Imperial Beach, CA United States 619 575-6987 fax 575-7827
By Gil Griffin STAFF WRITER
June 26, 1998
Inauguration of Centro Comunitario Aguascalientes
On July 4 at 7 p.m., musicians and dancers from both sides of the border will descend on Maclovio Rojas, a colonia east of Tijuana, to celebrate the opening of a community arts center. For more information, call (619) 575-6987.
It has no running water, no sanitation, limited electricity and unpaved, bone-jarringly bumpy roads. But even in this state of adversity and poverty, there is hope.
On July 4, the people of Colonia Maclovio Rojas will rejoice as the Centro Comunitario Aguascalientes is officially inaugurated with a fiesta. Dancers and musicians from both sides of the border are coming here to participate.
The center, a project of the San Diego-based Border Art Workshop/Tallér de Arte Fronterízo (BAW/TAF), took about 15 months to build and was paid for through grants from arts organizations and individuals on both sides of the border.
As the arts center was being built, BAW/TAF members conducted literary and visual art workshops with members of the community.
"The space is unique," said Manuel Mancillas, born and raised in Tijuana's Colonia Libertad, and a BAW/TAF collaborator for seven years.
"It's the only (colonia) in all of Tijuana in which there's a community arts center. It establishes a sense within the community that they have a space where they can develop whatever cultural aspirations they have."
Those aspirations vary: dance lessons for the children, painting classes for adults, literary workshops, musical instruction, acting classes. The choice will be up to the villagers, who number from 6,000 to 8,000.
The doors, discarded in the United States, now tell the colonia's history and the story of Maclovio Rojas Márquez, for whom it is named.
Rojas, a Mixteca Indian labor organizer, who championed the rights of farm and industrial workers in Baja California's San Quintín region, died July 4, 1987. The center is being inaugurated on the anniversary of his death.
Rojas was educated in a Oaxaca secondary school and applied his education to working in San Quintín for an independent labor union called Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos (CIOAC).
He became a CIOAC secretary general and organized workers and farmers, who rallied around his leadership, to campaign for better wages and improved living conditions.
Rojas -- who was then 24 -- was killed after being struck by a car. Residents in the colonia named for Rojas believe a wealthy landowner paid a farmer to murder him.
No arrests were ever made in connection with his death.
In the pie-shaped courtyard, about 90 feet wide and 125 feet long, there's a portrait of Rojas above the stage. His life struggle and his untimely death are chronicled in words near the portrait. On an outer wall, there's a mural of a human-rights march Maclovio Rojas residents embarked on two years ago, to Mexicali, Baja California's capital.
At the entrance to the courtyard is a 30-by-30-feet, two-story structure of concrete and brick, with a loft where visiting cultural arts instructors can live while conducting workshops with the colonia's residents.
Approximately 1,500 families live here. About 80 percent of the adults work in the area's large manufacturing plants, or maquiladoras, owned by corporations such as Coca-Cola, Samsung, Hyundai and Mueblex.
Michael Schnorr, a Southwestern College professor and BAW/TAF founding member, spearheaded the San Diego volunteer effort to help build the arts center, with the people of Maclovio Rojas.
Last winter, six of his students contributed a total of 1,000 hours. Just about every weekend for the past year, Schnorr has ferried building supplies from his Imperial Beach home to Maclovio Rojas in his aqua, 1968 Ford LTD, festooning its roof with wooden planks and stuffing its trunk with tools.
The volunteers and the villagers hope the center will offer children and adults training in the arts, which could lead to jobs with more creativity than those in the maquiladoras.
"They don't have the capacity to work beyond working in the factories," said Hortensia Hernandez Mendoza, 33, the head of a committee that represents Maclovio Rojas residents. "There are few opportunities for the adults."
Despite the hardships and government attempts to uproot them, the villagers are intent on staying put.
The government has gone to court to try to evict them. There have also been standoffs between residents and state and federal troops and local police, who residents say harass and intimidate them.
"Once the women built human chains to keep police from coming in," said Lorenza Rivero, of Imperial Beach, who has volunteered to help build the center. "They fought police and built barricades until the police backed off."
Now that they've built the arts center, the people of Maclovio Rojas say they have something tangible that demonstrates their ability to improve their community in the face of adversity.
It also symbolizes possibilities.
"We met a welder who is about 35 and now he sees himself making more money singing than he does in the maquiladoras," Mancillas said.
"He composed a couple of songs in a workshop we did last summer. We have a lot of young people (with artistic potential). There's a teen-age boy here who paints. He's an outstanding talent."
And if the boy can develop that talent and make a living at it, Mancillas said, "that would be a success story."
"That's our hope."
Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
By Gil Griffin
June 26, 1998
The people of Colonia Maclovio Rojas view the completion of their new arts center as a sign of progress and as part of a larger, countrywide movement of rural Mexican settlements rising up to overcome squalid conditions.
The colonia's people have artistic aspirations and a strong will to improve and preserve their community at all costs. Their emotions are painted on a mural on one of the center's interior walls -- " . . . luchamos por el derecho de una vivienda digna ("we fight for the right to a dignified way of life").
For the colonia's people, dignity means fair wages and safe working conditions in nearby maquiladoras. It also means legal claim to the land.
Ten years ago, 45 families -- mostly farm workers from Oaxaca state -- settled in the colonia, which covers about 600 acres in the Tijuana River valley. It is about 20 miles southeast of the Otay Mesa border crossing.
The pioneering families who came to Maclovio Rojas from Oaxaca were members of a large, independent union that champions factory workers and agricultural farmers, called Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos (CIOAC).
But since those families arrived, several wealthy families in the area and the Baja California government have claimed the land as their own. Maclovio Rojas residents say armed police officers and soldiers have repeatedly tried to forcibly remove them from their homes.
The colonia's residents are especially concerned about the limited opportunities for their young people. After teen-agers in Maclovio Rojas finish secondary school at a neighboring colonia, at age 15 or 16, the only option for most of them is going to work in the maquiladoras.
Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.