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Centro Cultural Chicano, the oldest and largest multi-service Hispanic organization in Minneapolis

Centro’s mission and values are grounded in supporting the well-being of Latine families through a holistic approach to education and family engagement.

Centro Tyrone Guzman
Centro Tyrone Guzman
© Centro Tyrone Guzman

Centro Cultural Chicano was founded in 1974 in Minneapolis, on the homeland of Dakota people. Unlike previous Hispanic organizations in the Twin Cities, which were typically under the control of the Catholic Church, Centro was organized by and on behalf of Chicanos who were actively involved in the Chicano movement. Historians like Vicki L. Ruiz and Rodolfo F. Acuña, as well as educators and activists like Anna Nieto-Gómez, Martha P. Cotera, and Alma García, have defined el movimiento (the movement) as a convergence of multiple protests. It addressed multiple issues, including educational equality, police brutality, farmworker rights, reproductive justice, and the struggle for “homeland” ownership in the southwest United States, also known as Aztlán.

Centro’s original founders were Irene Gomez-Bethke, Eulalia “Lolly” Reyes de Smith, Alma Samuel, Maria Gomez, Ramona Arreguin de Rosales, and Marcela L. Trujillo. The intergenerational group came together during the 1960s to share their concerns with police brutality, the lack of educational resources, student attrition rates, and inaccessible health services.

The group was formally embraced by the Minneapolis Chicano community in the early 1970s after a conference held at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Wayzata. The conference was organized by Chicanos Vencerán, a grassroots, community-based organization committed to fighting for Hispanic civil rights. Not long after, Gloria Gallegos, Manuel P. Guzman, and Donn J. Vargas officially incorporated Centro as an organization in the city of Minneapolis on February 5, 1974. Centro’s goal at the time was to provide bilingual social services to over 10,000 Spanish-speaking people of Chicano and/or Hispanic descent in Hennepin County.

With the support of Dr. Marcela L. Trujillo, a Chicana professor at the University of Minnesota, Centro received its first grant of $30,000 from the McKnight Foundation in December of 1976. The grant funded the expansion of bilingual and bicultural social services and the leasing of Centro’s first building. In 1981, Centro received funding from the United Way Foundation, allowing staff to further refine their three main programs: social adjustment, family counseling, and chemical dependency. They also developed organizational support for several political organizations in the Twin Cities, like the Minneapolis Hispanic Advisory Council.

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While Centro maintained a Chicano activist spirit through the 1980s and early 1990s, its programming took a different route in 1996. To better meet the needs of Centro’s growing Central and South American membership, Executive Director Tyrone Guzman reinvented the organization’s mission by anchoring education as a holistic strategy for intergenerational programming. Many Central and South American immigrants to Minnesota were fleeing gang violence, political violence, domestic violence, and/or natural disasters in their home countries. Central and South American immigrants made up 1 percent of Minnesota’s population in 2000, and by 2010, they made up around 2 percent.

In 2014, five years after Guzman’s death, Centro officially changed its name to Centro Tyrone Guzman to honor his contributions and celebrate his thirteen years of service as executive director. By then, Centro offered families an early childhood program, a youth program, and an adult and aging program. The early childhood program, called Siembra, used a bilingual Montessori learning method to cultivate an educational environment that values creative choices, hands-on learning, and collaborative play at the preschool level. Raíces, Centro’s youth program, similarly promoted healthy behaviors by mentoring teens as they navigated their educational requirements and familial obligations. The adult and aging program called Wise Elders, on the other hand, focused on the wellbeing of Hispanic adults. One of Centro’s oldest programs, it connected Hispanic families with hands-on bilingual resources on Alezheimer’s disease and dementia that were culturally relevant. Centro additionally provided community support services, community engagement amenities, and an information center.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Centro created new support services to effectively assist struggling families. It raised $730,000 in less than thirty days to assist 984 families (3,602 individuals) during the height of the pandemic, with $154,228 of those funds covering hot meals, food baskets, diapers, baby formula, car seats, technology, and hygiene products. Centro also partnered with Metro Transit, a public transportation operator in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, to distribute 6,100 deliveries of food and water across sixty-two zip codes, while the remaining $575,175 was used to provide families with rent assistance.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.