It is a small treasure to the Sylmar community, but for the Chicano community it serves as a cultural center and a beacon of hope for future generations.
Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, off of Hubbard Street in Sylmar, has been a reference to many students and professors on campus, especially those in the Chicano/a studies department.
“I feel that the center addresses many misconceptions,” said Karina Ceja, a CSUN alumna. “We focus on Chicano identity while adding various perspectives of our culture and the struggle.”
The concept of the center originated with its three San Fernando Valley founders—CSUN alumna Maria Trinidad Rodriguez, Enrique Sanchez and Luiz J. Rodriguez—all three being strong voices of the Chicano culture and all aiming for a community center.
Maria “Trini” Rodriguez and Luiz J. Rodriguez came back to the San Fernando Valley after being immersed in Chicago’s Chicano culture. Maria Rodriguez worked as a writer and editor for the “Tribuno de Pueblo,” while Luiz Rodriguez worked the lecture circuit as one of the country’s leading Chicano writers.
After spending about 15 years in Chicago, both Luiz Rodriguez and Maria Rodriguez saw a need for a Chicano culture center in the San Fernando Valley. They teamed up with Maria Rodriguez’s brother-in-law and began to formulate plans and look for vacant spaces for the center, which is now known as Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore.
“Originally (Tia Chucha’s) focused on the Latino culture,” Maria Rodriguez said. “But we became more inclusive because we felt a community need and absence of the enthusiasm to learn. We wanted to expand the horizons and gain a grasp on community empowerment.”
The cultural center has gone through its own struggle in its existence. Its home on Hubbard Street is the center’s third location since 2001, Ceja said.
Tia Chucha’s could have initially been found off of Hubbard Street and Glenoaks Boulevard in Sylmar, but due to rent being raised, the owners decided to move its location, Ceja added.
“Tia Chucha’s moved to Lakeview Terrace,” Ceja said. “But we were too far from our community and knew that we had to come back. When we saw a laundromat existed in the old space it made us want to move back to our old community even more.”
Maria Rodriguez agreed and said she saw the new laundromat as a disregard for cultural spaces in the neighborhood.
“There aren’t many (cultural centers) in the San Fernando Valley,” Maria Rodriguez said. “We see it as a cultural luxury to the community.”
Now back in Sylmar, Tia Chucha’s serves its community.
“We host numerous events throughout the entire month (including) panel discussions, book readings, open mics and movie showings,” Ceja said.
In August, Tia Chucha’s has many music classes and panel discussions and every Friday night is Open Mic Night featuring a special guest. Some of CSUN’s Chicano/a studies professors have made appearances.
Professor Rudolfo Acuña spoke at the cultural center’s Bicentario Panel Discussion on Mexico’s loss of its own territory earlier this month.
“Tia Chucha’s is a cultural and political jewel,” Acuña said. “This is what learning should be. I wish it was next to CSUN where the only places surrounding the university are food-to-go establishments.”
Other than hosting events and showcasing the talents of the Chicano community, Tia Chucha’s is also a community reference center.
Tia Chucha’s is home to traditional Chicano art, books, apparel and instruments. Many are for sale, but many articles also serve as a reference to the culture, Ceja said.
Tia Chucha’s has many projects to assist with keeping its culture alive and well, including four main projects: Tia Chucha Press, the Young Warriors Program, Dos Manos Records and Xispas Magazine.
Tia Chucha Press was started in 1989 and has published many socially engaged poets and writers, while Xispas Magazine is an online publication dedicated to the Chicano culture.
The Young Warriors project, whose members meet every Tuesday, empowers youth through mentoring, talking circles, rites of passage and other experiences.
The production of Dos Manos focuses on music and the spoken word, Ceja added.
One of the center’s more recent projects is a collaboration with Los Angeles Mission College.
“It is a conference to learn about the indigenous Mexican cultures and beyond,” Maria Rodriguez added.
She said Tia Chucha’s main goal is to show the community that community art and learning generates a stronger community.
“I feel that art and culture are healing,” Maria Rodriguez said. “Tia Chucha’s helps those tap into people’s inner and inherent creativity, helping them to face what they are facing personally or as a community.”