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Anna G. Larson, Published May 05 2013

Local Mexican community urges Latino center to reopen

MOORHEAD – Members of the local Mexican community gathered on Sunday outside of Centro Cultural de Fargo Moorhead, a Latino center here, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and encourage the center to open its doors once again to the community.

“The message that the Mexican community wanted to send is that we’re here, we’re established, and this is a welcoming place for us because there’s not always welcoming places for our culture, our heritage, our food, our music,” said event organizer Cindy Gomez-Schempp. “But this place is that, it’s supposed to be that and without access to it, we lose that and we lose our connection to our own culture and our own heritage.”

Gomez-Schempp called denying the Mexican community access to Centro Cultural “a form of cultural genocide over time.”

“When we lose that connection to ourselves, we lose our identities,” she said.

According to Gomez-Schempp, no one knows who the current director of the center is and cultural events are not taking place. She said she has not been able to contact anyone at the center because there is no answering machine.

The Forum called Centro Cultural on Sunday, and the calls did not go through. An interview request via Facebook was not returned.

The most recent photos on the group’s Facebook page were posted in July 2011, and most posts are from that year as well, although there are a few posts from May of this year.

Two years ago, Centro Cultural received a three-year $120,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation to develop Latino leadership and bring social change, Gomez-Schempp said.

She said the local community does not know how the grant money has been spent or if it has been spent.

Moorhead native Oscar Surita was at Sunday’s event to support his community. He said there’s been a lack of cultural events the past few years.

“We want to make this building more active for children and the community. We want to make a difference,” Surita said.

The void of cultural education and events at the center has lasting effects on the local Mexican community, Gomez-Schempp said, pointing to lower graduation rates, housing discrimination and higher poverty rates.

Change, she said, can be as simple as showing children “what their identity comes from.”

“This is our place. We want it to be open to the public,” Gomez-Schempp said. “We’re asking whoever’s running it, because we don’t know, to open its doors.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525