Did You Know: Santa Rita Center Is A Place Of Chicano History

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 4:07pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
A mural honoring Cesar Chavez and the migrant workers fight for labor rights adorns the walls of the Santa Rita Center in Phoenix.

Since the late 1960s it has been a community gathering place. It attracted national attention as people came to support Chicano civil rights causes and a famous fast.

Santa Rita Center sits near Buckeye Road and 7th Street, in an area between Sky Harbor Airport and Downtown Phoenix. Did You Know…Santa Rita Center is where many Chicano social, political and community movements were started in the Valley?

“A lot of the people that lived here were working in the farms, cotton pickers and lettuce and all that.

Theresa Cruz has been part of the center since the 1960s.

“They had all kinds of meetings for the community. This is where the people brought their problems, things that they took to the city, other things that they needed for the community.”

Santa Rita Center was built in 1962 by Sacred Heart parish. The local church used it as a catechism classroom and a community hall. By the late 60’s, the single story building became a center for a new group called Chicanos Por La Causa, an organization created to support and assist area residents.

In 1972 a group of Arizona union farm workers marched to the state capitol in protest of a law enacted to prohibit migrant workers from boycotting, striking and collective bargaining. Union leader Cesar Chavez joined the rally and announced the Santa Rita Center would be the place where he would fast in protest.

“That little room is where Cesar fasted.”

As Cruz, 87, makes her way through the center with her walker, she points to the memorable room.

“That was something that he committed to do for the campesinos.”

Cruz says she and other women in the community cooked meals as the people who gathered before a rally or a march.

“Tortillas, frijoles, anything in the morning. Chorizo, huevos, menudo. Fed them all. Hundreds of people. Then they walked from here all the way to Tolleson. And then from Tolleson they walked back here, we fed them dinner," she said.

Next to what used to be the kitchen is the hall where the gatherings took place. Cruz says back then the room was set-up with folding tables and chairs, but is was often standing room only. The center became nationally known during Chavez’s fasting. Well-known people came to support his efforts, including folk singer Joan Baez, Coretta Scott King, and presidential candidate George McGovern.

“This was the beginning of a whole community that got to know each other and work together," Cruz said.

Today, Santa Rita Center is owned by Chicanos Por La Causa. The center is used for special meetings and events, especially at the end of March, when the community celebrates Cesar Chavez’s birthday. And there are plans to restore the building and create a museum.

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