The Guadalupe Cultural Center has been the nation's premier cultural fountain of latino/chicano culture. Organized and founded by artists twenty-seven years ago, it is now in the hands of a board comprised of professional lawyers, corporate employees, business-types, a professor and a psychologist. The quality of its programming has been suffering since the departure of Pedro Rodriguez, who was at the helm of the institution for fifteen years. Beginning with the hire of Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso, a communications executive, over five years ago, the Guadalupe has become mired in debt, resulting from real estate and public art (the Virgen Veladora) investments, unchecked by boardmembers appointed by the egotistical Torralva-Alonso.
Truth be told, the Guadalupe isn't an artistic institution anymore - all of the artistic directors have been fired/terminated/resigned - except for Belinda Menchaca, in Dance. Marisela Barrera, the Theatre Director, known for creating a vivacious and populist, youthful teatro, will be leaving at the end of June.
The most tragic chapter of this drama isn't how the women of the Guadalupe have been treated. Like Mary Jessie Garza, who has breast cancer, who raised over a million dollars in her four years as Art Education Director then Interim Director, and was summarily fired. Now she has no health insurance, which she needs to continue her treatments. But she's just one of many stories, though hers is the most compelling.
No, the darkest pages are still to be written. And those pages will be about how the artistas and mujeres fuertes of the community - all in debt in some way to the Guadalupe - will defend her. Will they come to La Lupe's aid, or have they decided we don't need her anymore?
Ultimately, the questions about what the Guadalupe means to all of us may just be too difficult to bear, and so we stand by mutely, absorbed in the cultural afterglow of what the Guadalupe created - inclusion in the mainstream, even if it is only superficial and rare. Still, the question haunts: Do we owe anything to the barrio we came from? Can we criticize our own gente in public - whether they be purported feminists (the bleached-hair Republican-leaning elegancia of Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso) or gay men (like the current-closeted Guadalupe president, the Yale graduate, R. Bret Ruiz), or the chato-faced Board Chairman Juan F. Aguilera, who clearly has no taste for chicano art?
In other words, do we have so little still that we settle for less? How much longer, in this day and age, must we circle the wagons around our own, so that we keep imitating the white ideals of power, individualism and superiority?
Or is the Guadalupe larger than all our imperfections, insecurities and small-letter greed and bold-faced shame, that we can come together as a community and save this institution? We need heroes and most importantly - heroines in this drama, who will fire the whole board of directors - con respeto - afuera! and work our rasquache selves to the ground looking for the next La Lupe leader, rehiring the staff, nipping and tucking and apologizing and telling the whole truth and nothing but.
In other words, to save the Guadalupe means we save ourselves. She is our Kennedy Center, isn't she? Our Carnegie Hall?
Well, I believe in the Guadalupe Cultural Center, because I can see my own chata face in each and every character in this drama - the good, the rasquache, and the wannabe - and yes, I know La Lupe is worth saving. La Lupe has taught me that we are beauty itself, just as we are. **************
The following is an Open Letter written by Dolores (Dee) Zapata's Murff, the PR and Marketing Director, who has filed a lawsuit against the Guadalupe Cultural Center for sexual and racial harrassment. The San Antonio Express-News will be publishing an extensive, hopefully an aggressive story - this weekend.
Open Letter from Dee Murff:
I have paid dearly for exposing R. Bret Ruiz as the lying misogynist that he is and continues to be. I have lost my job and income, my marriage deteriorated, and other personal relationships have suffered along the way. One thing that is extremely important for me to point out is that my story is a text book case on sexual harassment and will no doubt be used as one. If I had any advice to offer another individual in my situation I would now warn them to proceed with caution, know that your name will be dragged through the mud, that you will lose those you thought were your friends, possibly your marriage, your wages and eventually you will be judged not as the victim but as the person who blew the whistle and shook things up. And for what? I will tell you why I did it. So that I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did what I felt in my gut was the right thing on behalf of others who cannot or do not know how to speak up and to keep an institution that I believed needed to be kept alive for our community. I did it so that those children who live nearby can have access to classes and to the latest technology available at the GCAC. I did it so that as elders, we can pass on our rich Chicano traditions. I will not drop the EEOC investigation and after EEOC finds in my favor I intend to sue the Board of Directors. Those individuals must be held responsible for using public money and charitable contributions from corporations to sanction discriminatory and illegal actions by the administration that they have been elected to oversee. It is doubly damning that those on the board are attorneys, accountants, professors and business owners who have the capability to know about federal law and protections for employees. Ultimately, they will be held responsible, as representatives of the organization and as individuals lacking in ethics."
Dolores Zapata Murff