultural events such as Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. In fact, it was one of the pioneer organizations that started celebrating Dia de los Muertos since the 1970s. Community members use to love attending El Centro’s Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Imagine, if the NAACP-Pasadena would announce that they are closing their doors? Would that be allowed? I am so proud of the NAACP-Pasadena and NAACP-Altadena that they continue to exist. They were not buried.

El Centro was an ally to the NAACP-Pasadena and we spoke up regarding issues of social justice and we worked tirelessly for violence prevention. In the process, we became targets.

We have to give credit that Pasadena is in fact a beautiful city on the surface. But once you advocate or begin to organize, it’s a different story. The ACLU started to investigate why the Pasadena Police Department is scanning resident license plates – to track driver’s background and mobility. Specifically targeting community activists.

Many successful individuals live in Pasadena and many are probably the fans who were able to afford the expensive tickets, $882, to see the World Series games at Dodger Stadium. But I still wonder, do these individuals know the history behind Dodger Stadium and Chavez Ravine where thousands of predominantly Mexican American families were forcefully removed from their homes? Yes, Los Angeles and Pasadena hold many secrets and a conveniently hidden history.

El Día de los Muertos offers an opportunity to remember and honor individuals who have passed away. Individuals whom time has forgotten, and many gave their lives by working in organizations such as El Centro de Acción Social for others to benefit.

Fans do have every right to enjoy the Dodgers, Chargers, Clippers, L.A. Galaxy, Lakers, and Rose Parade. But we have to shine a light on the past and current injustices. Otherwise, we will continue to repeat these injustices and the spirits of the dead will not be able to rest in peace.

They will continue to haunt the halls of city hall. You cannot charge rent to the dead or spirits. They are eternal.

The NAACP, All Saints Church, ACLU must continue to advocate and speak up for those who don’t necessarily have a voice or are afraid to share their opinions. We need these institutions to also represent and speak up for the needs of the Latinx community since we no longer have a long-standing, established Latino non-profit organization in Pasadena. El Centro is now dead, but its spirit lives on!

These organizations, NAACP,  All Saints Church, ACLU, and others must not remain silent. Maybe it’s time for a new, independent, Latino non-profit to be created to help the predominantly low income, minority students that attend Pasadena Unified School District public and charter schools. Courageous new leaders may want to carry on the warrior spirit of the El Centro founders of 1968.

Martin Luther King Jr. wisely said “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We need to be woke, now – on Dia de los Muertos.

Randy Jurado Ertll, author of the novel The Lives and Times of El Cipitio. His web site is WWW.RANDYJURADOERTLL.COM

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Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll, attended some of the toughest public schools within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). He and his family moved dozens of times throughout Los Angeles. He attended Menlo Avenue Elementary School – which he loved dearly as a child – even though violence was an everyday occurrence in the surrounding community. He survived James A. Foshay Junior High School in the mid 1980’s. As a child, he escaped a rural Civil War in El Salvador, and while in Los Angeles, he escaped an urban Civil War (taking place in South Central Los Angeles) by being accepted into the A Better Chance-ABC scholarship program by going far way to study at John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota. Hella cold. He returned to his community by applying and being accepted into Occidental College where he was indoctrinated to become a social justice activist, reader, writer, free thinker, and free, rebel, spirit.

2 thoughts on “Remembering El Centro de Acción Social on Día de los Muertos

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    Dianne Segura

    I didnt know the doors closed for Centro. Every city, every community needs and organization to advocate for marginalized communities, which include our Latino community. Thank you for being a leader that I could champion alongside during some of that that history in Pasadena. May the community foster the next version of El Centro. Our community deserves and needs it.

  2. Avatar

    Alegria Castro

    I too had no idea the doors had closed on El Centro. This is sad news to me. It is my hope that someone in the community steps up to continue the legacy.

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