EASTSIDE : Strapped Center Rich in Chicano Heritage

April 11, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ

When Luis F. Pedroza took over the Chicano Resource Center at the county's East Los Angeles library a year ago, there wasn't one Los Lobos tape.

The lack of music by such groups as that Eastside rock band signaled that the library's collection of books, albums, magazines and newspaper articles needed some updating, Pedroza said.

The library's Chicano collection was started in 1976 and has continued to document the Chicano experience by adding newspaper articles, magazines, research papers, videos, novels and reference books.

"We have at least 10,000 books and everything else," said Pedroza, 31.

Recent budget cuts have reduced the center's $33,000 annual budget by 85%, and Pedroza expects an even tighter allowance next year. The shortfall is apparent in areas such as new book purchases. A shelf for recently released books is bare.

"Normally there would be new titles every month," he said. "Ask me the last time I had new books out there and I'd have to say it's been a while."

Students use the center for research on history and literature. Others said they find the atmosphere conducive to studying other subjects as well.

"They have a good selection of books. I've read some books by Cervantes and on Pablo Neruda," said Hector Michel, 19, who said he used the library more frequently when he was a student at nearby Garfield High School.

CalTrans engineer Laura Chavez has been studying for her state exams at the center.

"I'm glad that it's here," she said. "The people here are really helpful and if they can't find something, they always say they'll keep looking until they find it."

Francisco Balderrama, professor and acting chair of the Chicano Studies department at Cal State Los Angeles, often refers students to the center for help on research and goes there himself.

"It's a very important resource center," he said, because it is accessible to the community. Another helpful center is across town at UCLA, he said.

Pedroza understands students' quests for their history and culture, which are often overlooked in classroom history lessons. But he is careful to remind them that other cultures have also been forgotten and are as valuable as their own.

"Our culture does not have the market on suffering in this country," he said.

Pedroza, although born in Tijuana, considers himself a Chicano because he was raised in Pico Rivera. The question "What is a Chicano?" is one he often hears.

The term Chicano comes, according to some, from a shortening of Mexicano, with the x pronounced in the Indian language of Nahuatl as sh. According to the Dictionary of Mexican American History, Chicano was a pejorative term used by upper-class Mexicans to refer to the lower class in the late 19th Century and was adopted with pride by young Mexican-Americans during the 1960s.

The center maintains records of recent history, including copies of the 1970s-era magazine La Raza that documented anti-war sentiment among Chicanos and demonstrations and riots in East Los Angeles.

As for defining Chicano, Pedroza often refers inquirers to a Salazar column that ended with, "Chicanos, then, are merely fighting to become 'Americans.' Yes, but with Chicano outlook."

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