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Latino leaders working to bring Casa de la Raza back to historic glory in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Santa Barbara has many historic buildings, from Mission Santa Barbara to el Presidio to the courthouse. Each tells their own part of the story of Santa Barbara.

On the corner of E. Montecito Street and Calle Cesar Chavez stands another building Latino leaders are hoping will be able to share its history. Casa de la Raza was converted from warehouse space to a community center aimed at helping Chicano and Mexican-Americans. Its goal was to give those overlooked and underserved a place to go. From banquet space to a place to get healthcare, a bilingual library to a place or organize for farm workers’ rights.

Casa de la Raza found itself in the middle of the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement. Key leaders visited Casa de la Raza. Part of Salsipuedes Street was changed to Calle Cesar Chavez to honor of one the key figures in farm workers’ rights. Another is offering to use her foundation to restore it.

“Centra de la Raza was a great meeting place,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association which merged with UFW. “Not only for the United Farm Workers but also for all of the activities going on there. Because that was the beginning of what they called the Chicano movement. You know where Latinos were getting together and expressing some of the things they were striving for. To get bilingual education, to get more representation to support the farm workers union.”

Fifty-one years later, the lights are off on Casa de la Raza. The building was almost auctioned off to a developer before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, local Latino leaders are working to reopen Casa and have it become the community center it once was for the same people still struggling.

“Right now in this moment in our country what we have, I call it, an awakening,” said Huerta. “We have a real awakening, especially of the contributions of people of color to our society. And a reckoning where people demanding where we do more to get rid of racism, sexism, homophobia.  So it’s a really important moment where people really need a central location, a place where they can go to where they feel welcomed where they can do their organizing and have their events and also their celebrations.”

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Scott Sheahen

Scott Sheahen is a reporter for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Scott, click here.


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